Dr. Amy Vitala is the Chief Learning Officer at MobileMind. She is a former high school teacher, district professional learning specialist, and assistant professor of instructional technology. With eighteen years of experience in education, Amy is passionate about professional learning, educator satisfaction, and teacher wellness. She earned her doctorate in Teacher Leadership in 2016 and has spent the last decade working with educational leaders across the U.S. to empower educators through meaningful professional growth opportunities.
A concerning time in the world of K-12
I began my teaching career in 2005, and I realize many of us have seen a crisis coming; an impending teacher shortage is not a novel concern. However, after the last couple of years, those of us who have been around for a while keep saying the same thing – I’ve never seen it this bad.
Districts across the country are digging for money to offer bonuses and stipends to educators and clambering to attract and retain new teachers. Arizona is exploring an avenue for college students to lead K12 classrooms, and Florida has launched a program to recruit military veterans to begin their teaching careers. Schools in Texas districts have launched alternative preparation tracks for paraprofessionals and Georgia is asking retired educators to return to the classroom. A California district has been asking students’ families to rent bedrooms to teachers so teachers can afford to live in the school district. K-12 education is in crisis, and states are getting creative in order to accommodate students as teachers are leaving in droves.
The data is screaming at us
Teachers report a state of greater stress and dissatisfaction than ever. They understandingly want improved working environments and increased support for the challenging work they’re doing. Over half a million educators have bailed since the beginning of the pandemic. In the spring of 2022 there were 380,000 open jobs in K-12 schools, the highest reported number of openings overall in the past decade (Edweek.)
Nearly half of K-12 educators leave the classroom in the first few years. New teachers are 250% more likely to quit than tenured educators. Those who have earned teacher certification through alternative preparatory programs? The chances of leaving increase even more (Learning Policy Institute.) Therefore, we should pay close attention to the fact that a tremendous number of new teachers have entered the classroom, many of whom have gone through (or are currently enrolled in) alternative preparation programs. Much of the attrition data we have as educational leaders was reported before the pandemic, and we are just now beginning to gather solid data regarding the impact these past few years have had on educator attrition and student achievement.
What we do have is research demonstrating that current teaching professionals are very dissatisfied in an industry that was already strained for employees. Only 30% of educators now report satisfaction in their current positions, and over half (55%) are considering leaving the profession earlier than planned (We Are Teachers.) Even more concerning is the fact that this number is double that of pre-pandemic reporting. Twice as many teachers are considering leaving now than before the pandemic (governing.com.) Thankfully, several studies on teacher attrition and retention offer insight and hope.
Why do teachers leave?
In order to address the issue of teacher attrition and strive for retention, we must first understand the root cause; why are teachers leaving in droves?
First, most of us became teachers due to our love of students, our passion for helping children reach their potential, the joy of teaching and learning, among other things. While pay is an obvious and historically common grievance, educators don’t enter the field of K-12 in hopes of becoming a fast millionaire.
As García and Weiss suggest in the fourth article of their five-part teacher shortage report, school climate – or teaching environment – is a factor when it comes to teacher dissatisfaction and attrition. “The teacher shortage is a growing national crisis that needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner,” said Weiss. “Obviously compensation is a major part of the issue, but improving teaching environments would go a long way toward helping teachers feel more supported.” (Economic Policy Institute)
Half of teachers report not feeling a great deal of support or encouragement, and a whopping 97% of new classroom teachers say they lack the comprehensive support they require (We Are Teachers.) So, nearly all new teachers are claiming they need more support to thrive (or survive) in the K-12 classroom.
In their fifth and final article of their teacher shortage series, García and Weiss reveal that weak professional development experiences are partly to blame. Teachers are not satisfied with the professional learning opportunities offered and often report lacking choice in their growth activities. Other complaints among educators have been poor working conditions, lack of encouragement and resources, insufficient collaboration with colleagues, and low support from administration.
What do we do now?
We know that educators are the number one influence on student achievement in schools and, therefore, high teacher attrition rates can harm student achievement. Now that we have an understanding of the root causes of educator dissatisfaction and attrition, we can aim to train and retain quality classroom teachers and support staff. With so many new educators in the field, we must make intentional, sustainable shifts in order to combat the dismal attrition rates. So, what can we do?
Of course, teachers are undercompensated. This is an issue over which many leaders have zero control. And, as mentioned above, teachers don’t enter the field hoping to get rich quick. Therefore, our time as educational leaders is best spent focusing on what we can control, such as the experience teachers have when they’re in our buildings.
When assigned mentors in their first year, teachers are much more likely to return to the classroom the following year. Additionally, new teachers who are provided with the resources and support they need, as well as encouragement and positive working conditions, are more satisfied overall and more likely to remain in their positions.
In the fifth and final article of their five-part teacher shortage report, García and Weiss examine “early career supports, ongoing professional development, and opportunities for cooperation and influence” among K-12 educators. They conclude that intensive early-career support and ongoing professional development influences teacher retention. They state that there is “clear room to improve the system of professional supports that play a role in teacher retention and expand the knowledge base of the teaching workforce.” (Economic Policy Institute.)
When new educators receive mentoring, opportunities for collaboration, and needed resources, first-year turnover is cut by more than half (We Are Teachers.) A Learning Policy Institute supports the finding that training plays a critical role in job satisfaction and that new teachers who feel supported and belong to a strong network can help a great deal. Therefore, we need to create a positive school culture that includes engaging, meaningful growth opportunities for mentoring, collaboration, and coaching.
Supporting New Hires in 2023: 7 Questions to Consider
- What are the resources and intensive early supports we have in place for our new teachers?
- Are there opportunities to survey new and early-career educators in order to better understand their needs?
- Are new teachers receiving meaningful PD, coaching, and mentorship?
- Do new (and veteran) teachers have access to sustained professional development?
- What are some ways we can offer educators voice and choice in their professional learning opportunities?
- Are we creating opportunities for intentional collaboration among new hires and colleagues?
- How am I creating a positive and encouraging district and school culture for all educators?
- The role of early career supports, continuous professional development, and learning communities in the teacher shortage: The fifth report in ‘The Perfect Storm in the Teacher Labor Market’ series | Economic Policy Institute