Top Five Actions to Stop the Teacher Exodus During COVID and Beyond

As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, schools across the United States are on the brink of collapse
There is a classroom teacher shortage. 
There is a substitute teacher shortage.  
There is a bus driver shortage
There is a special education aide shortage.  
The people we depend on to staff our public schools are running away in droves.  
It’s a clear supply and demand issue that calls for deep structural changes.  
However, it’s not really new. We’ve needed better compensation and treatment of school employees for decades, but our policymakers have been extremely resistant to do anything about it.   
Instead, they’ve given away our tax dollars to corporations through charter and voucher school initiatives. They’ve siphoned funding to pay for more standardized testing, teaching to the test, and ed tech software.  
But the people who actually do the work of educating our youth. We’ve left them out in the cold.  
Now with the smoldering pandemic and increased impacts on the health, safety and well-being of teachers and other staff, the exodus has merely intensified.  
Frankly, I’m not holding my breath for lawmakers to finally get off their collective asses.  
We need a popular, national movement demanding action from our state and federal governments. However, in the meantime, there are several things our local school districts can do to stem the tide of educators fleeing the profession.
These are simple, cheap and common sense methods to encourage teachers to stay in the classroom and weather the storm.  
However, let me be clear. None of these can solve the problem, alone. And even ALL of these will not stop the long-term flight of educators from our schools without better salaries and treatment.  

1)    Eliminate Unnecessary Tasks 

The list of tasks an average teacher is expected to accomplish every day is completely unrealistic.  
Think about it. Just to get through a normal day teachers need to provide instruction, discipline students, grade papers, facilitate classwork, troubleshoot technology, provide written and verbal feedback, counsel disputes, role model correct behavior, monitor the halls, lunches, breakfasts and unstructured time, meet with co-workers, follow Individual Education Plans, scaffold lessons for different learners and learning styles…  
The list is truly staggering. 
And it never stops. 
Researchers have estimated that on average teachers make at least 1,500 decisions a day. That’s about 4 decisions a minute. 
No one can keep up that pace, day-in, day-out, without strain. No one can do it without their work suffering.  
If we truly want to help teachers feel empowered to stay in the profession, we need to reduce the burden. And the best way to do that is to eliminate everything unnecessary from their plates. 

That means no staff meeting just to have a staff meeting. No shotgun scattered initiatives that teachers are expected to execute and we’ll see what will stick. No reams of paperwork. No professional development that wasn’t specifically requested by teachers or is demonstrably useful.

Nothing that isn’t absolutely necessary.

2) No Formal Lesson Plans

The number one offender is formal lesson plans.  
I’m not saying we should tell teachers they don’t have to plan what they’re doing in their classes. I’m not sure how an educator could realistically enter a classroom of students and just wing it.  
However, the process of writing and handing in formal lesson plans is absolutely unnecessary. 
Teachers gain nothing from writing detailed plans about what they expect to do in their classes complete with reference to Common Core Academic Standards. They gain nothing from acting as subordinates to an all knowing administrator who probably has not been trained in their curriculum nor has their classroom experience teaching it.  
For educators with at least 3-5 years under their belts, formal lesson plans are nothing but an invitation to micromanagement.  
Should administrators monitor what their teachers are doing? Absolutely. But the best way to do that is to actually observe the teacher in the classroom doing the work. And to conference with the teacher before and after the observation with the goal of understanding what they’re doing and how to best help them improve.  
Forcing teachers to set aside time from their already overburdened schedules to fill out lesson plans that administrators don’t have time to read and (frankly) probably don’t have the training or experience to fully comprehend is top down managerial madness.  

3)    More Planning Time 

Teachers need time to plan.  

It’s pathetic that I actually have to explain this.  

Education doesn’t just happen.

Parents need called. Papers need graded. Lessons need strategized. IEP’s need to be read, understood and put into practice.

All this can only happen within a temporal framework. If you don’t give teachers that framework – those minutes and hours – you’re just expecting they’ll do it at home, after school or some other time that will have to be stolen from their own families, robbed from their own needs and down time.

Every administrator on the planet preaches the need for self-care, but few actually offer the time to make it a reality.

Even if we could discover exactly how much time was necessary for every teacher to get everything done in a given day – that wouldn’t be enough time. Because teachers are human beings. We need time to process, to evaluate, to think and, yes, to rest.

I know sometimes I have to stop wrestling with a problem I’m having in class because I’m getting nowhere. After two decades in the classroom I’ve learned that sometimes you have to give your brain a rest and approach a problem again later from a different vantage point.

