How to Keep Great Teachers Happy

Even if you’re not Ryan Gosling.

teacher retention

Just a few weeks ago, a good friend of mine left her teaching position after 10 years. In fact, she left the public school system altogether to work at a private school, a wholly different climate for teaching. Despite receiving school-, district-, and state-level accolades, she realized her career had grown stagnant. And teachers like her are leaving public education in droves.

Teachers who want to stay in public education, but also want to grow, tend to have two options. They can either hop from district to district trying to find growth or move out of the classroom into administrative capacities. At the end of every school year, principals must scramble to replace teachers, some of whom are simply irreplaceable. Stopping the great teacher exodus can begin with some of the following actions:

Recognize teachers for jobs well done

Positive reinforcement systems gain traction for students and similar concepts work for teachers. At my school, we have the traditional Teacher of the Month and Teacher of the Year awards; students and fellow teachers nominate deserving individuals and administration and/or counselors make the decision. We also have a weekly award that can be given to any employee in the school for going the extra mile. These recognitions make teachers feel valued.

Going a step further by recognizing accomplishments that other teachers may not understand are wonderful feats. If the national pass rate on a test is 55 percent, a teacher with a 70 percent pass rate deserves to be recognized, especially if that teacher has class after class consistently achieving at that rate. Take the time to celebrate that teacher, explaining to others how exceptional his or her accomplishments are.

Avoid punishing your best teachers for being reliable

Sometimes being a good teacher means showing up. Frequently, the best teachers are also the ones who volunteer for extra curricular activities, stay late to tutor, and work at their desks through lunch. Administrators know they can count on these teachers. So, when duty assignments are given out, these teachers may find themselves with less than desirable duty, just because they will show up. For example, one high school teacher I know had several high difficulty classes with gifted students, a homeroom class, an intensive extracurricular activity, and was assigned year-long after school student parking lot duty.


Other teachers had year-long lunch duty because of the time of their planning periods, essentially reducing the amount of time they had to plan by 30 minutes. In comparison, most teachers were assigned seven weeks of duty total for the whole year, including some who had no homerooms. The good teachers felt punished. Two of them left at the end of the year.

Ask their opinions on school related matters—and listen to them

Teachers know their schools. They know their students and their subject matter. And teachers have opinions on all of these topics. One principal I had sits down at the end of the year with as many teachers as he can fit in. He asks for three things the school is doing well and three things that could be improved. It’s a fantastic concept. But sometimes the suggestions seem to fall on deaf ears. Perhaps they are above his pay grade. Perhaps he disagrees. Whatever the reasoning, when a teacher has taken the time to share an idea or a solution, and nothing seems to come of it, it feels demoralizing. If a teacher’s suggestion cannot be implemented, have the grace to explain why. Make the teacher feel heard, and the ideas will keep coming.

Above all, show your best teachers that you trust them to be the best

The best thing I ever had a principal say to me was that she liked me because she could trust me to do what I needed to do in the classroom. I was able to perform well because I knew that, as long as I wasn’t doing something colossally stupid or illegal, I could take risks that made me a better teacher. My subject matter has me touching on some pretty controversial concepts at times. Our classroom debates can get heated. I frequently play Devil’s advocate. Students sometimes think, despite disclaimers, that I am targeting them because I disagree with their fundamental beliefs, and—in student logic—must not like them. It happens every year. But, my methods get consistent, quantifiable results. So my administrators trust me. They may walk into my room and see barely managed chaos, but, at the same time, they see past it, to the learning.

Micromanagement, lack of recognition, and lack of consideration make the best teachers leave.