Taming Teacher Turnover in Schools
Jancan Limo, Education Consultant
18 January 2018
Every beginning of a school term, most especially first term, many schools are seeking to replace some teachers who left the school or source for more teachers to reduce the gap existing in student-teacher ratio. WhatsApp groups are filled with vacancies that are advertised by various schools. The trend is not limited to private schools, which is worse, to be honest, but also extends to teachers who are employed by the board of management in public schools. For this article, I will limit my observation to secondary schools. That said, primary schools are no exceptions.
School administrators have various reasons to relieve some teachers off their duties and teachers have their own reasons, why they move from one school to another. Maternity leave, further studies, greener pastures, frustrations by the administrators, the need to save holiday cash, incompetence are just a few of the reasons why teachers are fired or quit. These reasons form a cyclic trend. An opportunity in one school will attract teachers in other schools, those who seek to occupy the vacancy create a vacancy again.
This transfer or sourcing of teachers every now and then has both positive and negative consequences. This trend has a negative impact because the teachers won’t have time to develop, the competent teachers may leave and the changing will affect the students in a way. There is a need to address this situation in order to ensure that meaningful learning takes place. I have used the term meaningful purposely as it only happens if the teacher’s mind is settled and the student’s mind is well prepared. A teacher whose mind is elsewhere looking for a job and a student is afraid that the teacher may be planning to leave, will not have meaningful and enjoyable learning.
An opportunity in one school will attract teachers in other schools. Those who seek to occupy the vacancy create a vacancy again, generating a cyclic trend.
To address this problem of teachers’ turnover, first, the school administrators have to evaluate their tradition. Teachers adapt the tradition of the school they are in just as the saying goes, ‘I am because we are, as we are so I am’. A school that is focused on fulfilling its mission and vision will develop a tradition that is consistent and align with the goals it aims to achieve. This includes instilling principles to the teachers that will help them in achieving the school goals.
Two people can be owning similar smartphones but use them very differently, the same case to teachers. Colleges and universities make a teacher by equipping them with the required knowledge. But, the schools tap into this knowledge and equip teachers with practices that assist them to function effectively and efficiently. These practices are best known to individual schools depending on their mission and vision. I once taught in a school whose principles were reason, religion and loving kindness. I had to adopt those principles for me to fit into the system that students were already in. Break down the goals into smaller practical bits that can be easily evaluated. For example, to achieve the goal of developing responsible citizens, teachers should be familiarised with ways of identifying responsible students in day to day activities in the school and reinforce them.
Secondly, some administrators have a mentality that by virtue of teachers being employed in their schools, everyone should be interested in what the administration is advocating for. No. I am only interested in those who are interested in me. Few days into my teaching practice, one particular Thursday, I made a recommendation of amending the timetable to let tea break be a bit earlier. My reason was that some students might have come to school without taking breakfast. The next day Friday during the morning assembly, the principal announced publicly that my recommendation was to take effect from that day. I felt moved and appreciated. The principal developed a keen interest in how I was conducting my class lessons and every time I strived for coming up with new ideas to make the lessons livelier. He won my heart, I saw that he was interested in me and we had a cordial relationship that froze the master-servant relationship. I still consider it one of my best schools although I was a mere student-teacher. Am not saying that all opinions to be approved but developing a deep connection with teachers is very crucial. Reach out to their hearts. They are human. Identify their motivators and give them a correct dose. Praise in public a positive action, call for a staff meeting to appreciate teachers but don’t hold staff meetings to correct a trait in one or two teachers.
Thirdly, the administration should develop a listening ear and speak less. It will help in diagnosing areas that require a keen look at. Create an environment that will encourage teachers to talk and express their views. Teachers have weaknesses and personal wounds, they can talk and curse but listening to them will heal their wounds. Listening with an empty mind. Don’t arm yourself with answers, don’t be quick to offer an explanation, don’t go to a staff meeting with concluded mind if you wish teachers to speak. Respond later even if you had the answers immediately. Listening to teachers will make them open up. A colleague and I, during a certain staff meeting, were eager to highlight a problem that was cropping up. For all the opinions and issues raised by the teachers, the principal had ready explanations to deconstruct the opinions even though some would have required a keen look at. We ended up not letting the cat out of the box for the same reasons that she was not going to take interest in finding out facts before concluding like she had done before.
“A school that is focused on fulfilling its mission and vision will develop a tradition that is consistent and aligns with the goals it aims to achieve.”
Teachers are like a bank account. If you do a lot of deposits it will grow fat but if you make regular withdrawals without replenishing, it will go dry. Teachers are full of ideas and techniques that they can appetize their teaching, however, if we don’t invest in them they are likely to deteriorate in value. This can be achieved by organizing workshops or some training to arouse what the teachers might have forgotten and giving them fresh ideas on the use of ICT or learner-centred learning approaches. Motivational talk can help but it is not sufficient in adding value to the outcome of teaching. Regular training or workshops will not only help in refining teachers but also, it will act as a bait to hold the teacher. Teachers who are used to such will not wish to go to a place that offers none.
What motivates teachers varies from one teacher to another. And though it is a cumbersome activity knowing motivations for each individual, it is worth investing in. There is a common saying that if you take half of your time to sharpen your axe, you will use less time felling the tree. Teachers are the single most important tools of the trade when it comes to the education industry. When handled correctly, one will reap the benefits. Let us help our students by mitigating this mass movement of teachers and create stability in our schools.
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Having been a teacher for at least five years and taught in different parts of the country, Limo has realised that students often suffer from being misunderstood. He faced it himself and as a teacher, he’s seen it first hand and has perspective on how it happens.