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January/February 2024

Commentary
Teacher Shortage: Combining Strategies for Retention, Attrition, and Recruitment

By Jim Rosborg and Ralph Grimm

Over the past 10 years, our research has focused on the need to establish programs that encourage more individuals to get into teaching as a profession. Now we need to add to that focus: How do we keep teachers on the job and deal with the attrition of experienced and early career teachers”

For example, have you ever been to a gathering of teachers and administrators? One of the first topics that comes up in discussion is usually, “How many years do you have to work before you can retire?”

Currently, many ideas and options are floating around for how to aid teacher recruitment, and getting candidates into education programs and into the classroom. We will not end this discussion but will add focus on keeping teachers in your district and providing an environment to keep both experienced and early career teachers in the classroom.

It is now time to combine other areas such as attrition and retention to end the drastic shortage of teachers in the classroom. For example, Professor Richard Ingersoll from the University of Pennsylvania points out that 44% of teachers are now leaving the educational system within the first five years of employment and 10% are leaving the education system in their first year of employment. Further data comes from American University which found that 90% of polled educators have concerns about burnout and 61% feel that there is a serious concern about the stress from the impact of COVID. Bottom line: We must tackle the retention and attrition areas along with recruitment for long-range solutions to this growing teacher shortage problem.   

Retention
We believe teacher retention is a missing piece in the teacher shortage discussion. We have strong feelings that administrators and boards of education should be making greater efforts to retain the staff they have, instead of letting them go or not paying attention to the little- or no-cost things they can do to encourage individual teachers to stay in their district. 

Administrators can and should impact teacher retention. For each impact point, there are multiple things that administrators and boards can and should be doing to affect teacher (and administrator) retention. This starts from the beginning of the hiring process. 

The number one priority action that must take place in the school and district environment is the administrators and board must support teachers in the classroom. Administrators and boards of education cannot “back down” to parents and the community when the teacher and the school district are following Illinois school law, board policy, and the district’s code of conduct. This is especially important in today’s politically charged environment. 

Below readers will find the main impact points that we believe administrators and boards can and should address, and that are often overlooked in the overall retention process. Please note the lists below for each impact point are not exhaustive and are offered as examples of topics to be discussed and/or reviewed. The reader is encouraged to consider them, and add to or change items to meet the specific needs of their school districts.

Administrators can and should impact teacher retention. For each impact point, there are multiple things that administrators and boards can and should be doing to affect teacher (and administrator) retention. This starts from the beginning of the hiring process. 

The number one priority action that must take place in the school and district environment is the administrators and board must support teachers in the classroom. Administrators and boards of education cannot “back down” to parents and the community when the teacher and the school district are following Illinois school law, board policy, and the district’s code of conduct. This is especially important in today’s politically charged environment. 

Below readers will find the main impact points that we believe administrators and boards can and should address, and that are often overlooked in the overall retention process. Please note the lists below for each impact point are not exhaustive and are offered as examples of topics to be discussed and/or reviewed. The reader is encouraged to consider them, and add to or change items to meet the specific needs of their school districts. 


During The Interview Process
Sell the district to the candidate. We must create an atmosphere where the candidate wants to come to our district. Talk about the district’s strengths and challenges. Talk about the community or communities that make up the school district.

Make the candidate feel welcome in the interview and help them understand the district’s interview process.

Ensure the candidate has all their questions answered before, during, and after the interview. This should include an explanation of the district’s salary and benefits, so the candidate does not have to ask these questions.

Make the interview simple to get through. This should include pre-interview communication explaining the interview process, the specific details of the interview (time, place, specific directions on how to get to the interview, etc.), what happens after the interview, when the hiring decision will be made, how the employment of the candidate will take place, when the hiring decision will be made, and how the employment of the candidate will take place. Finally, a follow-up note expressing gratitude to the candidate for coming to the interview. While this may be a change for most districts’ procedures, so is the fact that we have a teacher shortage.

