How to Keep Teachers from Quitting through the Pandemic

Dr. Rick Bolling
Dr. Rick Bolling
Elementary/middle school principal; Ed.D. in Leadership
A professional man points to a smiley face indicating his satisfaction.

How has the Pandemic Impacted Teachers in the Classroom?

Education has become a field of constant additions with little or no subtractions. While most new additions are generated out of good intentions to increase student success and experience, the continuous infusion of new initiatives can leave educators feeling overwhelmed, behind, uninspired, and mediocre.

With so much going on, innovation and the big picture becomes stifled while simply trying to manage the day and fulfill required checklists of obligations. The effects of the pandemic have compounded the teacher shortage exponentially.

Prior to 2019, districts saw applicant pools dry up and experienced difficulty filling key positions. Now, finding dynamic teachers for classrooms is even more difficult, with districts competing for the limited numbers of qualified applicants.

To fully understand the effect of the pandemic upon teacher recruitment and retention, one must first examine the effects of the pandemic in the classroom. First, teachers saw the results of their commitment come to fruition as the 2019 school year was ending.

Rumors of potential COVID-19 pandemic school closures sounded like science fiction at first but became a reality overnight. Moving course content online usually takes months of preparation and training, but teachers were expected to do this flawlessly overnight with little to no training. Before the pandemic, there were limited virtual options found in K-12, so teachers were venturing into largely uncharted waters and bearing more additional responsibility.

Many teachers are now charged with teaching students both in-person and virtually. Teaching online and teaching in-person are two jobs that both require more time than is allotted in a given day. Putting two positions together creates a near-impossible task for teachers.

Divisions are starting to separate virtual and in-person learning. However, many in-person teachers still have to provide extensive virtual instruction as students move in and out of quarantine and isolation. Given that students now have skill gaps related to these times away from school, dedicated educators are stressing to make up for lost time. Another impact is keeping current and applying appropriate mitigation strategies in an ever-evolving system.

How has the Pandemic Impacted Overall Teacher Satisfaction?

Teacher job satisfaction has declined dramatically since the onset of the pandemic. The initial effect of the pandemic saw increased workloads due to moving content online while undergoing lengthy trainings related to online instruction implementation. Additional duties with no related pay increases led to feeling unvalued and increased job dissatisfaction.

In addition, teachers primarily enter the field to make an impact. The loss of face-to-face instruction and teacher-student relationships distanced teachers from the impact they were making. Teacher satisfaction declined without seeing the students directly in front of them progressing on key academic and social skills. Moreover, divisions that opt to move virtual instruction to online academies often establish systems in which schools and teachers have no impact on learning but are accountable to these students through accreditation models.

Another way the pandemic impacts teacher satisfaction is by not feeling valued as professionals. Some parents and community leaders portrayed educators’ jobs as becoming easier. A lack of appreciation for diligent effort certainly impacted teacher satisfaction.

Why is Improving Teacher Satisfaction Important?

Teacher satisfaction is essential because of its direct link to teacher retention and recruitment.  Given the limited number of teacher applicants, education has become a teacher’s market.  Simply, if teachers are not satisfied with a school or division, they will find work elsewhere.  Leaders who have an “I do not care” or “We are better off without them” attitude toward retention and recruitment will find themselves in a lonely world with schools that are impossible to staff.

Teacher satisfaction programs are ongoing investments in the school’s culture and climate. Satisfaction consideration is important because it is the right thing to do, and quite frankly, we need teachers. In addition, satisfied teachers tend to work harder, invest in the school culture, and see increased student learning outcomes.

It is important to note that teachers have key skills that employers desire. These professionals have the skills to obtain employment elsewhere if school leaders do not invest in teacher satisfaction.

Strategies to Keep Teachers from Quitting

Limit New Initiatives

Educational leaders are constantly pursuing the “fix” to sustain student achievement. Sometimes new initiatives are needed to move a school forward. Still, leaders can lose credibility when they have teachers spend countless hours in each new trend and later abandon the initiatives altogether. If a school or division is high achieving, the only initiatives, programs, and book adoptions that should be considered during this high stress era are those that rise from teacher ranks for improving the student learning outcomes.

Teacher Mentorship Programs

Highly effective teacher mentor programs are an investment in teacher satisfaction. The programs must be purpose-driven and relevant since these support systems will empower teachers while impacting retention. Leaders must provide support post-university to help them persevere and increase their skills as practitioners.

Reduce Workloads

Instead of adding to teacher workloads, leaders should be looking at all things that can be removed. Work that is not leading to increased student learning must be abandoned. Leaders must also protect teachers and help ensure time for teacher wellness and self-care.

Praise Efforts

Job satisfaction increases when employees feel valued and vital. Leaders can increase satisfaction and retention by praising the positive efforts of faculty. Building staff turnover is an accurate measure of leadership and school climate.

Create Close Bonds

A positive school culture correlates to higher teacher retention, increased job satisfaction, and easier recruitment when positions occur. If teachers are always looking to leave, leadership should be examined. Leaders need to find ways for faculty to come together for celebration and team building. The time devoted to this initiative is not an add-on as many faculties crave this system of support.

In considering the effects of the pandemic on teacher satisfaction, we can hope that more parents and community leaders will reflect upon the importance of teachers. Hopefully, community leaders will invest in paying teachers and treating them like the professionals they are. The teacher shortage is mainly related to job satisfaction, and now is the time to act.

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