Happy students make happy teachers. And happy teachers stay teaching.
Work-related burnout and stress can be problematic for any profession. But for America’s teachers, these issues are causing large numbers of individuals to leave their jobs, resulting in an exodus epidemic.
Every single year, around 8% of teachers leave the profession. This means, every year, districts and schools need to find new teachers to replace those that have left. Which isn’t easy when there are fewer and fewer teachers to hire in general, year after year.
The Learning Policy Institute reports that “90% of open teaching positions are created by teachers who leave the profession. Some are retiring, but about 2/3 of teachers leave for other reasons, most due to dissatisfactions with teaching.” And this isn’t just alarming, it’s dangerous – in light of the results. “Studies show that student achievement suffers in schools with high turnover,” the institute has found, since “teachers are the number one in-school influence on student achievement. In high-turnover schools, the inexperienced and underqualified teachers often hired to fill empty spots also have a negative impact on student learning.” Plus, turnover “contributes to inequality in educational experiences,” the Washington Post has concluded as “students of color and those living in poverty are less likely to be assigned effective teachers.”
Frankly, teacher attrition is also financially unsustainable. According to the Learning Policy Institute, in urban districts, it costs districts and schools $20,000 on average to recruit, hire, and train each new teacher. And when teachers leave after one or two years, that $20,000 investment just doesn’t pay off.
So why are teachers leaving? It’s not just about low pay and long hours. Few teachers initially join the profession for either of those. Studies report that key influences range from a lack of administrative support and opportunities for advancement to dissatisfaction with working conditions.
Essentially, our teachers are unhappy and stressed out. The Washington Post found that 7 out of 10 surveyed teachers said “they often felt their work is stressful” and almost “8 out of 10 indicated they recently felt physically and mentally exhausted at the end of the work day.”
And they’re disengaged. “Nearly 7 in 10 surveyed teachers are not emotionally connected to or are dissatisfied with their workplaces” according to a Gallup report. Considering what they’re up against, this is understandable. A staggering 80% of teachers say there’s a lack of unity among their colleagues. And when they face daily student behavior problems – like poor discipline, tardies, and high absenteeism – with no real way to solve them, engaging can feel hopeless. Research supports this, showing “teachers leave schools with poor working conditions where they feel they cannot have success with their students.”
Knowing this, steming teacher attrition is possible if we treat the root cause of the problem and solve for teacher well-being. It’s the right thing to do for our teachers and our students since teacher well-being is an essential component of improved student outcomes and attainment.
Since burnout is typically tied to school culture, we must empower educators with ways to improve school culture. Brain research has scientifically proved that “it is possible to change a school culture, improve student behavior, increase the focus on academics and improve the overall functioning of an inner-city school” in environments where teachers are happy. And “retention is higher on campuses where school culture is positive and where teachers feel the support of principals and colleagues,” the Washington Post has found.
The good news is that it is possible to make significant school culture improvements with effective student behavioral management tools like Hero. Hero, for one, allows educators to implement Schoolwide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS or PBIS) or other positive behavior programs. PBIS works by encouraging teachers to recognize students for good behavior like being engaged in class, which inspires exceptional learning environments and more good behavior from other students – thereby improving school culture.
The link between teacher satisfaction and PBIS has been well-documented by the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions in the past. “SWPBIS is embedded with opportunities for teachers to have positive interactions with their students,” results have indicated. And “teachers in schools implementing SWPBIS with fidelity had significantly lower levels of burnout and significantly higher levels of efficacy.” And in our own informal survey, 70% of teachers using Hero reported “focusing on positive behaviors improved their outlook as an educator.”
Perhaps what’s most promising about the potential for PBIS to improve teacher satisfaction and well-being is that it’s possible to implement on a district or school level. So many local education leaders have their hands tied by state governments when it comes to raising pay, improving facilities, or fixing the other problems directly impacting teacher satisfaction and retention. But adding a PBIS framework to district policy is a way to bring about real change. And considering again the costs of our teacher attrition crisis, investing in a PBIS solution could cost a whole lot less.