Throughout my career, I have always looked at a new school year with joy, optimism, and an eagerness to improve the lives of students. The thought of leaving education is the last thing on my mind at the start of a school year. Unfortunately, for many teachers, this will be their final year in the profession, and we already know why. According to the Learning Policy Institute, each year, more than 200,000 teachers leave education because of (1) inadequate preparation; (2) lack of support for new teachers; (3) challenging working conditions; (4) personal reasons; (5) better career opportunities; and (6) dissatisfaction with compensation.
All of these reported reasons teachers abandon the profession make sense. However, compensation is often the only issue that receives the concerted effort and attention of legislators and school district leaders. This is evidenced by the newly approved Texas legislation, House Bill 3, which reforms the Texas public school funding system and requires school districts to increase teacher salaries for the 2019-2020 school year. Now, at the risk of sounding credulous, I must ask, why are we focusing so much on increasing teacher pay? Yes, teachers have a weighty responsibility, and they are underpaid, but just paying teachers more money without addressing the support they need is irresponsible.
To prove my point, ask a teacher what they believe leaders need to do to improve the profession. When I asked my colleagues, they reported that teachers need more support in the classroom and less of the bureaucracy that crushes one’s passion for educating children. Many teachers also reported that it would be helpful to increase teacher authority and provide them with more relief from some of the restrictive accountability pressures. Most importantly, teachers communicate that they want to get the necessary training, resources, and support to prepare for the challenges that they will face in the classroom.
These are all things that we can and should address at the school and district levels. If we want real improvements in educational outcomes for students, we need to improve the working environment for teachers as we simultaneously increase their compensation. Most importantly, we need to ensure that we are providing the support and mentoring that teachers need this year to be successful and return for more. So I encourage all administrators to prioritize three main factors in striving to improve the working environment for teachers.
Focus on student and teacher growth: Teacher growth should be given the same attention that student learning receives. We should strive to see that the two are not in conflict because actively supporting teachers will lead to better student outcomes.
Focus on empowering teachers: Work to implement teacher-leadership opportunities to include educator voices and further develop their leadership skills. Teachers should be involved in the development and implementation of the various processes and structures (e.g., schedules, teacher-evaluation methods, or professional-development practices) put in place in schools.
Focus on increasing our capacity to manage change: Commit the time, training, and support resources to effectively manage the changes that inevitably happen every year.