A teacher stands with her arms folded across her chest in an empty classroom.


The public sector historically has attracted and retained talented employees through stability and excellent health and retirement benefits. However, the working conditions that once attracted workers to government jobs, including public schools, are no longer keeping pace with private sector innovations.

Public schools and the teaching profession have been hit hard by the challenges of the past two years. Teachers see their friends in other industries gain flexibility that isn’t available in a traditional classroom environment. Pressures from parents and community members have increased, and teachers are required to master new technology tools on the fly with little professional development or increased compensation.

According to a February survey conducted by the National Education Association (NEA), “A staggering 55 percent of educators are thinking about leaving the profession earlier than they had planned. This represents a significant increase from 37 percent in August and is true for educators regardless of age or years teaching, driving buses, or serving meals to students.” The NEA also pointed out that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there has been a net loss of 600,000 teachers since January 2020.

On top of those staggering number is the fact that fewer are entering the field as well. Since the start of the pandemic, 20 percent of teacher colleges reported a decline of new undergraduate enrollment of 11 percent or more, according to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE). At the graduate level, 13 percent of fall 2021 respondents reported significant declines in the number of new graduate students due to the pandemic.

We must rethink the options and benefits for educators to attract the next generation of educators into the field and keep our experienced ones.

New learning models

As so many employment opportunities have gone at least hybrid, and even more completely remote, a job that requires you to be in the office for the full 40 hours every week is becoming less and less desirable. But what if there were ways for the education sector to compete?

For years, we have talked about how educators need not be the “sage on the stage” but the “guide on the side.” What if educators took that to heart? What could that look like? As districts look to more widespread adoption of personalized, competency-based learning models, opportunities for educators to have more flex time are entirely possible.

Additionally, post-pandemic, many educators realized they loved the flexibility of online learning. Now that brick-and-mortar schools are back in session, new learning models are emerging, and educators are finding a bit more flexibility within their day. Students could participate in work-based learning by being out in the community with community partners. They could be in with other subject teachers for cross-curricular projects.

Think outside the box for benefits

As the private sector continues to offer flexibility for employees, districts are trying to keep up. Four-day work weeks are increasing in popularity across the country. According to a June article in Edsurge, “The policy typically involves lengthening the remaining four school days after one weekday is cut from schools’ schedules. About 660 schools in 24 states were using four-day weeks before the pandemic caused school closures in 2020, according to a Brookings Institution estimate, a six-fold increase compared to 1999. It’s increased since then.”

Additionally, another emerging benefit is to offer services or perks. As social and emotional learning and mental health take center stage, districts could find services to help educators and their families. Benefits like meals ready-to-cook at home or personal training sessions with physical education teachers could be attractive to incoming educators.

It would be helpful to make a list of things educators are likely struggling with (or better yet survey your educators), mostly due in part to the pandemic and upheaval from the last two years and see if there is a way to afford and provide services that help with these struggles.

Teacher licensure changes

A dozen states are considering changing teacher certification rules, according to Education Week and the Education Commission of the States. Those include changing the criteria for licensure and expanding the qualifying score on state licensing tests. Some are dropping licensure tests altogether.

California and Oklahoma have removed entry exam requirements. Missouri allows passage of an exam if the test-taker is within one standard error of measurement, or they were within a few questions of meeting the qualifying score requirements. Alabama is set to vote on a proposal “that candidates who score within one standard error of measurement on the Praxis can still be certified if they have a higher GPA in their teacher-preparation program or if they complete 100 hours of state-approved training.”

New Jersey began implementing a five-year pilot program where “teachers applying for certification do not have to meet certain criteria. The law waives either a minimum GPA requirement or a minimum test score requirement and issues prospective teachers Limited Certificates of Eligibility and Limited Certificates of Eligibility with Advanced Standing.” Every state relaxing these requirements believes it will result in hundreds or thousands more educators for the fall.

Grow-your-own programs

Grow-your-own teacher programs recruit and train teachers from within communities or school districts. Candidates can be adults or district students. The programs are often partnerships among schools, districts, community organizations, and teacher preparation programs.

The Tennessee Department of Education introduced a statewide grow-your-own teachers program in January. The website states that, “Tennessee has set a new path for the educator profession as the top state to become and remain a teacher and leader for all.” The goal is to build pipelines of qualified teachers and school district professionals.

