Retaining teachers in K-12 schools has become harder. In recent research (EdWeek’s Cover Story: “Retaining Great Teachers in a Time of Turmoil,” May 5, 2021, p. 5-8), the difficulty in retaining teachers can be examined from a survey of the different opinions teachers and administrators have about what keeps teachers in schools. Although teacher and principal opinions differ, the survey may shed some light on why “love of students” may be a bridge for valuing teachers.
And Teachers are Leaving
Teachers are leaving in droves and the reasons they are leaving are complex. The conditions of teaching have not been improved, the pandemic is happening, and the accountability has only increased. This is a delicate time (read: STRESSFUL time) to discuss the “conditions of teaching” with more teachers taking early retirement and more demands made upon them to teach through a crisis.
About three-quarters of former teachers — including those who quit in the two years leading up to the pandemic and those who quit after March of 2020 — indicated that their jobs were “always” or “often” stressful during their most recent year of teaching, according to a new RAND Corporation survey of almost 1,000 ex-public school teachers. One-third of former teachers across both groups deemed work “always” stressful.
Stress, in fact, emerged as the most common overall reason for respondents’ leaving public-school teaching: 43% said that the stress and disappointments of teaching weren’t worth it, nearly twice the share who left due to insufficient pay (24%).—A NEW RAND CORPORATION SURVEY
Teachers and Principals See Differently
In the face of demands that all teachers return even if schools are not completely safe for them, principals and teachers have different perceptions of the factors that keep teachers in school in the first place. For example, in EdWeek’s survey, when asking school leaders for the three biggest factors in keeping teachers in school, school leaders and principals rank-listed positive school culture, love of students and supportive administrators as the three most important factors in keeping teachers. But when teachers are asked the same question of what three factors that they think would keep them in school, the list is rank-ordered differently, and it is love of students, retirement benefits and love for the subject taught.
The survey indicates that the school climate can be subtly different for principals and teachers. The jobs are different although the outcomes are the same on paper—student success. And the rewards are different, but the accountability structures are really different in the climate that those rewards create. Teachers are grounded in their sense of creating a successful climate by what is needed tomorrow, prepping their classwork, implementing their day, assessing student growth and challenges, re-teaching, re-planning, and prepping for tomorrow. Principals see the definition of a successful school climate as a larger sense of the school across many classrooms, and they plan and re-plan to create and maintain that, while trying to complete an endless set of paper tasks, administrivia, and meeting with every component of the humans who make up school including teachers, parents, district administrators, and students. Teachers can get lost in this larger idea of school climate.
We can make this better by valuing teachers and the work they do to carry on in the pandemic. Let’s not forget that without any preparation, teachers moved successfully to remote models for learning in March of 2020. Teachers also experienced the worst student retreat from learning in a hundred years. Principals are now tasked with bringing teachers back into school and teaching students who can be reluctant to return to normal learning. I know this seems one-sided, as Principals are amazing humans with a complicated task, but teachers have the heavy lift here. And to be clear, teachers could not do their work without principals—they need principal support now more than ever.
Love of Students
And so love of students is a good guess for the common ground to be built between principals and teachers. The EdWeek survey suggests principals could be, “more visible to teachers, open up communication, value them more, find out what teachers are struggling with, offer support, and pare down paperwork” (EdWeek, Retaining Great Teachers in a Time of Turmoil, May 5, 2021, p. 7-8). The mutual love of students is where the joy can be cradled together.