Showing Appreciation for Teachers by Making Their Jobs Even More Rewarding

Is rethinking how we staff schools the secret to a more sustainable, rewarding teaching profession?
Blog Post
White, lined paper with the words "Great Work Well Done" followed by a smiley face and 3 gold star stickers
May 7, 2024

Talk to anyone who has ever sent a child off to school, and they will tell you how important teachers are to their child’s learning and overall happiness.

And talk to almost any teacher, and they will tell you how rewarding their job can be. The potential to influence the next generation of thinkers and doers, to see the proverbial lightbulb click on in a student’s mind during an activity, cannot be overstated in its ability to motivate and inspire current and would-be teachers.

Unfortunately, speaking with teachers it also quickly becomes evident that this intrinsic reward has to be pretty large to outweigh several ongoing challenges of the profession, that go beyond the much-discussed issue of compensation. Novice teachers with insufficient preparation who feel they are drowning trying to lead their own classroom with little support from colleagues. Seasoned teachers who generally enjoy their jobs, but feel isolated from their colleagues in the “one teacher, one classroom model,” or who feel their school principal doesn’t have the time or the expertise to help them continue to grow their skills in their grade and content areas. Veteran teachers who don’t want to leave the classroom but are pursuing school administration, because it’s the only real career advancement opportunity available. And since COVID’s onset, increasing numbers of teachers who see similarly college-educated professionals getting increased flexibility about where and when they work, while they still struggle to find a way to leave their classrooms when they need to use the bathroom.

Is it any wonder why we increasingly struggle to staff schools with the diverse and talented educator workforce that students want, need, and deserve? Luckily, there are smart ways to provide teachers with better support, collaboration, compensation, advancement, and job flexibility opportunities to address the source of their discontent with teaching and put the job back on par with other college-educated professions.

One of the best ways states and districts can do this is to rethink how we staff schools. Here are six synergistic approaches to doing this:

  1. Ensure that every educator entering the profession has the paid opportunity to work alongside an effective mentor for a full school year before being asked to lead a classroom or school on their own. This will also support efforts to diversify and strengthen the quality of the educator workforce, by removing financial barriers to engaging in sustained on-the-job preparation.
    For examples of ways to sustainably fund paid clinical training, see these resources from Prepared to Teach, Public Impact’s Opportunity Culture, and Arizona State University (ASU)’s Next Education Workforce.
  2. Provide educators in their second and third years on the job with more intensive professional development opportunities that are relevant to their subject, grade level, and schools.
    For examples of best practices in teacher induction and mentoring, see this resource from the New Teacher Center, and evidence on outcomes from the Institute of Education Sciences.
  3. Identify teachers with the skills, abilities, and willingness to support other teachers—e.g., helping plan instruction and share resources across a team of teachers, regularly observing classrooms and providing feedback and opportunities for professional growth, reviewing students’ personal and academic progress with their teachers, etc.—in exchange for substantive additional compensation and time within the school day to perform these responsibilities.
    For examples of this approach, see Public Impact’s Opportunity Culture, National Institute for Excellence in Teaching’s TAP, and ASU’s Next Education Workforce initiative. For insights into educator micro-credentials, and how they can help identify teachers with the knowledge and skills to lead other teachers, see New America’s Harnessing Micro-credentials for Teacher Growth: A National Review of Early Best Practices and Harnessing Micro-credentials for Teacher Growth: A Model State Policy Guide.
  4. Hire (or rehire) paraprofessionals to help reduce the work burden on novice teachers and to provide more flexibility in all teachers’ schedules to plan, collaborate, co-teach with, and visit classrooms of other educators (in addition to using the bathroom when necessary, or taking an urgent phone call!). In addition to helping teachers more easily differentiate instruction, paraprofessionals often reflect students’ race/ethnicity and speak students’ native languages, providing a promising pipeline of more racially and linguistically diverse new teachers.
    For more on the approaches and benefits to incorporating paraprofessionals, see here and here.
  5. Create staffing structures that allow students to have frequent interactions with more than one school staff member to help support the meaningful, trusting relationships that are so important to students’ success at school. Additionally, assigning each student to a non-instructional staff member (e.g., a school counselor, nurse, psychologist etc.) responsible for coordinating their various academic, physical, emotional, and mental health needs has been shown to boost student success, and is likely to provide more time for teachers to focus on instruction.
    For details on how to ensure communication and coordination around supporting students’ holistic needs, see the BARR Center’s model. For further resources on the benefits of school counselors and nurses, and recommended staffing levels, see here and here.
  6. Develop principals’ and principal supervisors’ skills in distributive leadership and implementing innovative strategic staffing models.
    For more details, see Hanover Research’s report on best practices and the Ohio Department of Education’s list of resources for building distributed leadership skills and structures.

Putting these elements in place won’t remove all of the challenges that teaching can bring, but the intrinsic rewards teachers get from the job should begin to greatly outweigh its challenges. Which is the best way I can think of to show our deep appreciation for teachers.

Note: this post was updated on 5/9/24 to include hyperlinks to additional resources.

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