I need to read a scholarly article or even for pleasure. I need to watch YouTube videos that may be helpful to my students. I need to get up and go for a walk, perhaps even just socialize for a moment with my coworkers.

None of that is time wasted because my brain is still working. My unconscious is still trying untie the Gordian knot of my workday and when I finally sit down to revisit the issue, I often find it looser and more easily handled.

Administrators must prioritize teacher planning time.

There is no simpler way to put it.

Do not ask your teacher to sub. Do not ask them to attend meetings. Do not ask them to help you plan building wide initiatives – UNLESS you can guarantee it won’t interfere with their plans.

I know this is difficult right now with so many staff falling ill or being so plowed under that they simply can’t make it to work.

However, the more you push them to give up their plans, the more you diminish returns.

Not only will their work suffer but so will their health and willingness to continue on the job.

Some districts are finding creative ways to increase planning time such as releasing students early one day a week. We did that at my district last year and it was extremely helpful to meet all the additional duties required just to keep our building open. However, as the new school year dawned and decision makers decided to simply ignore continuing pandemic issues, this time went away.

Most teachers are in the profession because it’s a calling. They care about doing the best job they can for their students.

If you take away their ability to do that, why would they stay?


4) Better Communication/ Better COVID Safety  

Communication is a two way street.

You can’t have one person telling everyone else what to do and expect to have a good working relationship.

Administrators may get to make the final decision, but they need to listen to what their teachers tell them and take that into account before doing so.

This means setting aside the proper time to hear what your staff has to say.

Many administrators don’t want to do that because things can devolve into a series of complaints. But you know what? TOUGH.

It is your job to listen to those complaints and take them seriously.

Sometimes just allowing your staff to voice their concerns is helpful all in itself. Sometimes offering them space to speak sparks solutions to problems – and a whole room full of experienced, dedicated educators can solve any problem better than one or two managers locked away in the office.

However, not only do administrators need to listen, they need to speak.

When issues crop up, they need to make sure the staff is aware of what is happening.

This is especially true during the pandemic.

We are so sick of half truths about who has Covid, who is quarantined, what is being done to keep us safe, etc.

No child should return to the classroom after a negative COVID test without the teacher already being appraised.

No child should be placed in quarantine without the teachers knowledge.

No teacher with a prior medical condition should have to serve lunch duty while students eat unmasked.

Safety protocols should be the product of the entire staff’s input. If everyone doesn’t feel safe, no one feels safe.


5) Respect 

 This is really the bottom line.

Teachers need to feel respected.

We need to know that administrators and school board members understand our struggles and are on our side.

I don’t mean taking a day or even one week out of the year to celebrate Teacher Appreciation. I don’t mean free donuts or coupons to Sam’s Club. I don’t even mean a mug with an inspirational message.

I’m talking about every day – day-in, day-out – respect for teachers.

No union bashing.

No snide comments at school board meetings.

No gossipy whispering in the community.

Being a teacher should mean something to district leaders. And they should prove it in every thing they do.

The items I mentioned here go some ways to showing that respect.

Eliminating unnecessary tasks, not requiring formal lesson plans, respecting our planning time, better communicating and safety measures are all necessary to keeping your teachers in the classroom.

But they are not sufficient.

As a nation we need to change our attitude and treatment of teachers.

No profession exists without them. They create every other job that exists.

We need to start paying them accordingly. We need to start treating them as important as they are. We need to ensure that they have the time, tools and satisfaction necessary to be the best they can be.

No district can do that alone. No school director or administrator can do that.

But these are some ways you can start.


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38 thoughts on “Top Five Actions to Stop the Teacher Exodus During COVID and Beyond

  1. I think the public-funded, opaque, often fraudulent, and misleading private sector Charter School and Voucher education industry see the public education job shortage as a victory.

    After all, correct me if I’m wrong, but Charter Schools are free to hire anyone they want without any benefits and pay them less, even high school dropouts and/or pedophiles to teach children, and the voucher industry often has hundreds of students assigned to one staff member who might not be a trained teacher and may even be someone hired from a call center that was trained to deal with the stress that comes with quotas and large numbers of clients.


    • No doubt, Lloyd. Not only that but the same lawmakers funding the charter and voucher school industry with our tax dollars are doing what they can to undermine our system of public education. They don’t believe in public education. They want to eradicate it. That’s been the goal since at least Milton Friedman wrote about it. The killer is calling from inside the house. And the senate, too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • What do the charter schools do to accommodate students with special needs? Or students who are difficult to teach for whatever reason (hunger, a bad home situation, etc)? Or English language learners?
        I guess they either don’t enroll them at all, or kick them out if they prove too difficult.
        Leaving, of course, the public schools to deal with them, with ever-decreasing funding.


