Take a look at your school schedule-are there any instances in which teachers are expected to work for more than 2 hours without a break? My guess is that it’s pretty typical-especially in schools that are already understaffed. Research has shown that people who take frequent breaks (anywhere from 5-30 minutes) after periods of working (anywhere from 25-90 minutes) are more productive. One study says that people hit their peak by working for 52 minutes and taking a 17-minute break.
While these optimal recommendations may not be realistic in a school, it’s worth noting that many teachers work several hours with no break (not even for lunch or biological functions!). No matter how talented and committed a teacher may be, there is no way that the person under those conditions is as effective for the afternoon Algebra class as s/he was for the morning Geometry class. Teaching should not be this grueling!
Take a look at your human capital practices. Organizations that have someone who is responsible for checking in with teachers to see how they are doing and who monitors and keeps tabs on what life as a teacher is like in your school tend to have higher retention rates. Timing is also key. Do you simply pass out an intent to return form or do you invite them to join you for the next school year, letting them know that they are needed and the team is much stronger with them? When do you let teachers know about their status for the following year? Even if you are unable to execute contracts, letting teachers know that they will be invited back and are valued can go a long way (and keep them from using spring break to look for new opportunities).
Teachers are also expected to work nearly independently and take full responsibility for any and all dynamics in the classroom. As more and more students arrive to school having suffered trauma and without consistent adult support, teachers have an increasingly tougher job of managing the students as humans even without the academic and content expectations. As an educational community, we have to find ways to partner with others to help provide resources so that teachers can focus on their job of educating students.
Additionally, examine the way that teachers are treated, spoken to, considered within your school. Are they treated with common courtesy? Do we demonstrate value for them as professional through the way we speak and refer to them? Are our policies teacher-friendly and demonstrate an understanding of their needs as people? Too often, teachers are expected to do a lot because they don’t resist and because that’s been the culture of teaching. However, in this day and age, there are too many demands on schools to transfer all of them on to teachers' shoulders.
Deliberately examining the expectations (both official and unofficial) of teachers and engaging them in the conversation could lead to simple changes and efforts that make teaching in your school a better experience, influencing more teachers to stay.
Rajeshri Gandhi-Bhatia, Ed-M, is the founder of School Smarts, which offers expertise in the areas of school leadership, management and growth.