For any ESL school, recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers is high on the priority list. What would be of ESL programs without amazing instructors? Unfortunately, as the job of the modern teacher is becoming more demanding, and the salaries are not keeping up with the workload, teacher retention rate is becoming low across many disciplines. The statistics are concerning - almost 16% of teachers leave the field each year External link , with 40%-50% of new teachers abandoning the profession within the first five years.
According to various studies by the Learning Policy Institute, a number of factors impact teachers’ decisions to enter, stay in, or leave the teaching position, or the profession altogether. Those factors are:
- Salaries and benefits.
- Preparation and costs to entry.
- Hiring and personnel management.
- Induction and support for new teachers.
- Working conditions, including school leadership, professional collaboration and shared decision-making, accountability systems, and resources for teaching and learning.
So, why do teachers choose to leave a specific school? The above factors are not always equal in the teacher decision making.
Among variables such as personal reasons (pregnancy, death in family, etc), some of the leading factors behind teachers leaving their posts are dissatisfaction with school accountability policies (25%), dissatisfaction with administration (21%), classroom intrusions (18%), no support for student assessment and discipline (17% each), and lack of autonomy (17%).
Interestingly, the study also interviewed teachers that returned to their positions. What brought those teachers back?
The top factors included availability of full-time positions (69%), increases in salary and benefits (68% each), and making the workload more manageable with smaller classroom size (61%). While salary is certainly important and can be improved through federal and state grants, the aspects that cause teachers to leave or to return do not always involve financial components.
Considering all constituents of teacher satisfaction, we have compiled a list of suggestions that move to improve ESL teachers’ experience and relationship with the school.
1. Create a Retention Plan
All of the information about your school’s performance and teacher satisfaction is already available to you. Begin with interviewing former teachers from your program. Use open questions such as the following:
What were the successes and failures of your experience at the school? When did management succeed/fail in assisting you in managing challenges? What suggestions do you have for improving the experience for on-boarding teachers?
You may also consider sending representatives to each school board meeting. That way, teachers can have a voice in school governance, and report back to staff about issues, concerns and upcoming topics for meetings.
Use the information you receive, particularly constructive criticism, to improve communication with your current and on-boarding teachers. Keep a record of the most common issues, and implement those changes through policy. Teacher satisfaction is the biggest factor in retaining teachers in your program. There is always room for improvement!
Create a plan for supporting new teachers. Make sure that they receive all of the important information on the procedures at the school, as well as get comfortable with the layout of the building. Designate a leadership figure (often the principal or an experienced teacher) that will assist the new teachers with the assimilation process. Schedule regular check-ins, provide a network of support, and train new teachers so they feel confident and comfortable in your school.
A survey from the Center for Teacher Quality revealed that support from colleagues and administrators is one of the significant factors in a teacher’s decision to remain in or leave the profession. New teachers will need your utmost support in getting through the first year, which is the most important time for building lasting relationships.
2. Provide Leadership Opportunities
While many teachers are happy to remain in the classroom directly engaging with the students, by offering constant opportunities for growth, you will keep their ambitions high. Especially with additional stipends or bonuses, meaningful responsibilities will keep the striving teachers motivated. If you allow your teachers to participate in the success of the students and the school itself, they will feel more inclined to follow through and remain in the program.
Encourage leadership roles. To maximize teacher impact on student and school success, accomplished teachers must have defined opportunities to share their professional knowledge and expertise with colleagues.
Some of the opportunities that will aid with teacher retention may include:
Grant writing, coaching, curriculum planning, instruction specialization, technology integration, mentoring, and department leadership.
Opportunities like these have shown to increase teacher retention and investment.
3. Provide Free Time and Work-Life Balance
According to the NEA, teachers spend an average of fifty hours per week on instruction, including an average of twelve hours each week on voluntary school-related activities such as grading papers, bus duty, and club advising. Even in the summer, teachers spend that time working second jobs, teaching summer school, and taking classes for certification renewal or to advance their careers.
So, when it comes to free time, most teachers do not get to partake in that indulgent. Thus, it is crucial for the administration to not only acknowledge the hard and often unpaid work put in by the teachers, but to provide them with opportunities to truly get the time off.
Allow your teachers to rejuvenate and to use their free time as they like. That means not asking them to cover recess, lunch, hallway passing time, or drop-off and pick-up time. Coordinate these responsibilities for separate staff, or distribute it in a fair way. In addition, don’t schedule mandatory meetings during the teachers’ planning periods. Allow them that time to work.
One reason many teachers leave is the lack of work-life balance. Consider implementing flexible work arrangements, which will ease the pressure on the teachers. These arrangements may include co-teaching, team teaching or job sharing, and hybrid roles that include a half day of teaching and a half day of doing other school-related duties like curriculum coaching or technology planning.
A NY school founder and principal writing for The New York Times suggests the following:
“Revising the traditional school calendar is one way to achieve [time for teachers' reflection and rest]; for example, replacing the summer break with more frequent extended breaks throughout the year provides more opportunities for teachers to plan with colleagues, develop new pedagogical skills and rejuvenate themselves.”
4. Encourage Teachers to Participate in Policy
Policy is crucial in helping teachers develop professional learning communities in and beyond the school. As they actively analyze their own practice by professional standards, they also see their own students’ progress in the light of standards for student learning.
For all curricular decisions, changes and plans, consider seeking feedback from teachers throughout the process. Teachers are often an underutilized resource in policy making, even though they are usually directly involved with the issues. However, either no one asks for their input, or they are too busy teaching to participate. Administration or principals may empower teachers by summoning their involvement in policy making and providing substitute teachers when necessary.
Open the line of communication in the workplace. Consider holding a forum for policy development, as a mechanism for profession-led standard setting and quality assurance in teacher education, teacher induction, teacher performance and career development, combining professional autonomy and public accountability.
Teachers should have the opportunity to be actively involved in policy development and application and feel a sense of responsibility behind reform. Otherwise, substantial changes in your ESL school are not likely to be successfully implemented.
5. Never Stop Improving Work Conditions
The Peabody Journal of Education held a study that revealed that how teachers perceive their schools’ environment “is the most significant predictor of beginning teacher’s morale, career choice commitment and plans to stay in teaching.” Fortunately, improving your school’s conditions to better suit teachers does not have to require costly renovations.
Teachers College Record released a study, which revealed that when it comes to the school environment, teachers focus more on the work culture than on fancy facilities or top of the line technology.
Remember factors that significantly influence the working environment standard of your school:
- Safety: Cultivate a sense of safety for both teachers and students in your school. Stay up-to-date with essential safety procedures, including but not limited to fire and earthquake drills.
- Trust: Consider giving your teachers more autonomy over their classroom management. This promotes a sense of trust - teachers know their students the best.
- Respect: Implement team-building exercises and encourage group decision making, to foster an environment of mutual respect between teachers and students.
These strategies will strengthen the very foundation of schools by encouraging collaboration, promoting teacher satisfaction and success, and cultivating a positive school culture.
Ease the workload of your teachers by using the latest, smartest online platform for ESL instruction - Your Agora. With smart tools for scheduling and grading, and a collection of lesson material collaborated by ESL teachers all over the world, Your Agora will help your school thrive!