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Teacher Retention Must Be a Top Priority for School Districts

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The status of teacher attrition and turnover makes clear: Retention must be high-priority.

According to a recent study by the EdWeek Research Center, teacher resignations nationwide haven’t increased by a significant percentage compared to prior years. However, even a seemingly small increase in turnover can present significant challenges for districts.

Challenges vary from state to state and district to district, explains Heather Schwartz, director of the Pre-K to 12 educational systems program and a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation. While many aspects of the teacher shortage currently receiving media attention have been long-term, chronic issues, the difficulties remain pressing for schools. For example, districts that are already filling a significant number of positions with unlicensed or underqualified faculty, or those struggling with hard-to-fill roles like math and special education teachers, have added urgency to retain their current teachers.

There are also reasons to believe teacher attrition may increase if not thoughtfully addressed. In a Spring 2022 RAND survey, 34 percent of teachers reported an intention to leave their job at the end of the year. And while such surveys may overestimate the number of actual resignations — One pre-pandemic estimate found that one-third of teachers who stated an intention to leave resigned within the next year — other indicators are also alarming:

Only 44 percent of teachers in the same Spring 2022 RAND survey say “the stress and disappointments of their job are worth it,” a figure that stood at 72 percent as recently as 2018 according to Schwartz.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s 2022 Educator Confidence Report found that 76 percent of educators feel negatively about the state of the profession.

“As far as what I’m seeing and hearing, when I’m talking to teachers across the country, teachers are tired, they’re retiring as soon as they can, they’re leaving as soon as they can,” says Amelia Leighton Gamel, whose Compassionate Teaching Reset professional development trainings are focused on improving teacher retention and morale. Other longtime teachers would like to leave, but don’t know what other options are available to them, adds Gamel. “It’s very hard to rebrand yourself.”

In a competitive economy with other industries currently seeking educators for their skills, many of these teachers may soon find other opportunities if they aren’t motivated to stay in schools. Especially as career expectations shift for the newer generations of professionals, teachers are becoming more likely to move in and out of the profession.

“Not as many people start and go into a field to do it for 30 years,” says Ruben Reyes, Associate Superintendent for Human Resources in Cumberland County Schools, N.C. Reyes notes that he’s worked his entire career in the district, while college classmates in different fields have changed careers a number of times.

Even in his district, which typically has a strong retention rate despite some unavoidable turnover — Cumberland County has a significant number of military-connected staff whose spouses are routinely relocated to other duty stations — Reyes has seen an uptick in vacancies. “I’d say probably for 30 years, our district has averaged about 40 certified teacher vacancies a month, which is less than one percent of our total teaching population. Now, we’re at about 120 — closer to the three or four percent range, which is consistent with other districts around the state,” he says.

Industry data and on-the-ground evidence is consistent: retention must be a high priority for school districts.


2022 Report: Addressing Teacher Retention – Identifying Why Educators Leave and What Administrators Can Do to Help

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This report includes insights compiled from more than a dozen interviews with school and district leaders, former teachers, coaches, and consultants, as well as data from various surveys and studies on the state of the teaching profession.

This report provides an overview of the three reasons most consistently cited by teachers when they choose to exit their jobs or the profession as a whole, as well as a description of the top things teachers want more of — along with the burdens they’d like decreased.