Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Staffing Retention, Retainment, and Recruitment in a COVID Era

Many schools and districts find it unusually hard to find staff to fill teaching roles. The reasons for this are vast.   One major issue is that faculty simply feel overworked,  underappreciated, and underpaid. This is mainly due to parental demands, state regulations, increased oversight, and inflation. Ultimately, this creates a situation where teachers go from feeling like managers of their classrooms to feeling like the hired help.  This also creates problems where teachers think their work-life balance is way off.  Let's go back to the notion that great organizations thrive when you put the right people in the correct positions and allow teachers a lot of leverage to do things in the way they find best (al la Jim Collins).  Clearly, competent professionals do not want to be micromanaged. They do not wish to do additional duties that are not directly related to their position and do not want extra paperwork.  This ultimately needs to be fixed to solve the problem first.  However, below I have listed some recruitment ideas.

Here are the possible solutions:

On a global level:

Consider dramatically changing the requirements for certification of K-12 teachers. For example, reducing the degree requirements and credit requirements. For instance, if someone has a BA in a subject related to math or science, why not consider accepting 9-12 credits in education as enough to be certified in that subject conditionally for 3-5 years? Why not consider allowing people who have taught one subject to become certified in a different age range or subject by simply testing into that area? Why require a graduate degree for counseling positions? Why require an MA for a principal license when we could merely require 2-3 additional courses post-working 5 years in education? These requirements cost people somewhere 25-80k, and the money teachers make does not attract people to jump to this field or change to teach a different subject so easily. We need to pave an easier, more cost-effective way.

On a local level: 

Prioritize hiring aids to supervise recess, provide coverage for lunch, and monitor arrival and dismissal. Do not expect teachers to do this kind of work. If possible, hire assistant teachers who can also grade vocab quizzes and basic other assignments in younger grades.

Consider reducing the number of administrators in a district and paying teachers more (not just starting teachers, but more importantly, mid-career level teachers).

Budget to hire experienced teachers, not just those fresh out of school (who are cheaper). They often come with a wealth of experience in how to create a positive culture in a classroom and how to foster relationships with parents.  Experienced hires can be SO helpful to an organization when adequately utilized.

Have an assistant teacher or teacher's aide that been in the school for years but lacks degrees beyond college directly in the subject?  Find a way to get this person certified if they would make a good teacher.  Find ways to work with them to help them become teachers if they want.  Ask them directly if you think they have potential.  Often, people think they are pegged for life in a position like this if they have been in it for 5 plus years.  It's a mentality.  You can help them see their potential.  I cannot tell you how many excellent teachers I worked with were long-term assistant teachers first.

Consider agreeing to hold on to the existing curriculum for 5-7 years and funnel the money towards hiring bonuses.

If you are running a private school, consider finding a way to hire retired NJ public school teachers through a new 403b incentive plan where you match their salary by 5% or more after year 2 and by 6-7% in years 5 and up.

Ways to incentivize teachers to stay that are non-financial:

Work with your PTO to help support teachers in setting up their classrooms the week before school starts (during PD time for teachers).   Having parents available to cut, paste, hang, decorate, and supply materials.  

Find ways to get parents to donate supplies rather than expect teachers to furnish their classrooms with materials.  Teachers pay way too much money out of their own pockets for stuff.  Some of this stuff can be donated by parents/local organizations/local businesses.  Who advertises in your school calendar?  Who gives your students internships?  Where do your teachers order lunch, or do you get catering for PD?  Ask them first.

For private schools, principals can consider giving teachers more say in their own scheduling (ask them about their preferences and reasons behind those preferences in google forms before finalizing any scheduling for the final year or making significant abrupt changes) and ask them to look over schedules before finalizing them.  You can find ways to create block scheduling and allow teachers to work four days a week (if possible).  Consider ways to include faculty in developing a schedule and school calendar whenever possible.
Creating more flexibility for teachers to leave work during the daytime to care for family, run errands, and go to doctor's appointments. By creating a culture where it is customary to leave during the day when needed to without rebuke or having to ask permission or serious questioning, you create a culture where teachers feel respected and do not need to feel like they have to take an entire day off for something simple like a mammogram. You gain teacher support and increase teacher attendance this way.  It also mimics other professions where adults do this without an issue.  There is a long history of a paternalistic culture in education (especially towards women staff), and we must break this.

Remove any distinction between types of "time off."  Sick time, personal time, etc., should all be rolled into "flex days," and each teacher should get 11 days off a year. Obviously, a teacher who needs to go on medical or bereavement leave can get additional time, but this allows teachers to be empowered to take the time they need and not feel belittled into asking "permission" or justifying the need to take off. Take off when you need to for the number of days you need up to 11. No questions asked. Just tell us when. That makes teachers feel respected like the adult professionals they are.

