For myriad reasons, 2021-2022 was a rough school year for many teachers. As such, many teachers have been steadily quitting their teaching positions, and hundreds of thousands of job openings nationwide are going unfilled. Are they gone from the professional entirely, or can we win teachers back?
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona expressed in a recent tweet “A strong education system starts with teacher recruitment.” However, teacher recruitment does nothing to address all the reasons current teachers are leaving. Recruiting teachers into this leaky bucket does not solve the problem of unfilled teaching positions. Before we can focus on bringing new teachers into the teaching profession, we need to understand why so many teachers have left. There are tens of thousands of qualified and credentialed teachers out there—so how do we win teachers back into the classroom?
Money Itself Is Not the Solution
Throwing money at a problem rarely makes it go away. Teachers did not leave solely because of the money. Low pay has always been a hindrance to teacher recruitment. As young minds graduate from high school and college one thing they consider when choosing their profession is the salary. However, we are not talking about the people who never went into the teaching profession—we are talking about the passionate educators who love teaching and already decided to go through the extra education and processes to become a teacher.
While more money itself is not the only solution, long term retention and recruitment should guarantee that no teacher needs to work 2 jobs. And though budget and contract improvements may take a while, here are 5 real solutions districts and principals can implement quickly to win teachers back and make the job of teaching attractive once more.
1. Reduce the Workload
It is no secret that teachers have a lot on their plate. In addition to actually teaching students they need to create lesson plans, grade student work, input those grades, provide high-quality feedback, communicate progress with parents, conduct parent meetings, attend all-faculty meetings, attend PLC meetings, cover for other teachers, keep current on teaching practices, learn new technology tools (often with little to no training on how to effectively implement those technology tools), plan field trips, create and copy their teaching materials, cover yard/recess/lunchroom/dismissal duty, manage discipline, and and and and…
It is impossible for a teacher to do all of the “it’s your job” during contract hours.
Without removing all these bricks off the plates of teachers, we can not win teachers back to the classrooms. This requires a dramatic change to what we ask teachers to do. How many meetings could be replaced by a thoughtful email? Most importantly: how do we make teacher prep periods sacred?
“Can you stop by my office on your plan period?” needs to end. The 30 minutes before/after school and the sole prep/plan period are already insufficient to complete a teacher’s daily task list. Reducing all these required tasks and modifying the schedule so teachers can leave school at a reasonable time—without having to take work home for nights and weekends—will go a long way in creating a work environment that honors teachers’ time.
Teachers and administrators can also save time by introducing efficient tools, like Schoolytics. These solutions can not solve all the time constraints teachers feel but they can help teachers save HOURS each week. When teachers can grade student work faster, differentiate instruction more efficiently, and progress information is shared with caregivers automatically, teachers achieve more and better instruction with less time, allowing them to spend more time with their own families.
2. Allow Flexible Scheduling
It is no longer 1980. A rigid schedule of 8am to 3:30pm every weekday may work for most, but is not feasible for some families and teachers. The technology exists to allow for more flexible options, and great teachers may be worth the creative flexibility. After all, a part-time qualified teacher is better than no teacher.
The pandemic taught us that, with the right tools and practices, teachers can teach from anywhere and students can learn from anywhere. When teachers use tools like Google Classroom for hybrid teaching and are consistent in posting digital lesson plans, they can effectively teach a non-traditional schedule. Allow for flexible schedule options that can truly make this possible, which may ensure that students get to learn from excellent teachers who haven't left the profession entirely.
Schoolytics provides many ways to support flexible scheduling, including some of the challenges that arise when not all students are doing the same thing at the same time. Creating Google Classroom student groups in Schoolytics is easy, and assigning work to groups is a snap. Teachers can use the “Start Grading” feature in Schoolytics to sort student work submissions by timestamp, making it as easy to review student work assigned 3 months ago as an assignment assigned yesterday. Setting growth goals and reviewing student progress against growth goals with a parent portal also helps create flexible learning environments.
3. Encourage More Collaboration
Teachers trying to do it all by themselves is exhausting. Advice I was given as a first year teacher was to “Smile and nod, close your door and do whatever you want.” Maybe good advice 20 years ago but terrible advice these days.
Teachers can not and should not be expected to be all things to all students. Schools can bring in more support and go beyond encouraging “self care” as a solution to teachers feeling burnt out. Start with providing sufficient counseling staff to deal with the trauma that students have endured over the last few years. Provide curriculum support that is not merely a resource dump, but actually provides differentiated resources for teachers that are easy to adapt and share with students. Provide the time for all the stakeholders who can support a student’s learning to be able to meet, strategize, and follow through on solutions.
Schoolytics supports a whole team approach to educating students; a unified contact log that shows everyone the collective efforts to support a student, assignment sharing across classes, and data that shows coaches and counselors exactly what is working for groups of students and what isn’t so they can take proper action in partnership with the teacher.
4. Appreciate By Listening
Has teacher appreciation week stopped at snacks in the mailbox instead of actually listening to teachers? Every teacher I know would rather feel like they are heard and respected than have a coupon for a sandwich or a burrito, or a massage in the teacher lounge. Make a point of CHANGING a system, canceling a meeting, providing more time when teachers are stressed. Publicly acknowledge that this change was in direct response to listening to teacher input.
Providing teachers with the resources that help them to do their jobs effectively may help win them back, and Schoolytics can help too. Coaches and administrators can finally see the vast amount of effort teachers put into creating, delivering, and reviewing standards-aligned assignments and the impact they have on student growth, allowing building leadership to notice and praise when learning is going well—not just when students are struggling
5. Let Teachers do what they do best: Teach!
Teachers love teaching. They love that ah-ha moment when a student finally gets it. They love being creative to provide the best possible learning experience for students. Wooing teachers back to the classroom has to include the promise that they get to actually teach. This means behavior and discipline structures that honor the rest of the class’s learning needs, class sizes that allow for time interacting with students rather than just managing behavior all day. Curriculum materials and guidance that allow for teachers to personalize for their students.
When we help each student to feel like an individual, when we can actually make decisions that make the difference for a kid—that is the joy of teaching. Schoolytics has allowed me, as a teacher, to see each student as an individual, to set meaningful learning goals, to effectively differentiate, to be able to know exactly what is and isn’t working for a particular student, and to communicate better with parents and counselors to truly help a struggling student be successful.
We Must Win Teachers Back
It is cheaper and more effective in the long run to make structural, meaningful changes to the school system that win teacher back who left, than to burn through another generation of motivated but worn-out teachers. Small, superficial gimmicks won’t do the trick though. Bring the joy back to teaching by truly listening to teachers’ concerns and thinking outside the box to fix it.
Schoolytics can’t solve teacher burnout alone either, but it can be part of a larger solution that better supports teachers being able to teach.
About the Author:
Alice Keeler is a mom of 5, a high school math teacher, avid EdTech blogger, and an enthusiast of the art of teaching. Alice blogs at alicekeeler.com