How to address teacher turnover: provide more support for dealing with stress

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The United States has one of the highest teacher attrition rates among countries with high performing education systems. At approximately 8% U.S. teacher attrition rates are double many countries who earn higher marks for their education systems according to the Learning Policy Institute.

But is this a problem?

The short answer is yes. Here’s why you should care, and why teacher turnover matters.

Consequences of High Teacher Turnover

Teacher turnover hurts students plain and simple. With such high numbers of attrition, many states are facing teacher shortages. This results in students being taught by teachers who are not fully qualified. This isn’t occurring in just a few classrooms; it occurs in over 100,000 classrooms across the country.

While it is certainly possible some of these 100,000 teachers are doing a great job, researchers found that “teachers improved their ability to boost student test scores on average by 40 percent between their 10th and their 30th year on the job” according to Education Week. Veteran teachers get better results and as more and more teachers leave the profession, the odds a student is taught by a veteran teacher decrease.

Districts’ budgets are also negatively impacted by these high levels of teacher turnover. A report by the Learning Policy Institute estimates that every teacher leaving the profession costs an urban school district approximately $20,000. This means for a medium sized urban district of 3,500 teachers the total cost of a teacher attrition rate of 8% comes to $5.6 million per year.

What we can done

While there is no single reason teachers are leaving the classroom in droves, trends for why teachers are leaving do exist. Edutopia found that teacher preparation, school leadership, and compensation are the three strongest predictors of turnover, and an ABC News article listed teaching as the 4th most stressful profession. On their list teachers were right behind police officers and enlisted military personnel, which makes sense as classrooms feel like combat zones from time to time.

We know from a Scholastic report that teachers are clear with what additional preparation they need. Teachers top two requests for additional preparation are high quality instructional materials and textbooks (55%) and social-emotional (SEL) programs (46%). Providing teachers with better resources and SEL programs won’t eliminate teacher attrition, but it certainly can help. SEL programs that help students reduce stress have the additional benefit of helping teachers reduce stress.

So how can you and I help address the teacher turnover problem.

  1. Contact your state legislators about increasing funding for education

    Compensation is a key way to keep quality teachers in the profession year-after-year.

  2. Contact school district leaders and advocate for improved teacher access to high quality materials and SEL programs

    Teachers on average spend over $500 per year of their own money on classroom materials. Advocating that districts should be paying for all the materials teachers needs can go a long way.

  3. Say thank you to a teacher

    As simple as it sounds, gratitude and a sense of appreciation go a long way. Writing a simple thank you note to a teacher you had or your child’s teacher can have a monumental impact on retaining quality teachers.


About the Author

Brent Modak followed the example set by his grandfather and entered the classroom first as a middle school teacher before moving up to teach high school history. As a member of the ASSET team, Brent helped develop the curriculum and led in the implementation of the program across all of ASSET’s partner schools. When not teaching Brent enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife and newborn baby, Lewis.


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