5 Myths about Motivating Teachers and Teacher Retention

Posted on Wed, Dec 12, 2012 @ 11:12 AM

teacher retentionTeacher turnover is a problem and the statistics that prove it are rather alarming: According to a 2011 article posted on, 46% of teachers leave the profession within their first year. In addition, the national teacher turnover rate has also increased 16.8% over the past 15 years. So what’s going wrong? There are many myths about what motivates and keeps teachers in the classroom and we’d like to discuss five of them.

5 Myths about Motivating Teachers and Teacher Retention

  1. If you pay them, they will come. While it's true that a big salary can be a motivator, teaching is a different kind of "job." One might even argue that it's more of a calling than a profession. A competitive salary is important, but equally important is some kind of emotional or psychological payback for their efforts. In 2007, the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality and Public Agenda conducted a study which included questions about what motivates teachers. Their findings: 81% of primary teachers and 76% of secondary teachers said if they were given a choice between identical school settings, they would choose the one that offered more administrative support and encouragement than one which paid higher salaries.

  2. Merit pay just might change everything. Along the lines of money, much of the argument around teacher salaries has to do with whether or not merit-based pay is an effective means of motivating teachers. The verdict is still out, but we need to consider that merit-based pay is only as good as its evaluation system. To date, it's hard to say that the standard "Principal Review" system is working. Thomas Toch, a writer at the Washington Post cites Chicago as an example of how teacher reviews aren't working. In his article, he refers to a study conducted by New Teacher Project, a nonprofit organization who found that from 2003 to 2006 - 88% of the 600 included in the study hadn't given a single unsatisfactory review.

  3. Motivate by fear. Fear-based "motivation" doesn't work—at least not in the long haul. In her book, One Hundred Plus Ways to Recognize and Reward Your School Staff, Emily E. Houck comments that a fear-based environment is not conducive to motivating teachers. While it might work in the short term, ultimately it creates a negative work environment that will only increase teacher turnover rate.

  4. Praise teachers publically. It's not praise or accolades which cause jealousy amongst the staff, it's the delivery of the praise that is important. If praise is always given publicly and to a few people, it can cause hurt feelings among those who never receive it. But heartfelt praise can be handed out for the simplest of reasons, privately, often, and without other teachers ever being the wiser.

  5. How about a simple “thank you?” Similar to praise, administrators who give a heartfelt thank you to teachers who do a little extra, who are known to reach difficult students, or who show up day after day, are helping to motivate their staff. Even if it is our job, we all enjoy being appreciated.

Motivating teachers and staff can be as simple as honoring jobs well done and providing an inspiring atmosphere. Once your staff is motivated, retaining your teachers is a given.


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Topics: Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, Role of Principal in School, Developing Teachers, teacher retention

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