The success of any diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) effort in schools isn’t measured just by diversifying the teacher workforce in your school. You’ll also see how well you’re doing by your practices and principles to retain them.
It may seem obvious that after you hire teachers, you want them to stick around. But that’s even more clear when you put it into greater context. According to Hanover Research, the average cost of filling a teacher vacancy is $21,000, and the teacher shortage for K-12 is expected to double from 2020’s deficit to more than 200,000 in 2025.
Not to mention the less tangible—but just as serious—harms teacher attrition can have on your school. Hanover Research also mentions a weakened sense of community and the increased burden of working with inexperienced new hires on those teachers who remain.
What’s more, the study cites several DEI-related issues as among the top reasons for teacher attrition: insufficient onboarding and mentorship; demographics; and lack of administrative support.
Appreciation equals compensation
According to McKinsey, the number one cited reason why teachers quit is insufficient compensation, including benefits. The report notes that 65% of responding teachers said they can’t even live comfortably on their earnings. These teachers feel their compensation is low both compared to the qualifications they bring to the table and for the amount of work they are expected to do.
It’s easy to see how resentment and dissatisfaction can form when you’re well qualified and giving your all but can’t thrive on a material basis. Paying teachers a livable salary and good benefits is the most fundamental way to express that you value what they do—and that you want them to stay.
The deadly curse of burnout
The second listed reason for teacher attrition is overwork leading to burnout. This side effect of work in education can more harshly affect teachers from marginalized groups for a couple reasons. First, schools sometimes expect those teachers to shoulder more of the responsibility of fixing or educating their peers about DEI issues.
Zoë David-Delves, a Toronto-based DEI specialist with a focus on Black and queer issues, warns that schools “must avoid tokenization…If the teacher population isn’t diverse, and the school’s just hiring to meet a quota, the marginalized teacher is expected to represent their entire community and solve the problems of their school.”
It’s unfair to expect this extra work from any teacher on top of their full teaching loads. Another reason it can be a bigger burden for teachers from marginalized groups is that they are likely from populations already coping with the unique stressors that come with their place in society at large.
“We have to make sure we are not tasking teachers with that huge burden,” David-Delves emphasizes. “It would likely be women, people of color, and queer and trans people doing that work.”
Onboarding for a smooth landing
Support of new teachers is crucial to retention. As David-Delves puts it, teachers shouldn’t have to “hit the ground running, and immediately be doing a million things.” That’s not supportive, it’s harmful.
Compliance: This is the possibly dull but very necessary stuff of handbooks, tax and health insurance forms, and other documents.
Clarification: This stage includes education on attendance, dress code, visitation, and other policies and training for technology such as computers, software, and office machinery.
Culture: This is a chance to welcome new teachers by providing information on the school’s traditions, initiatives, and opportunities for collaboration.
Connection: Teachers should be made aware of ways to make friends, foster relationships with IT and other support teams, and how to access important mentorship opportunities.
Make sure your onboarding isn’t a hasty formality upon hiring that you then forget about. Too many schools provide strong initial onboarding, but then don’t follow through. A good practice is to follow up after three months and again at the end of the school year to see how your new hires are settling in and what they may need.
A system of accountability
Even with the best policies in place, there can be hiccups. Does your school have a structure that gives teachers a safe and responsive place to go with frustrations, problems, and complaints?
A trusted mentor could be the first point of contact for a new hire experiencing confusion, difficulty, or another roadblock to job satisfaction. But make sure complaints don’t go into the black hole of a proverbial suggestion box only to never get addressed.
Hearing and resolving all issues sensitively, fairly, and with discretion should be an item on school staff’s regular agenda.
Examine every aspect of your school from the teachers’ perspective
As David-Delves reminds us, teacher retention starts with teacher recruitment. “If I’m a marginalized teacher, I’m particularly vulnerable to exploitation. So when I’m job hunting, I want to know what are you doing to not exploit me? I want to know what my supports will be.”
If you’ve thoughtfully examined every aspect of a teacher’s journey, with the professional help of a consultant to see what you might have missed, you’ll be on your way to making your school a place where valuable teachers will want to stay.