Take the time to provide a tour of the facility and the classroom the candidate may be assigned to if they are selected. This is beneficial to the candidate and to the interviewer as this provides a more informal environment to see how the candidate reacts in a different setting than the formal interview room. If teachers are on the tour, take time to introduce the candidate to the teacher and let them interact with each other.


During On-Boarding of New Staff
A planned new employee workshop is vitally important. Giving time to transportation and bus details, special education, building and grounds, and technology along with district trends such as board direction and the code of conduct should be included in this session. A tour of the district would be nice during the new employee workshop.

Provide planned mentor and induction knowledge that each teacher will go through. This can be further enhanced by including these activities with professional development activities.

Set up social settings for new teachers and at times the entire staff. This helps develop teamwork.

Provide a map of key community resources — places of worship, restaurants, grocery stores, banks, clothing stores, hair stylists, etc.

Assist all new hires with licensure requirements and get assistance from the local Regional Office of Education.

Help with housing locations, banking, and shopping.



During the School Year
Continue with mentor meetings. Focus on classroom discipline, district curriculum, and school law updates to assist with classroom management and help give the new teacher strength to deal with conflict with students, parents, and the community.

Provide school law updates. We suggest purchasing the Illinois School Law Survey by Brian Braun from the Illinois Association of School Boards.

Check-in meetings are helpful with the building principal, HR director, and/or superintendent.

Try to be personal — birthdays, family activities, awards, recognitions, etc. This fits for all staff members, not only new teachers.

Provide new technology and in-service in new instructional trends.

Unless the new employee expresses an interest, try not to overburden them with co-curricular activities and other extra duties — let them learn their craft before letting them do non-contractual activities.



During The Exiting of Staff
Do an exit interview. Ask three questions — Why are you leaving? What could we have done better to help you be successful? Is there anything else we should know about your time in the district?

Be helpful to them as they exit — we need them to speak well of us.

Talk to them about how their remaining pay and benefits will be handled.


For All Staff Members
Extend grace — early and often.

Express gratitude to your staff — early and often.

Observe and interact with them — early and often.

Show your staff you care for them as human beings and teachers.

Offer your staff time to provide suggestions for district improvement along with concerns. We used monthly advisory meetings to achieve a portion of this goal.

Despite these ideas, more needs to be done to tackle current issues such as pay, working conditions, lack of support, bureaucratic red tape, and being over-regulated. We cannot forget there are still great needs in teacher recruitment. Here are five major issues at the forefront that are needed to assist in the overall teacher shortage.


Teacher Recruitment
Retirement Age: There is a great need to roll back the 67-age retirement requirement for Tier II and Tier III teachers (hired after 2011) to more of a national stan­dard. Teachers in Tier I can retire at age 55. This must be part of the solution to end the teacher shortage and have better retention of current teachers. The energy level needed to instruct today’s students is huge. The paradigm shifts needed in education over the next 25 years and beyond will need educators with greater levels of willingness than a 67-year-old administrator, teacher, bus driver, paraprofessional, etc. We suggest 62 for one that has achieved the number of required work years.

At face value, are we really enticing and retaining the 22-year-old by telling them they will not see the light at the end of the tunnel until age 67?

It is impossible to have sustainability and retention if there is no hope for a successful retirement, especially when states around us are not even close to being as restrictive. For example, Indiana’s teacher retirement rule states that if a teacher wants to retire before the age of 65, they become eligible to retire between the ages of 60 to 64 if they have 15 years of experience or if they are 55-69 if service adds to 85 by adding age and service together. Bottom line, a 55-year-old with 30 years of experience can take early retirement. Kentucky requires 27 years of teaching experience. Michigan and Missouri require 30 years of experience.

