What drives turnover?

January 24, 2014 

Johnston County Superintendent of Schools Ed Croom is right. Wealthy Wake County will always pay a higher teacher salary supplement than Johnston, which helps explain why teachers leave here for there. But Johnston can take steps to keep teacher turnover to a tolerable minimum. Among other things, it can pay a higher supplement than its other neighbors.

In Johnston County, the average salary supplement paid to teachers is $3,311 annually, according to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. In Harnett County, it’s $2,263; in Nash, $2,463; in Wayne, $2,543. Those counties are unlikely to catch or surpass Johnston. But in Sampson County, the average supplement is $3,126, and in Wilson, it’s $3,154. Those two counties, if they were so inclined, could give Johnston a run for its teachers, so Johnston needs to maintain its supplement advantage over its neighbors.

Beyond pay, Johnston needs to be mindful of the other reasons teachers leave the classroom. Those reasons, cited in numerous sources, include workload, lack of influence and respect and too little support, both from administration and parents.

In an interview with The Atlantic, a former high school teacher-turned-college professor said this about lack of respect: “Teachers in schools do not call the shots. They have very little say. They’re told what to do; it’s a very disempowered line of work.”

The workload, made heavier by prepping for standardized testing, can make it hard for teachers to balance work and life. And while teachers, especially new ones, would welcome support, including the help of a mentor, the habit of public schools is to put a teacher in her classroom and close the door. In other words, while teachers want to be paid well, they also want to be empowered and supported.

Not every school system can afford to pay its teachers handsomely, but all can try to tackle the other factors that drive teacher turnover.

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