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Why Teachers Stay – Last Thoughts

November 12, 2013

Liz Riggs, in last month’s edition of The Atlantic, wrote an interesting piece about teacher longevity and the factors that lead educators to stay in the classroom or leave the profession.  My previous two blogs focused on this topic.  The first examined how the desire to help students is one of the biggest reasons teachers continue teaching despite the low pay and lack of respect they often receive, and the second examined what school leaders can do to retain good teachers.  Let me wrap up this topic by giving you my favorite example of what schools can do to retain their teachers.

I once worked at a school where a group of teachers threatened to leave mid-year unless the administration helped them cope with escalating costs of living.  In the two years prior to that demand, the price for apartments had increased dramatically, and many of the newer teachers were not making enough money to pay their rent.  The school’s leaders were in a bind; they needed to take action to retain their struggling teachers while being fair to the rest of the faculty. After much thought and discussion, the board agreed on a two prong approach.  To help teachers make rent, they gave all members of the faculty a $10,000 bonus.  Amazingly, my wife also worked at the school, so we received a one-time payment of $20,000.  While that was incredibly generous, the step the school took to help with food expenses was perhaps even more appreciated.  The school begin providing meals that could be picked up in the dining hall at the end of the school day, taken home, reheated, and served to their families.  Each dinner consisted of a main dish, bread, and salad and was enough to easily feed a family of four.  And get this, each meal only cost us $5!  Fridays were even better because  they sent us home with four uncooked steaks and potatoes, which I always cooked on the grill.  Not only did the meals help with the cost of living, but, perhaps more importantly at least for us as new parents, the provided precious time to spend with our families.

While, I realize what the school did to help solve the crisis was unusual, I always tell the story to people as a way of getting them to see what school can do to make teachers feel appreciated.  In reality, teachers don’t need the money to feel respected (although we would love to have the money), they just want to feel appreciated for the hard work that they do.

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