How to Keep Teachers Happy

A recent Atlantic article by Liz Riggs really nailed it in terms of what drives teacher job satisfaction and retention.

In the article, Richard Ingersoll, a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania (and former algebra and social studies teacher), says his research has shown that [how] administration deals with both students and teachers has a “huge effect” on teacher satisfaction…[and] “buildings in which teachers have more say – their voice counts – have distinctly better teacher retention.”

YES. A MILLION TIMES YES.

Specifically, he names how administrators deal with student behavioral issues, and regular, supportive communication with teachers as integral to keeping good teachers.

Ask a teacher, and she can probably tell you about a time she felt “thrown under the bus” by an administrator more worried about keeping parents and kids happy – and avoiding lawsuits – than student learning.

Ask a teacher, and she can probably tell you about a time she felt bullied by a parent, student or administrator – or all of the above.

blameteachers

But what can administrators do, realistically, to make teachers feel they’re valued members of a school community? What could keep teachers eager to participate in school life, and supportive of inevitable changes within a school?

It’s true that threats from parents, preserving a school’s reputation and policies like Common Core and SGOs must be addressed. New initiatives are often beyond the control of administrators as well.

But there are incredibly important things that principals and department chairs can do to win the hearts and minds of faculty, mitigate teacher turnover and thus improve the quality of education students receive.

Here are some of them:

1. Try to understand problems with students from the teacher’s perspective. In many cases, teachers want to uphold a department- or school-wide policy — on lateness, attendance or plagiarism, let’s say — but face accusations and exception-making instead of support. Instead of thinking, Why is this teacher causing a problem for me? consider: How is this situation affecting the teacher’s ability to do his job? What can I do to help?

2. Pick your battles. Is it more important to uphold a no-jeans policy, or for teachers to move around comfortably in the classroom? What would really happen if lesson plans weren’t submitted on time?

3. Follow best teaching practices. For faculty meetings, show that you also understand what makes for an effective activity or presentation, including thoughtful planning, engaging questions and knowing your audience. A poorly delivered PowerPoint or boring video will feel like a slap in the face to teachers who spend hours perfecting their lessons for the classroom. Just like the students they teach, teachers will really listen if you make the effort to engage them.

4. Do what you can to let teachers teach, and try to acknowledge when something is making this harder. As I said before, sometimes administrators have to deliver directives for teachers to follow, even if they don’t agree with them, either. Other times, it is within the administration’s power to change, or at least acknowledge, new tasks that are time-wasting or contradictory. Changing the tone of an announcement from admonishing to sympathetic, for example, could make a significant difference in teacher buy-in.

5. Talk to them. Teachers really appreciate administrators who make a concerted effort to get to know them beyond mass e-mails or “hellos” in the hallway. Something as simple as, “How is your day going?” will mean a lot to first-year teachers and veteran teachers alike – and could help you understand what’s really going in the classroom.

Teachers, which of these actions would make (or has made) the most difference to you?

If I failed to mention something, please add your thoughts to the comments. Thanks!

Related
Why Half of the Nation’s New Teachers Can’t Leave the Classroom Fast Enough. (ConversationED)

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5 thoughts on “How to Keep Teachers Happy

  1. Pingback: Why Teachers Stay – Good Administrators | A History Teacher's Tool Belt

  2. I enjoy reading your blog and can relate to every post! You eloquently and succinctly explained how some administrators treat their faculty. Instead of “complaining”, you took a proactive and positive perspective on such a negative topic. Thank you for bravely voicing what many teachers are only thinking.

  3. Pingback: My most popular post, one year later. | Those Who Teach

  4. Pingback: A National Survey of Former Educators Shows that Life After Teaching Is Pretty, Pretty Good. | Those Who Teach

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