Iowa is considering a similar program. Its governor announced the Educator and Paraeducator Registered Apprenticeship in January. This program provides up to $40,500 over three years for each high school student who completes a paraeducator certificate or an associate degree. The U.S. Department of Education will provide up to $47,000 over a two-year period for each paraeducator who completes the bachelor’s degree. The funding will pay for:

Tuition and fees up to $7,000 a year for up to three years at a community college.

Tuition and fees up to $17,000 a year for up to two years at a four-year university.

Hourly rates of $12 for high school aides while still in school and 50 percent of wages that districts currently pay for aides and paraeducators for up to 30 hours per week for 36 weeks. 

Both state initiatives are using federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. Districts can use their ARP ESSER money in a similar way for local grow-your-own teacher programs.

Professional learning

In a recent survey done by Interactive Educational Systems Design and released by D2L, 1,000 K-12 teachers and district administrators were asked questions about professional learning. The results of this survey suggest that many of us have been making false assumptions about what teachers want when it comes to their professional learning.

The survey reported that “A growing educator interest emerging out of teachers’ pandemic experiences in professional learning that is ongoing, on-demand, online, and targeted. However, likely due in part to their limited access to frequent and personalized professional learning, only
20 percent of surveyed educators identified strong satisfaction with the professional learning opportunities made available by their school and district.”

Another finding: “District administrators most frequently cited educator time required as a barrier to implementing various forms of online PL (82 percent), while only 48 percent of teachers cited the time required as a challenge.” Teachers may be more open to online professional learning because they like the flexibility. Online professional learning offers timeliness and the ability to target to their needs and interests.

The D2L survey reported, “71% [of educators] identified interest in professional learning that is online, on demand (e.g., video segments, learning modules, courses), with 55% indicating their interest increased since the pandemic started.” In response, some districts are creating professional development playlists, based on the concept of teachers creating playlists for their students to differentiate instruction. The playlists include things to watch, listen to, or read.

District leaders can support their educators by talking with them on how, when, and where they would like professional learning opportunities delivered. Sometimes leaders believe they are offering what their educators want but find out there is an inexpensive and more engaging way to do so.

Opportunities for future leaders

The leadership pipeline within the district is also shrinking. Cultivating classroom teachers to become teacher leaders and administrators—giving them room for advancement—is a sure way to retain talented employees.

The Wallace Foundation and RAND released a report in 2019 on the benefits of principal pipelines, and there are massive implications for districts when it comes to growing the leadership pipeline. The report states: “Six large school districts that built principal pipelines, a set of measures to cultivate effective school leaders, saw notable, statistically significant benefits for student achievement across their communities. After three years, pipeline-district schools with newly placed principals outperformed comparison schools in other districts by more than 6 percentile points in reading and almost 3 percentile points in math, an unusual accomplishment.”

The pipelines also led to benefits in principal retention, according to the report. After three years, pipeline districts had nearly eight fewer losses for every 100 newly placed principals than the comparison group.

More money

We know that most people in the field of education are not motivated by money. However, finding innovative ways to increase teacher pay and fund more positions would certainly not hurt teacher retention.

Many districts are using federal ARP ESSER funds to increase teacher salaries, give bonuses, and add staff to take the pressure off of current employees.

A White House fact sheet published on March 11 gave the following examples:

Maine School Administrative District 11 used ARP ESSER funds to hire nine new teachers. The additional teachers permitted the district to reduce class sizes. The district has provided external and internal coaching, ongoing professional learning, and additional support to educators and staff.

North Carolina’s Gaston County Schools is adding an additional teacher and a temporary employee per school to decrease class sizes, help manage workloads, and provide classroom coverage using ARP ESSER funding.

North Carolina’s Asheville City Schools Board of Education is using ARP ESSER funds to grant bonuses of $3,000 to $3,500 over the course of the year for full-time teachers and faculty.

Rhode Island’s Providence Public School District launched new incentives to recruit and retain highly qualified educators, including early signing bonuses for new educators and support staff in hard-to-fill positions using ARP ESSER funding.

The status quo for benefits and perks will no longer attract and retain the same talent that it used to. An industry that can provide a way to ease some life burdens will win the talent. It’s up to school districts and their leaders to be creative and find solutions that appeal to their employees.

Susan Gentz (sgentz@bsgstrategy.com) is the founder of BSG Strategies, LLC (www.bsgstrategies.com).


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