Raise your hand if you are still trying to fill teacher vacancies, even though it’s the end of the first semester. How about if you’ve had teachers start the year, but they’ve since exited? Maybe you’ve heard this: “I’m considering not staying another year because even though I love my students, I no longer feel connected to the work.” These experiences represent an aspect of our current educational landscape. Teachers are conflicted about leaving the classroom and pursuing roles outside of education. School leaders are struggling to retain strong talent and hire new members. These are pressing challenges.
The stories, run in newspapers across the country each week, paint a desperate picture: a Pre-K teacher in Texas juggling two classrooms alone; classes across the country led by a recurring series of long-term substitutes with no formal training; a school district in Pennsylvania forced to shorten school days due to lack of staff; districts in North Carolina reporting hundreds of vacant teaching positions even as the school year begins. In the words of National Education Association (NEA) union leader Becky Pringle: “The educator shortage is a five alarm crisis.”
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The teacher attrition crisis in US education has been in the headlines a lot in recent months. Many districts and schools started the 22-23 school year woefully understaffed, leading districts to implement drastic stop gap measures just to open their doors. Some districts opened this fall with armies of substitute teachers, shortened school days, and were forced to implement confusing and sub-optimal alternative schedules.
As students across the county prepare for the start of a new school year, conversations about how to address our national teacher shortage are becoming more frequent and urgent. Many educators are calling for this conversation to be rebranded as a “teacher walkout” to highlight that teachers are leaving the field as a way to protest a system not built to empower them as decision-makers and innovators. This shift in language – from “teacher shortage” to “teacher walkout” – illuminates a key design element that districts can leverage proactively to respond to retention challenges: teacher agency.
Teacher turnover is an issue that has impacted school districts all across the country. Teachers are leaving the profession in record numbers while not enough are entering it. Therefore school districts are scrambling to fill vacancies with qualified educators. Teacher retention is a complicated issue. It is a challenge that has many facets, none of which seem to have simple solutions. It is in times like these that we turn to our leaders for guidance. Fortunately great leadership has proven to be a key lever in retaining our nation’s teachers.
During the next few weeks, districts and schools will begin the process of welcoming and onboarding their new teachers for the 22-23 school year. When done effectively, new teacher onboarding can allow new staff to gain clarity on their specific roles and feel welcomed into their school community.