Country can succeed best in education by motivating its teachers

Teaching is a demanding trade, a steep learning curve at times. It can be rewarding, frustrating, exciting, and challenging all rolled into one. Dedicated and passionate teachers can create a rich learning experience for students and unlock their potential to perform their very best. They love their work because they make a difference.

Forget the talking heads you see on TV waxing lyrical about some policy stuff, teachers are the real experts in education. They are the stakeholders who plan, design, implement and evaluate any given curriculum. No doubt, the most important person in the education realm is the teacher. Teachers’ influence upon learners is beyond measure.

Unfortunately, though, teachers aren’t appreciated enough. A 2017 study done by the Learning Policy Institute in the US, found 90 per cent of open teaching posts are the result of people leaving the profession. While retirements play a role, the report noted two-thirds of teachers depart for other reasons, most citing dissatisfactions with the job.

So how exactly can education stakeholders support teachers and entice new ones to enter the field? Successful schools have faculty who are respected, fulfilled, satisfied and proud to be teaching where they are. Teachers want to feel pleased to be employed by their school or government, like their jobs, and feel well supported in their efforts to do meaningful, satisfying work. Given that, a key criterion in measuring the effectiveness of school administrators is their contribution to making the school a good place for teachers to work.

Teachers want their school to be run in ways that respect the primary importance of classroom instruction. They want administration’s fundamental purpose to be the support of teaching and the education program. Teaching and teachers should not, in contrast, be seen as subordinate to the needs and convenience of administration.

Teachers want school administrators to appreciate the work they do beyond their classroom teaching. When teachers spend significant time coaching and sponsoring teams and clubs, they want those contributions recognised and appreciated. While teachers don’t necessarily expect to be paid extra for this work, they want those contributions to be taken into account when they need consideration, such as leave for personal matters or emergencies.

School systems that want to retain their top talent better have good strategies and processes in place to support those new teachers – starting with a smooth and friendly hiring process, through those first few days of induction and then followed with supportive mentoring during that first year.

Otherwise, chances are high that those good teachers will leave the profession. The best way possible to support teachers is to listen to them. Teachers know better than anyone how schools work, what the kids need, what they themselves need to do their best work. But they’re one of two groups of people nobody solicits input from: kids and teachers. They won’t agree, and you will get contradictory recommendations. But at least they feel recognised, consulted, listened to, and respected when administrators build a school culture around the experiences of the most knowledgeable people in the building.

Academic success

One of the best places to start from is ensuring a high quality principal in place at every school who understands their role as the school leader, to support teachers and teacher growth as the key lever for student success, promote a district-wide culture of learning that balances pursuit of academic success with nurturing healthy school climate, including initiatives that attend to teacher and student well-being, as opposed to a singular focus on test score improvement. And cultivate teacher leadership by pushing principals to create meaningful opportunities for teachers to be embedded in decision making and leadership of mission critical work at every school.

Principals ought to ensure a positive working climate for educators. Teachers thrive in a school with a positive school climate. All of the elements that define a positive school climate such as engagement, motivation, kind words, connectedness — so they don’t feel alone — are what teachers desperately want and need. And school heads should be big advocates for this.

The ministry should also play a leading role in supporting teachers’ development. One of the best ways to do this is to ensure that less experienced teachers have several opportunities to observe capable, high-performing veteran colleagues. This is best achieved in small groups with a knowledgeable administrator participating and a leading debrief afterward. Most teachers often feel attacked when told they need to improve.

Research shows that an effective teacher is the most important factor contributing to student achievement. Highly effective teachers have the greatest impact in schools with high numbers of students in poverty or students of color. Hiring knowledgeable and competent teachers is critical to student success, but finding individuals who can be curriculum designers, caregivers, problem-solvers, and more is even more important.

The teaching profession has never been for the faint of heart, but the current state of public education puts more challenges on teachers than ever before. More and more teachers are disillusioned by the responsibilities and tasks associated with being a classroom teacher.

Working conditions

Survey reports show that teachers are increasingly dissatisfied with: The pressures of high-stakes testing, lack of administrative support, weak compensation, and poor working conditions. The stress of the job is causing more teachers to reconsider their commitment to education and leave the profession permanently.

Teacher turnover is costly for the government as well as for students and staff. The high price of turnover negatively impacts students’ achievement, disrupts the environment for remaining staff, and reduces the bottom line. Communities see the constant churn in teaching staff each year, and they begin to lose trust in the teaching profession. 

Teacher compensation and rewards

One of the most important elements of a strong retention system is compensation. While compensation is rarely the number-one reason teachers leave the profession, the teacher pay gap is a factor when teachers decide to leave. When compared to other workers of similar education levels, skills, and experience, teachers are consistently paid less.

The Teachers Service Commission (TSC) signed a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) and Kenya Union of Special Needs Education Teachers (KusNET) on July 13, 2021.

Consequently, the CBAs were registered by the Employment and Labour Relations Court on 27th August, 2021 as required under Section 60 of the Labour Relations Act. But rising taxation and a rising cost of living will continue to fuel the trend of teacher turnover due to compensation. The government must make concerted efforts to address compensation for teachers as well as identify and address other issues related to compensation that impact teacher turnover.

While compensation is extremely important, it should offer other rewards and incentives to teachers. In a survey by the Graide Network (a US-based online platform that connects teachers with qualified teaching assistants to grade and provide thorough feedback on student assignments) recognition, appreciation, and encouragement are cited as key factors to teachers feeling supported in their work. Teachers want to feel valued as professionals and have a voice in decision-making process in their organization.

More than anything, teachers want feedback from school administrators that is both positive and centred on improvement. A strong total rewards program (including non-compensable rewards) strengthens recruitment and retention efforts and can be a determining factor in teachers staying within the profession.

Creating a legacy of strong teachers and student achievement means the government must invest energy, time, and resources into programs directed at teacher support and retention. Given the myriad demands of running an education system, teacher development and training may seem like an afterthought to the many other initiatives at the forefront of student achievement and success. The bottom line: Investing in teachers is investing in students. That’s what makes an education system a success.

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