Research consistently confirms what may seem otherwise obvious: School climate or the quality and character of school life matters for teachers and the students they serve. Positive and professional working environments contribute significantly to teacher satisfaction and retention, and even more importantly, school and student success. In a recent national survey, teachers cited administrator support, classroom autonomy and time for planning as important factors motivating teacher retention. Unfortunately, teachers in many schools across the country — especially in schools serving students from economically disadvantaged families and large populations of students of color — report unsupportive and unfavorable working conditions.
State policies can exacerbate, or alleviate, these reported teacher concerns. Fortunately, many state leaders are working to create better, more supportive working environments for teachers. For example, states are:
- Helping to ensure schools have access to more effective principals and assistant principals.
- Requiring comprehensive induction and mentoring and reduced teaching loads for new teachers.
- Providing more opportunities for teachers to receive meaningful feedback and targeted professional learning.
- Encouraging or requiring additional time for teacher planning.
Colorado stands out as one of many states working to improve teacher working conditions. Legislation enacted in 2017 required the state departments of higher education and education to examine teacher recruitment, preparation and retention and prepare a strategic plan to address shortages. The plan, released in December 2017, included a high-level overview of some of the challenges related to teacher working conditions in the state.
In 2018, the Legislature passed several bills aimed at improving teacher recruitment and retention, including one that focused almost exclusively on improving teacher working conditions. The newly formed Retaining Teachers Grant Program and Fund will support the implementation of one or more locally developed retention strategies, including: job-sharing for teachers, on-site early childhood care for educators’ families, new teacher induction programs, peer review and mentorship programs, reduced teacher contact hours and additional planning and collaboration time for new and mentor teachers. The Legislature has considered related bills this year, including one that — if passed — would create the School Leadership Pilot Program to provide professional development for selected school leaders “with the goal of improving education retention, school climate and culture, and student outcomes.”
The condition of a teacher’s working environment varies significantly from one school building to the next, and teachers in need of the most supports are too often receiving the least. State policies such as those underway, and under consideration, in Colorado can help ensure that more teachers in more schools have access to the quality school environments that they, and their students, desire.