by Petronilo Andrade Cervantes PhD Ed.
What can be done to increase educator retention? To answer this question, I believe it is essential to identify and resolve what is causing educators to leave the classroom.
To retain educators, it is extremely important for administrators and supervisors to pay close attention to the level of stress on the job. Like in any other profession, stress whether real or imagined is the biggest culprit for employee burnout. When I started teaching in 2008, I met teachers who had been teaching for 40 to 50 years. When asked what they thought of the younger generation of teachers they shared that the young teachers joining the teaching force, since the early 1990s, had less endurance for stress and lacked skills or strategies to cope with the stress of teaching. These seasoned teachers also pointed out that they were seeing more and more young teachers burning out at a faster rate. I noticed that being the case in a significant number of papers written about teacher burnout in my nearly ten years of teaching and during my doctoral program and research from 2015 to 2019. I think this is also true of most professions today. But one of the major factors stressing out teachers in the last couple of decades, in part, is the change in teacher preparation programs where new teachers entering the classroom are not adequately prepared.
A contributing factor compounding stress for teachers is the changes in curricula, along with the emerging student behavioral issues teachers are having to deal with in the classroom. In an article entitled, Changing pedagogy for modern learners—lessons from an educator’s journey of self-reflection in 2014, Taylor pointed out these same elements as factors impacting teachers. Supervisors and administrators must keep in mind that society has changed and in recent years the level of stress tolerance has decreased. It is important to find ways to mitigate the stress of the job. It would also be wise to make stress-coping strategies part of professional development for employees, and managers and supervisors should have some training on identifying signs of stress. This should also start in the recruiting phase. During the hiring process, the hiring personnel must look for strong evidence of positive strategies for coping with stress in the candidate. Perhaps being able to preempt the shortcomings of employees when it comes to handling stress, organizations and school systems may increase retention.
Most people that go into education do so with the vision of making a difference for young people. To be the inspiration for a bright future. So, what has happened that teacher retention has decreased? While many articles have been published blaming the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for teachers, especially in K-12, leaving the classroom, I see this starting long before COVID, with the demand on teachers for standardized state testing. Especially when the teacher’s salary is tied to standardized testing scores. Standardized testing is one more aspect of teaching today that compounds stress for teachers.
If the education systems loosen the demands of standardized testing and simply monitor that teachers teach authentic education material, giving teachers the freedom to teach the whole child instead of focusing on the subjects that are tested, teachers would be much happier staying in the classroom. Literature in education shows that since standardized testing became the thing, the number of companies developing these tests has increased and the switch of teachers from the classroom to the test developers has also increased. Prior to national and state standardized testing, each school district developed its own tests. One side effect I have noticed from standardized testing in the education literature is that special interest groups have driven education to become more and more political. Teachers who do not support the politicization of education have simply looked elsewhere for employment. In the school district where I live, the principals of several schools placed gag orders on teachers not to talk with anyone about their test scores in the 2018-2019 school year. Teachers did not tolerate that situation very well and many left the schools as a result.
In an article, titled The State of Teaching Statistics 2022 published on April 2022, Devon Karbowski presents the results of a survey taken from over 4,600 public school teachers PreK-12. The focus of the study was the school year 2021-2022. The participants revealed how instruction has changed, echoing the words of Taylor (2014), the increase of needed supplies, how many classroom supplies teachers must provide, and what the school budget does not cover. According to Karbowski (2022), 78% of teachers need additional supplies due to COVID-19learning loss, 82% of teachers used their own money to buy basic classroom supplies, and 50% of the teachers did not have the budget for basic classroom supplies for the school year 2022-2023. The teachers surveyed were public school teachers. It also should be noted that there is no industry, outside of education, where the employee must use his or her own money to buy what he or she needs to do their job. Even delivery drivers are compensated for using their own cars.
I believe that the leadership of any organization must be willing to take time for deep reflection on how the workforce is meeting or not meeting the organization’s mission and vision. Then apply whatever is needed to keep a tolerable stress level for all involved.