We feel an unintended consequence is going to be too many teachers at the bottom of the pay scale (highest salaries) for many years, which will put already stressed districts in greater financial distress. This year provided the first discussions of the issue in the legislature but the bill did not make it out of committee. The good is that the discussion finally took place. The bad is we are still burying our heads in the sand as this issue is huge for solving the teacher shortage. Many young candidates are leaving Illinois because of this law.

Tuition Scholarships Needed: When the state had a teacher shortage in the early 1960s, the Illinois Legislature passed laws to give teacher tuition scholarships. There was a 5-year requirement for these individuals to teach in Illinois. The bottom line is that it was effective. We support the re-establishment of this opportunity. The IARSS survey noted that 86% of all Illinois school districts 32 • Illinois School Board Journal

recommend offering additional scholarships to teaching candidates to help ease teaching shortages. (Dr. Rosborg admits to being very biased on this issue as this Illinois Scholarship in 1968 gave him the opportunity to go to college.)

Lower Tuition: Make it more affordable for teachers to complete their training. (Illinois Associa­tion of Regional Superintendent of Schools, IARSS). The current high tuition is leaving most graduates in debt for many years as they enter their profes­sion. The impact on their lifestyle is huge. This will take assistance from both universities and the state legislature. Explore methods of lowering General Education requirements at the university level and adding more skill classes such as school law, public speaking, and classroom discipline, which includes the prevention of bullying.

Grow Your Own: Focus on individuals within the district, such as students and paraprofessionals. Also included in the discussions are individuals who received their bachelor’s degree in areas outside of education. We feel these are among such plans:
 
  • Need to have a detailed plan.
  • Need financial support — local and/or state.
  • Need to have guidance.
  • Need to have passionate leadership.
  • Administration and Boards need to promise the “grow-your-own” candidate a job upon graduation.
  • Can be administered by local districts, univer­sities, or community organizations. A working agreement between all three is preferable.

Concluding Remarks
As mentioned in the opening paragraph concern­ing retention, the data is now showing the need not only for more teachers but also to focus on attrition and retention strategies. The number of candidates is improving. Advance Illinois recently reported that the number of new candidates in education this year reached totals not achieved since 2009. This information, along with other state initiatives, has helped encourage some hope of improvement in the shortage problem. We have finally recognized that instituting the non-researched new basic skills test (TAP) in 2010 was a huge mistake and kept excellent new candidates out of the pipeline. Since TAP ended in 2019, we have more new candidates reaching the licensure level which is already leading to more graduating candidates. This is good. These efforts must continue by making further adjust­ments at the state level.

Now, one of our biggest hurdles is retention. To sustain the teacher workforce and to assist the cur­rent teacher shortage, we must develop ways to keep the existing workforce in the education field along with finding ways to recruit new educators in the field. When you want to draw people into a profes­sion and retain them, you must fulfill basic needs. This includes pay, benefits, and working conditions. Administration and boards of education must show their support for both new and experienced teachers.

Bottom line – we will not be able to tackle the teacher shortage without addressing current turnover trends in teacher career paths. Internal efforts such as collaborative professional devel­opment plans, attendance bonus incentives, staff socials, and other work incentives must be planned in every district. That includes pay, benefits, and working conditions.

Likewise, the process of retention must begin from the very first introduction of the candidates to the district during the initial interview and carry on throughout the employee’s career in the district. Because of the teacher shortage, the hiring focus has changed. In the past, the candidate had to impress the administration and board. Now with the shortage, the administration and board must impress the candidate for both hiring and long-term employment. ´Ç╝

Ralph Grimm is a retired Illinois Superintendent who served for 21 years in that role. He currently works as an IASA Field Services Director. He provides professional development training to the association members and provides consulting services with boards of education, school districts, schools, and teams throughout Illinois. Jim Rosborg, Ph.D., is a retired Illinois superintendent and Director of the Master’s in Education Program at McKendree University. He is a co-author of two books and a frequent contributor to the Journal. He currently works with doctorate students at McKendree and speaks to educators and boards about the shortage and its possible solutions.