      • Exactly, Zorba. Most charter schools encourage special needs students to go somewhere else – often after they’ve enrolled them at the beginning of the year and gobbled up their funding. It is the public schools not focused on profit that move Heaven and Earth to provide students with what they need to learn. The reason? Teachers there are often more dedicated to their students and less constrained by the corporate culture of charters. Charters don’t even need to hire people with 4-year education degrees. You want a professional, you need to hire a professional. And if you want them to last, you need to help them stay and follow their calling. That is what we are NOT doing. We’re leaving so many excellent teachers to try and do it all on their own. We can’t. We’re drowning here. We just can’t do it alone anymore.

        Liked by 1 person

      • If the charters insist on the funding “following the students” to their charter schools, then they should be forced to give back the funding to the public schools, when they kick out any students.


      • Yes, they should, but the charter funding is so messed up in PA that the charters get MORE funding for special ed kids than the authentic public schools. It’s almost like the legislature favors one education system over another. Did I write “almost”? Oops.


  2. Right on! All these practices have been necessary for YEARS, but especially during this world-wide pandemic, with it’s economic and social upheaval, business as usual is not the answer. These practices define the mind set needed to cope. It’s time to let go of the dysfunctional bureaucracy used to justify the top heavy administrations, reformers, testing companies, and consultants. Real change, real push back to charters and on the privatization of education will help slow the exodus. As you point out, these changes are essentially cost free. They just require sincere effort and the willingness to work differently.

    And this: “ Sometimes just allowing your staff to voice their concerns is helpful all in itself. Sometimes offering them space to speak sparks solutions to problems – and a whole room full of experienced, dedicated educators can solve any problem better than one or two managers locked away in the office.” This is key for retention and for avoiding disgruntled, deflated educators. Thanks you.


  3. You nailed it again, eloquently and thoroughly again Steven.
    To the “eliminate unnecessary tasks” I hope we can return to reasonable state testing. We’ve spent 10 days already giving state tests this year (it’s only Oct 8th) plus all the time to get the computers “test-ready.”

    One day of paper testing is all we’d need to satisfy ESSA. The site explained the state testing story pretty well.

    Shout out to you, sends readers to some of your blogs. Your writings definitely informed the site.


  4. Get in mentors for your teachers who are objective and non-evaluative. There are a lot of retired educators out there who for one reason or another believe they retired too early and still have the energy and expertise to help teachers with resources, suggestions both on-line and in person and many will do this for the sheer joy of spreading the knowledge they gained from years in the classroom. They are credentialed and degreed. We are overlooking an important resource.


  5. […]  I don’t love having to fly by the seat of my pants rehashing lessons that were getting stale two years ago but having no time to make them fresh or original. I don’t love trying to fit in as much grading as I can in class, trying to call or email parents on my lunch break. I don’t love having to fill in for missing staff 4 out of 5 days a week, being a glorified security guard in lunch duty, subbing for a teacher who isn’t absent but who has been called into an unnecessary staff meeting for yet another scattershot initiative to fight bogus learning loss.   […]


  6. […]  Have you done everything you can to support the health and well-being of your staff so that fewer need to take off? Have you cut all unnecessary tasks like formal lesson plans, stopped holding staff meetings unless an urgent need presents itself, refrained from new and unproven initiatives, cut duties where possible to increase teacher planning time?  […]


  7. I feel like you missed one of the biggest issues. If female teachers and administrators would stop assuming every potential male teacher is a pedophile/predator, maybe more men would be less afraid to get into the profession. It would drastically reduce the teacher shortage if men could feel comfortable applying without feeling like they are permanently being put under a huge magnifying glass.

    If you look at the quiet parts of people’s minds that they don’t like to voice out loud, you would know that the vast majority of people in education unconsciously think of teaching as a women’s world. This has deleterious effects on male teachers.

    It really needs to stop.


    • Teaching is certainly a female dominated profession. But I don’t think female teachers or administrators assume male teachers are pedophiles as a matter of course. I think there are some folks that make that assumption about teachers of both genders and not just assumptions of sexual predation. They assume there’s something wrong or missing in all of us because we choose to work with kids. There is a denegration of the profession but I don’t see it as something focused solely on males. We should be trusted and respected.


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