#95 – Recruiting, Supporting, and Retaining Elementary Teachers

Unpacking Education June 8, 2022 38 min

“Try to remember that this is the best job in the world. And no matter how down you feel, somebody in your classroom came to school today because you’re there.” These words from our guest, Dr. Teddi Beam-Conroy—Director of the Elementary Teacher Education Program at the University of Washington—hit on the essence of being a teacher. They reflect the difference we can make and the importance of showing up and giving our best every day.

Throughout this episode, we explore the topic of keeping teachers in the profession so that they can continue to do their important work. We talk about the challenges faced by teachers each day, some approaches we can take to make schools a place where teachers want to remain, and specific ways that we can draw and keep teachers of color in the profession.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

When I ask teachers why they teach, they almost always say that it is because they want to make a difference in the lives of children.

Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education


The following resources are available on AVID Open Access to explore this topic in more depth:

How Can We Make Conditions Better for Teachers?

Despite returning to more normal learning conditions, teachers are regularly claiming that this is the hardest year they’ve ever had. Many are feeling burned out and have considered leaving the profession. This is especially true for our teachers of color. To sustain and grow quality education programs, we must explore ways to improve working conditions and provide support for our teachers.

In this episode with Teddi, we look for solutions to the teacher burnout crisis and discuss ways that we can support and retain the teachers our elementary students need:

  • Causes of the Teacher Shortage: The pandemic placed unprecedented stress on teachers, students, families, and the entire educational system. This impact continues today and is compounded by the strains of preparing for standardized tests.
  • Teachers of Color: While burnout has increased for all in the teaching profession, Teddi points out, “Burnout among teachers of color is huge.” She talks about this challenge and what she hears from the teachers she supports: Burnout can increase by “being in places where you are not supported, being in places where people doubt your capabilities, not being able to see yourself elevated by your peers. When we talk about people going into teaching because they care about kids, that’s what I hear from folks in my cohort most often — is that they’re in teaching because they want to be the teachers they never saw as children.”
  • Recruitment: To recruit more new teachers, and specifically teachers of color, we need to be both honest and supportive with them. We need to be upfront about the challenges in the field, and we also need to rework the system to better support all learners. Teddi tells her students, “There are some things I won’t be able to fix, but if there are things we can fix as a program, then we’re going to do that.”
  • Formula for Success: Teddi shares a recollection of a finding from the Minority Student Achievement Network, “Teachers who were successful with students of color had two main characteristics: They had high expectations for the students, and they also made the students aware that they believed in their ability to meet those high expectations.”
  • Encouragement: We must affirm and empower our teacher candidates. According to Teddi, the message we need to send is, “We think you’re going to be a good teacher. It’s our job to get you there.”
  • Retaining Teachers: We must humanize teaching and remove barriers that make life as a teacher more difficult. Specifically, Teddi suggests that we must “think about what people’s individual circumstances are and what you can do to support those circumstances.” As an example, she shares how her principal once arranged for her two young children to be dropped off at the school where she taught. This small act of kindness removed barriers and stress from her day and allowed her to be a more fully committed and focused teacher.
  • Hope for the Future: Teachers are still entering the profession for the right reason: the students. Teddi shares her observations, including these words: “It blows me away—their [teachers’] convictions to do right by kids, and families, and communities. We have some folks who are going out there, who are going to make some differences, and demand changes for their students, for the families.”

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your teaching team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • How have employment shortages impacted the elementary schools in your district?
  • How has your district’s current employment situation impacted elementary programs, job assignments, and classroom effectiveness?
  • What do you see as the primary causes for staffing shortages in elementary schools?
  • How might we recruit more young people to become elementary teachers?
  • How might we support new elementary teachers?
  • How can we retain veteran elementary teachers?
  • Where do you and others still find joy in the teaching profession?