How to Retain a Highly Qualified Teacher

Jon Julius
Jon Julius
K-12 Superintendent of Schools; Ph.D. in Education Administration
Older man mentoring a younger woman working on a laptop.

In today’s world of K-12 education, school boards and administrators are fighting through an array of challenges. Among them include finding and retaining highly qualified staff. The past few school years have seen a shortage of qualified teachers. This significant problem for schools has only been magnified this year with the onset of the restrictions that COVID-19 has employed. School leaders will need to capitalize on ways to fill positions with quality candidates and to keep them employed as the amount of unfilled positions continues to rise. This will be no easy task.

Importance of Retaining Highly Qualified Teachers 

Experience is a big benefit to school districts when it comes to instructional staff. Typically experienced teachers are more effective when it comes to student learning. Seasoned staff members can also often be easier for administrators to manage than newer employees. Having qualified staff return year after year not only saves school districts money on advertising costs for recruiting new employees, it also saves hiring managers’ time from the recruiting and interviewing process.

Students enjoy familiarity and consistency from returning staff members, which is also a benefit. This stability can be critical for student learning as it contributes to a comforting and nurturing environment when trusting, long-term relationships can be built between staff and students.

Due to fewer professionals entering the K-12 teaching field, retention of existing staff has never been more important. Schools that lose staff members run the risk of not finding suitable replacements, especially in certain subjects or grade levels due to shortages. There are currently nearly two thousand teaching positions that have gone unfilled for this school year in Illinois alone.

Finding long-term substitutes to replace these departing staff members has been a last resort option for many schools. However, substitute teachers are also becoming increasingly difficult to find. The ongoing pandemic has not helped matters. This leaves many schools looking for acceptable solutions.

Strategies for Keeping a Highly Qualified Teacher


School leaders should be planning for ways to attract and retain quality educators in a market that often gives educators a pick of where they want to work. Although money is not typically something that is negotiable in the public education sector, some districts are offering sign-on bonuses that are contingent on completing a number of years of service.

For many educators, though, it is not always about the money. Many employees want to feel valued at work. One way of accommodating this is by offering mentoring programs for new employees. Being a teacher can be a very challenging venture. Having support from coworkers and administration is a must. Mentoring can not only provide valuable information and training for newer employees, it can also provide a sense of belonging that can entice teachers to stick around.

Relationship Building

If mentoring is not sufficient enough for relationship building, supplemental efforts should be made to include all staff in some type of team building exercises. This could be as simple as a staff dinner to start or end a school year, or could be as elaborate as formal team building training. A group retreat would be instrumental in creating cohesiveness among employees, which would be vital for creating the sense of belonging that many employees long for.

Creating relationships with coworkers outside of the formal work setting can be a benefit for employees as well. It is important for administrators and veteran teachers to show proper support for newer staff members at work, which can easily be extended in certain circumstances outside of the workplace.

Professional Development and Teacher Autonomy

Professional development opportunities should be sought as well. Building an employee’s skill set not only benefits the employee, but will benefit their coworkers, administration, and students as well. Having an employer willing to invest in employees often bodes well in retention efforts and can have an overall positive impact on morale within an organization. Positive morale provides for better learning environments for students and gives teachers a reason to come back year after year.

Administrators should also strive to give teachers autonomy in their decisions. Having freedom to choose what is best for their classrooms and students can go a long way with many teachers.

Embracing Community

Communities that support their schools are also a nice way to complement efforts to retain quality staff. Employees are naturally drawn to positive environments not just within the confines of their workplace, but also where they live. Safe communities with good housing markets and those that have something to offer in the way of access to entertainment can certainly be a positive draw for potential employees and their families. Although school systems may not have much influence over the quality of their community offerings, they can certainly be a beneficiary of a community that is rich in industry and offers a high quality of living.


*Updated November, 2020
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