Ditch clocking in. If a teacher isn't present, they need to inform you by a specific time. If they are not there on time to teach regularly, your students will let you know, and you should consider having a strict policy where retention is tied (as a prerequisite for considering retention) to being on time for class.  Have an on-time policy, but policing this like the teacher is a child gets you nowhere. Your best teachers will occasionally walk in the door two minutes before they have to teach. So what? It will happen. You'd rather have them happy.   Of course, you must have a protocol and cameras in the hallways to monitor if a class is left alone.  

Suppose you have a game plan, and you notice a pattern of a specific teacher not being in a classroom when teaching time occurs. In that case, you can have a one-on-one meeting with them (not an announcement to a large group of faculty about how important it is to be on time).  You can place a letter in their file after the third time this occurs (as might happen in any other position where you need to be somewhere at a given time).  You can dismiss them after several times (up to you), but documenting and having one-on-one conversations are essential.  

Also, not physically having to clock in is a massive relief for teachers who often struggle to get their kids to school before rushing to teach themselves.  Do not have teachers come 30-40 minutes before they need to teach.  Instead, create a schedule where every teacher has a "late" day (don't start teaching until after 9 am) and require teachers at most 10-15 minutes before teaching to be present with legroom there and no responsibilities of monitoring children before teaching.

Stop requiring lesson plans. Yes. I said it. I know. If the teacher isn't teaching, they don't have their LMS set up; if the kids are goofing off in class, then YOU WILL KNOW.   All their lessons and materials should be there if they are utilizing an LMS (which should be required).  No need to make them work twice. The LMS has made lesson plans redundant and intellectually draining.  

Do not require teachers to grade everything they assign. They need to grade part of everything they assign (except final essays and tests). Make that clear to them.

Require teachers to only respond to emails from parents during work hours. Let parents know this is the school policy. The only exception to this is the school nurse for medical reasons.  The teacher should not be the go-to if a parent has an emergency.  Emergencies are for administrators that work year-round and make more.  Either way, parents should be discouraged from expecting less than 24 hours' notice on weekdays (if emailed Friday, Monday response should be OK) unless it's an emergency.

Do not do schoolwide PDs that focus on some theme. No one wants to hear a speaker talk about critical thinking, 21st-century skills, emotional intelligence, behavior plans, or trauma as an entire school. The lack of directions on topics that need to be targeted to specific age ranges/classes makes this a failed plan. This is a colossal mistake admin make because it seems cost-effective and produces excellent material for parents to "see" what they are learning on the day the kids are home, without actually covering anything. Teachers want PD directed towards what they teach. They can engage in a PLC if they learn more about the above areas.   Do subject-specific PLNs or interdisciplinary PLNs that focus on groups of teachers with specific directed issues.  

Consider emailing teachers BEFORE posting anything about scheduling to confirm it works for their classes and to get feedback from them on the impact of scheduling on students/the school community.

Give teachers their own classrooms. Each teacher needs their own space. When possible, this can be a huge help for teachers. Imagine having an employee without an office. We do that to teachers when we do not give them a classroom.

Do not have post-school PD or events that require teachers (except graduation or something major, like a few times, yearly tops). When the kids end school, teachers should end it too. It's too complicated with childcare; honestly, teachers need a break as much as the kids.

Administrators need to spend a lot more time getting rid of toxic teachers. It may sound crazy because we are all scrambling to find good teachers to fill roles, but holding on to toxic teachers can be a massive deterrent to new teachers considering your school. The teacher with the loudest complaining voice is not always the best. And either way, that teacher is not the best teacher for your school. Period. End of story. Find an exit strategy for that teacher. Put that teacher on a performance plan. Document everything happening. Make sure this teacher isn't negatively impacting students and other teachers. Never give that teacher the ability to have a voice in a public meeting. Make it clear to that teacher before meeting with other teachers that you expect that teacher to behave. Give examples of times that teacher did not do so. Explain how that teacher's behavior has impacted others. Make it clear you will tolerate no more of this regardless of the many years/successful performance the teacher has had in the past. Never hold large meetings to discuss morale rather than face this issue head-on and individually.

Consider recruiting qualified teachers from other countries to take certification exams and have the background necessary to be a good teachers.  This is already happening in areas like Chicago.  It's happening in the tech sector.  There is no reason we do not do this here.  

Lastly, thank your teachers every single day.  It's the most important advice I can give.  Thank them, compliment them (meaningfully), ask them how they are doing, learn their kids' names, and find out when they have a birthday.  Celebrate the good times with them and show up when they face hardship.  I loved the teachers I worked with as a principal and curriculum director.  They are some of the best people on the planet.  Value them.