Mid-year teacher vacancies is tough! The teachers I worked with knew that choosing to leave mid-year was not an option in my mind. Studies show that students who have a teacher leave mid-year lose about 54 days of academic growth compared to those who have a stable teacher all year (see the research here). Teacher retention and sustainability is a passion of mine. This statistic is exactly why.
But what happens when a teacher does decide to leave or has to leave involuntarily? How do you message teacher vacancies to the school community? What support will help in the classroom to provide consistency and safety for students? How can you prevent it from happening again in the future?
We see based on parent feedback that teacher vacancies and turnover can have a seasonal element to it. As we head into the holiday season, thanksgiving seems to be a time where teacher turnover is a risk schools run. So here are some tips I have found helpful.
Communicating Teacher Vacancies
Get ahead of it. Principals will want to send out a letter as soon as possible so that parents hear it from you and not the student. Here is a good outline for how to write this letter:
- Start out with something positive: “Thank you for all of your support in Semester 1! We’ve had a great start to Quarter 3 and I am impressed by the hard work and dedication your students are showing in their classrooms!”
- Say it: “This letter is to inform you of a transition in our faculty. I regret to inform you that _____ will no longer be a teacher at _______ for the remaining of the year.”
- Explain your classroom plan: “For this brief interim, we will have _________ in the classroom to continue teaching and providing consistency for your students.”
- Explain your hiring plan: “We are working diligently to hire a highly qualified teacher for your student. We have already phone screened several candidates and continue to do so daily. We aim to work as quickly as possible in hiring a new teacher because we are dedicated to ensuring that your student has the best teacher possible in front of him or her.”
- State importance of urgency: “Your student’s education in the _______ classroom is incredibly important to us as we work to prepare your students for college and beyond.”
- Open your door for questions: “Please do not hesitate to contact me at the school with any questions or concerns.”
Depending on the situation, this could be an announcement that teachers expect or are totally blindsided by. I found it best to gather your whole staff together and tell everyone the news at the same time. Keep your announcement short. Be confident in your plan. Don’t disclose any private information about the staff member leaving at any time to another teacher. If teachers need to talk or are emotional after the announcement, just listen. Ensure them your top priority is finding the best replacement for our students and that you are confident in your plan.
A good script may sound like this: “As you all know, my goal is to be transparent and honest about all information impacting our school team. I need to let you know that _______ will no longer be a teacher at ______. I know this news may be emotional or bring up unwanted feelings, so please know that my door is always open. The plan for the classroom is _____________. I’ll be in my office for the next hour if anyone needs anything or wants to talk.”
Having a teacher leave mid-year is difficult for students. When messaging a teacher transition to students, make sure they understand that they are not the reason for the transition and that they still have a whole school building of people who care about them. It is important to have a teacher or administrator that the students trust tell them the news and also provide a detailed plan for how the classroom will run now that there is a new or interim teacher. Make sure students understand the importance of learning the content of the classroom and remind them of any big goals they are working towards for that class (state assessments, end of year projects/performances, etc.)
Additional Supports and Ideas
Consistency is key. The best transitions I’ve seen when teachers leave mid-year occur when you have the capability to have a teacher aide or staff member in the classroom with the substitute to provide consistency in both classroom culture and school culture. The goal of the transition is to create the least amount of change as possible for all staff members and students. Administration can create an easy to follow curricular “scope and sequence” for the sub with regular observations from administration. Additionally, if the grade level team and administrative staff is willing to plan a support schedule for times they can pop in for a few minutes of their off period, it shows consistency and a sense of a united front to students.
Teacher Retention Strategies
Principals should talk about retention with teachers. Make sure they understand your position. Teachers should understand that you support them. They should also understand the negative implications of leaving mid-year are for students and staff. Build this open relationship early, before it is late. Be transparent about things you are doing to improve teacher retention and sustainability. Ideas for teacher retention strategies:
- If possible, give teachers a week off of PD with the purpose of self care or “catch-up” time
- Provide lunch for teachers. This can help them get some time back at night since they don’t have to pack their lunch or meal prep
- Create individualized development plans. This can help support teachers in areas that are unsustainable about the job or areas they feel currently unsuccessful. Not all teachers need the same support. Make sure to ask questions and create support plans with teachers one-on-one so you are on the same page with teacher needs
- Plan staff happy hours. This helps make teachers feel connected to each other and able to talk about things when they feel that the work is getting unsustainable
- Use mentor teachers for teachers who are new to the school. This helps build bonds on campus and having additional informal support
Finally, retaining teachers is easier to do when you have hired the right people. Be honest when hiring a teacher. Tell them exactly what a day in the life would be and don’t sugar coat anything. Include in the interview process an informal coffee chat. This can be with the teacher candidate and a current staff member. This is a time for the candidate to ask big questions and get real answers. This way they don’t feel overwhelmed or uninformed when they get to the mid-year point.
Teacher vacancies mid-year are difficult, but the way leaders handle them can make all the difference for our students, teachers, and families.