Recruiting and Retaining Teachers: Conquering the Challenge
Author: Leader in Me
November 8, 2018
Recruiting and retaining teachers is only one of many factors that contribute to the success of students in schools. While many of those factors lie outside of a school’s control, the most significant contributor to a student’s success that lies within the power of the school is the effectiveness of the classroom teacher. Because the teacher’s role is so critical to the success of each student, it makes sense that school administrators focus on recruiting and retaining highly effective teachers. In today’s schools, many administrators have found this to be particularly challenging, as fewer young people are choosing education as their career path. This article will address this challenge and provide suggestions to school administrators on recruiting and retaining teachers.
Recruiting and Retaining Teachers
Effectively recruiting and retaining teachers begins with recognizing how important this task is. If school leaders identify teacher selection and retention as one of their highest priorities, then they will invest their time in such a way that this work gets the attention it needs. When I visit colleges and other teacher-preparation programs, I go out of my way to find out who the program coordinators consider to be their top teaching prospects. After doing so, I make sure I get an opportunity to personally meet them and tell them about my school, regardless of whether I foresee having any potential teaching positions at my school. Making small efforts like this takes time, and most often school administrators find themselves stretched so thin that it seems difficult, if not impossible, to spend extra time recruiting and building relationships with prospective teachers when there are so many other things to worry about. However, if getting the best teachers is a top priority for principals, as it should be, then it is worth investing time in building relationships with the best prospective teachers. Teacher candidates remember these interactions. As Stephen R. Covey stated, “In relationships, the little things are the big things.”
Most prospective teachers are eager to begin their careers. For many, teaching has been a dream they have been pursuing for a while; thus, their expectations for success are high. Oftentimes, however, young teachers begin their first year in the classroom and realize there are challenges they didn’t anticipate, or if they did anticipate certain challenges, they may not have realized just how difficult those challenges would be to overcome. Lack of parental support, students who are hungry, students who lack the basic necessities of life, the increasing legislative demands on teachers, and hours of paperwork are just a few of the barriers that can overwhelm any teacher, especially a new teacher who lacks experience. With that in mind, what can administrators do to retain these teachers once they are hired and have begun their career? The answers to this question are not complicated but can easily be overlooked by busy administrators.
As a school principal of eight years, I have been fortunate to enjoy a high retention rate of teachers in my building, so I recently surveyed my teaching staff to find out what kept them teaching in our school. Their responses were very similar to what we have learned from countless pieces of research on this topic. Interestingly, none of my teachers mentioned pay as being a reason for staying at our school, and just a few mentioned the proximity of the school to their home as being a reason for staying. Overwhelmingly, my teachers reported that feeling valued by their school administrator kept them motivated and excited to continue teaching in our school. Similarly, they said that having the ability to meaningfully contribute to decisions that are made in the building, as well as the ability to make decisions for their own students, are some of the top reasons they choose to remain teaching in our school. As these responses are consistent with what we have learned from research, it is imperative that school administrators do everything they can to ensure that their teachers have a voice in the school, that they feel appreciated and valued by the administrative team of the school, and that teachers see themselves as partners with the school administration in contributing to the overall effectiveness of the school. The great news for school administrators is that these things lie within their control, whereas factors like teacher salary are often not within the power of the building principal. Therefore, as principals set aside time and go out of their way to seek input from their teachers, establish systems that allow teachers to participate in decisions that are important to the school, and intentionally communicate and demonstrate the worth, value, and potential they see in their teachers, it is highly likely that they will enjoy an increased teacher retention rate in their schools.
One obvious way administrators can help teachers feel valued is to simply tell them how important they are to the school. That may sound too easy, but I know from personal experience that this one small action can make a difference in teacher retention. Recruiting and retaining teachers is a big feat that requires the attention of school administrators to focus on the small details. Years ago I was at a conference with a dynamic speaker who was teaching school leaders about the importance of teacher retention. In the middle of the presentation, this speaker taught us a lesson that made a profound impact on me and taught me a lesson I have never forgotten. He said most teachers who left their schools reported that their administrators did not ask them to stay in their buildings when the teachers let them know they were planning to leave the school or the profession. I could not believe what I was hearing, and at that moment, I promised myself that if an effective teacher ever me told me that he or she was looking to leave my school, I would do everything I could do to convince him or her otherwise. Last year I had a chance to fulfill the promise I made to myself when an incredible teacher named Amy told me she was strongly considering leaving our school because of a change in the teaching assignment I had given her. I had recruited Amy from another school just the previous year, and in a short amount of time, she had made an amazing impact on our school and on our students. I knew I could not lose a great teacher like Amy if we were going to be successful as a school, so over the next several weeks, I visited with Amy multiple times. I sat down with her and told her how much I valued her. I told her that the success of our school depended on outstanding teachers like her. Finally, I asked her what I needed to do keep her at our school. This last question led to a few more conversations between the two of us, which ultimately led to Amy’s decision to remain at our school. To some, this may sound a little desperate; but when an administrator is committed to having the best teachers, he or she will do whatever it takes to keep them after they are recruited. Amy has made a tremendous difference at my school this year as both a special-education teacher and a general education teacher, and I have not regretted the extra effort I made to keep Amy in a classroom in my school. After all, outside of a child’s home, nobody can influence a child’s growth more than an effective classroom teacher.
School leaders will succeed in the areas in which they invest the most time. An administrator can spend hours on chores that demand their constant attention but have very little impact on the overall success of students. While completing state reports, writing emails, and responding to phone calls are necessary administrative tasks, these undertakings must never become so burdensome to school leaders that they fail to do the important work needed to recruit and retain effective teachers. While teacher retention is a challenge, administrators who are effective in recruiting and retaining teachers will reap the benefits of higher student success and a positive school climate in which all staff and students can thrive.