Expert Viewpoint

Five Ways To Prioritize Teachers' Well-Being and Help Overcome the Staffing Crisis

School districts across the United States are experiencing workforce shortage issues similar to those seen in other sectors. Specifically, teachers are in short supply while many are leaving the profession. As passionate as many are about teaching children, the stresses of the job have increased dramatically over the past couple of years. Even pay increases — while well-intended — have proven to be too little an incentive for many to stay.

More than half of educators across the country say they’re ready to leave the profession, and in California alone, 56% of recent retirees say they left because of the challenges of teaching during the pandemic.

The exodus has caused severe staffing shortages in districts around the nation. Lacking adequate substitute teachers, students who need the most help cannot get it and learning progress stalls; as a result, students fall even further behind, impacting their prospects for continuing education and hurting their competitiveness in the job market. Not to mention, teacher turnover is expensive, costing districts $20,000 on average to fill each vacancy. Worse yet, there aren’t enough candidates to fill the open positions. As word spreads about the struggles in the classroom and administrative pressures, teaching has regrettably become a less attractive career.

Districts across the country are working hard to help restore the joy of teaching and attract more young people to the profession. A good start has come in the form of state-funded teacher training, pay increases and increased education budgets. Sadly however, many teachers are still eyeing the door.

There are tools available to solve the teacher shortage problem: Education leaders must invest in long-term solutions that improve working conditions and implement competitive benefits like wellness programs that support and protect their teachers, as well as slow the turnover. Professionals in education understand that teachers provide optimal learning environments when their stress levels are low and cortisol levels are balanced.

Five Things Schools Can Do To Reduce Teacher Turnover

Following are some cost-effective ways to create positive long-term results and reduce teacher turnover:

  • Implement Mental Health Programs: Like all frontline workers, teachers are feeling stressed, anxious and/or depressed and are in desperate need of mental and behavioral health support. There are options through the use of technology to provide easy-to-access mental health services that provide discreet access to care, tailored for teachers’ specific needs and their schedules. This can drastically improve teachers’ wellbeing, enthusiasm for the classroom, productivity and engagement.
  • Offer Staff Wellness Programs: Over 40% of the U.S. population is obese, over 35 million are Type 2 diabetics and more than 30 million have heart disease. Teachers are not immune to these conditions and, like all workers, can benefit greatly from wellness benefits to help reduce the prevalence and impact of chronic illness. By supporting their overall health with wellness programs designed around a teachers’ schedule and lifestyle, districts can help educators feel better, more appreciated, motivated and energetic in the classroom.
  • Provide On-Site Medical Services: Arranging for substitutes is a huge problem and many teachers avoid missing work because they know there’s no one to take over their class. That means they could be delaying preventative care like blood pressure and diabetes screening, cholesterol testing and other routine blood work, as well as annual physical exams. On-site clinic providers can bring these services directly to teachers, right on campus. That way, instead of missing half a day or more for a routine appointment, they can get medical services during a lunch break or planning period to keep up with their basic healthcare needs.
  • Create a Safe Working Environment: Aside from providing on-site testing for COVID, influenza, and other transmittable conditions to keep teachers safe, districts can focus on creating a psychologically safe culture where coming to work is a positive experience. This way, in the event the school community experiences challenges such as what we saw in 2020, everyone can look to the school as a safe place, with the infrastructure in place to attend to mental and physical health — clearing the path to a comfortable new normal.
  • Invite and Encourage More Open Communication: Conduct surveys to gather teacher feedback about challenges they face both professionally and personally. Are many teachers having trouble sleeping? Consider offering a guided sleep program. Do they struggle with eating healthy? Perhaps offer discounts on meal delivery services. Need more exercise? Start an after-school walking club. There could be very simple and inexpensive solutions that can make a major difference.

Every day, teachers show up for the hard job and heavy responsibility of cultivating our most important and most valuable assets: our children and our future. Education is the key to our nation’s growth, and the sustainability of any society stems from a good education system.

The next generation will be the product of the teachers in our system today. We have the opportunity to provide them with the support they need not only for their work in the classroom, but also for their own physical and mental well-being.

About the Author

Andrew Morton is a global technology executive with a track record of successfully building and running innovative companies, having previously served as a senior executive at telecommunications software provider Zodiac Interactive and at Comtrend Corporation, among others.