What's the top reason teachers quit? It's not underfunding or unruly students. Nor is it low pay or long hours. In keeping with the saying that "people don't quit their jobs, they quit their bosses," the top reason for teacher attrition is, in fact, frustrations with administrators.
A 2012 study conducted by Peter Youngs, associate professor of educational policy at Michigan State University, and Ben Pogodzinski, an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Wayne State University, found that a new teacher's perception of how well the school principal works with teaching staff is the number one factor in determining that teacher's commitment to a school. Administrators can make or break a school environment, and that's why it's important to have teachers "buy in" and trust in those leading them. An administrator can't just demand trust, though — it's something that must be earned. And, like being a teacher, being a good administrator isn't a natural skill everyone is born with. Becoming a good boss, in any field, takes time, reflection, and the ability to turn criticism into effective changes.
We spoke to five teachers on the condition of anonymity about some of their biggest frustrations with administrators, and they shared these eight pet peeves.
1. Not in the building
One teacher told us that his previous principal would come in at 11:30 a.m. and be in her office until 3 p.m. The teachers, on the other hand, were expected to be at school by 7:45 a.m. This discrepancy bred frustration among staff, according to this teacher, especially since the principal "would berate teachers who would come to work less than 15 minutes before class started."
While administrators may not have a room full of students who depend on them being there by 8 a.m., a certain tone of "us" versus "them" is set when everyone is not on the same schedule. Having a presence on campus is important if an administrator wants to gain the respect of his or her staff. Additionally, as teachers should model appropriate behavior for their students, administrators have the same expectation. It's hard to tell your staff or students to be prompt if you're not there yourself.
2. Observations without feedback
Like any job, feedback is important. Teachers have individuals popping into their classrooms throughout the day, which can be nerve-wracking at times. Having no follow-up or feedback makes these observations feel more punitive and less of a growing experience. Most teachers want to hear what you have to say, get advice, and better their classroom. Several teachers also complained about the lack of classroom experience among administrators. The disconnect can make advice feel somewhat random and less useful.
3. No accountability for promises to staff
Empty promises can wear thin. If an administrator says reorganizing the library is important, a reorganization should happen — or, at the very least, a discussion about why it didn't occur. While teachers are evaluated on various measures — lesson plans, test scores, parent feedback, etc. — administrators can sometimes get away with making promises and not following through.
Just as important is following up on tasks. If teachers are asked to submit pre- and post-assessment scores for every unit they teach, but nobody follows up on collecting these, there can be a disconnect. It's not enough to say your school is "data driven." Administrators are responsible for making sure collection and analysis runs smoothly.
4. Extreme micro-management of all aspects of school life
Schools ideally hire innovative, smart people. Giving your staff some room to breathe and make their own decisions is important. Classroom teachers benefit from this space the same way students do from opportunities to express themselves freely and make their own choices.
5. Excessive busywork
Teachers we spoke to complained about having to submit three different lesson plans "without any reasons given as to why it is necessary." Teachers are busy and often overworked, and administrators can potentially do more to alleviate stress and make the school day run smoother. Giving busy work can pretty quickly breed frustration among staff.
The same way "dittos" show a lack of preparation on a teacher's part, simple busy work shows a lack of thoughtfulness from administrators. Having teachers "re-write" the state standards in their own words is great if you're going have them do something with these re-fashioned sentences, but having them do this for a check mark with no follow-up feels like a waste of time. Nothing is worse than sitting on a "school committee" for an hour after school with no real, meaningful agenda.
6. No advance notice on decisions that impact teachers or require teacher work
Schools need structure to function, which is why things can quickly become chaotic when new decisions are made willy-nilly. Announcing a mandatory 2 p.m. school meeting at 9 a.m. in the morning is not going to bode well. Likewise, requiring teachers to turn in student trackers a week after announcing a new policy is going to feel frustrating — so much so that the annoyance could overshadow the actual benefits of such trackers. The benefits of a decision can quickly become lost in the fray if teacher buy-in is not there, and buy-in will likely not be there if decisions are made without advance notice and time to prepare.
7. Frequent and constant changes to curriculum/policies with no teacher input
Mandating decisions without input was a frustration amongst teachers, but just as frustrating were last-minute changes to new programs. Getting teachers to invest in a new writing rubric and then dropping it the next year can be irksome — especially if the decision is made without "appropriate follow-through on continued training and/or analysis of failure/success of those policies," explained one teacher via e-mail.
8. Belittling staff and issuing 'passive-aggressive' feedback
In any industry, being mean and unapproachable isn't going to make you a lot of friends. This is perhaps even more true in education. Teachers are hyper-aware of tactics used to corral children, so when those same tactics (which probably should never be used with children, either) are used with adults, chaos can ensue.
One teacher wrote to us about administrators creating cultures of "paranoia" through "passive aggressive emails about how 'certain' staff are not doing their jobs without naming those members." While we don't recommend naming names, a better solution may be writing that specific staff member a personal email. While everyone is busy, personal emails and feedback are probably the best way for administrators to earn the respect and trust of their staff. It shows a level of interest and dedication that may be absent in mass emails.