How to Retain Quality Teachers

by Deana Swanson


Note: The following article, written as an open letter, offers a mix of general principles and specific recommendations for leaders of schools. Not all of the recommendations will apply to all situations and leadership structures, but perhaps they can seed ideas that would apply. The ultimate goal of the piece is to inspire school leaders to cultivate a long-term vision for their school, specifically as it concerns teaching staff.

Dear school board members and administrators,

It’s that time of year again when you’re hoping that all of your teachers will return so that you aren’t beating the bushes trying to find teachers for next year. Here are seven principles and practices, along with some simple suggestions, that will increase the chances of your teachers returning.

1. Communicate regularly with your teachers.

Suggestion: Once a week, meet with all the teachers first thing in the morning before school begins to touch base, talk, and pray with them. I know of one school board member who not only meets with his staff once a week but brings them breakfast every time as well.

2. Listen to your teachers.

Suggestion: Have a private meeting with two to three school board members and each teacher. It is wise to do this a month or so before you plan to ask them to return. Ask them the following questions:

  • Are you happy here?
  • What are your favorite parts of this job?
  • What are your three greatest challenges?
  • How can we help you with these? Assign someone to help and follow up to see that changes are made.
  • What would you like to change and why? Within reason, allow them to make positive changes in their classrooms.

3. Make sure your teachers feel appreciated and valued all year long.

Suggestions:

  • Give teachers Christmas bonuses, gift cards, meals delivered to school, dinner invitations, etc.
  • Have a teacher appreciation banquet and let the students serve the teachers.
  • Assign mothers to provide lunch for the teachers once a week. I know of one school whose mothers do this weekly on the mom’s prayer day.
  • Encourage parents to bless teachers with coffee, cards and notes of appreciation, cash, gift cards, etc.

4. Meet with each teacher individually to ask him to return and teach the next year.

Suggestions:

  • At the meeting, give them a card with a cash bonus inside. (This is separate from the Christmas bonus.)
  • Provide lunch for all the teachers the day you plan to meet.
  • Ask them what you as a school board can do better.
  • Ask them what they would like changed at school.

I know of a large school whose school board has done this for several years in a row, and most of their teachers return year after year. I know of another school in which the teachers just received an online form to fill out stating their intent for the next year. Several of that school’s teachers did not return. Teachers work hard. Doing little acts of kindness like these do make a huge difference to them.

5. Pay your teachers well.

This is always an area of concern, but just read these examples about two schools who are consistently retaining married men teachers with families and experienced women teachers year after year. If it makes this much of a difference, isn’t it worth doing? And, Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

I know of one church whose brothers write down their yearly salary on pieces of paper anonymously once a year around tax time and then collect them in a hat.  Then they figure out the average salary and that’s what they pay the teachers. Not the lowest—the average. That’s amazing, and those teachers feel valued. That’s why they stay.

I know of another school that compared the highest salaries of their teachers with the local poverty level. Sadly, their teachers, especially the ones with families, were below the poverty line. So, the school board did something about it. They decided to give the teachers a 20% raise across the board and gave a little extra on top of that for those who had families. The patrons paid the higher tuition rates, the teachers were happy, and most of them are planning on returning next year.

There also once was a school which asked a married man with a baby on the way to teach at their school for two years with no pay. You read that right. Do you think he accepted that? Can you think of any other job in which the boss would ask an employee to do that? Teaching children is super-important, and we need to attract high-quality individuals who are experienced and really care about what they are doing. It should not be viewed as a volunteer position, especially if our goal is to have mature, godly, experienced teachers guiding our children all year long.

Most businesses give their employees a cost of living raise yearly, so at least try to do that. It is discouraging to not get at least a little bit of a raise. Many schools also have sliding scales based on the teacher’s level of education and number of years taught. This is a very fair way to reward teachers for their time, education, and efforts.

6. Help pay for their continuing education.

Suggestions:

  • Pay for all of the costs for your teachers to attend Teachers Week or Summer Term at Faith Builders.
  • Offer to pay for ½ of the tuition costs if they would like to take any college courses for educational purposes.

These are long-term investments in your school. The teachers are investing their time and money; meet them in the middle and let them know that you appreciate their taking the time and money to be a better teacher. If they are going to the effort to learn more about teaching, they obviously enjoy it and will hopefully stay long-term. There is one school I know of that pays for 100% of the college costs for any teacher who wants to get an education degree. In return, the school asks for a five-year commitment from the teacher to teach at their school.

7. Treat your teachers with respect and speak respectfully about the teaching profession.

Training the next generation is important, and those who spend most of their time doing it should be respected. Especially, treat older and more experienced teachers with respect. And don’t treat younger, inexperienced teachers like they are doing volunteer service for a year or two. Don’t talk down to them, and don’t act like you expect them to just teach a year or two and then leave. Encourage them to make it a career choice, and treat them as valued, long-term employees.

Also, don’t make jokes or demeaning comments about teachers or their pay. We were once told by a school board member that they had hired a teacher because, “He couldn’t do anything else, so we asked him to teach!” He laughed, and we were appalled. We’d spent a total of fourteen years in universities, and sixteen years working in education. We didn’t think it was funny at all, and we certainly didn’t feel valued by that board member.

These seven principles will do wonders to keep your teachers happy and to keep them teaching in your school. In the long term, everyone wins, especially our most valued commodities: the  children in our churches and schools, the church of tomorrow.

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CONTRIBUTOR: Deana Swanson

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