Across the United States, school districts, both large and small, are facing challenges with recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers.
An Exploration of Teacher Working Conditions Research
Download and share our new fact sheet that describes 8 categories that may influence a teacher's decision to stay or leave.
In Alaska, nearly two-thirds of new teachers in remote, rural villages come from out of state, including from other countries, such as the Philippines (University of Alaska, 2022). New teachers struggle with isolation, lack of community resources (e.g., housing, medical care, supermarkets, restaurants), community integration challenges, and cultural differences. Although some teachers choose to remain long-term, more than one in five leave their schools each year (Vazquez Cano et al., 2019).
Lower Kuskokwim School District serves 4,100 students in 23 remote village schools and six schools in the hub community of Bethel. Like many Alaska school districts, Lower Kuskokwim has a persistent and pressing need to attract and retain more educators in a variety of positions. In the 2020-21 school year, the district experienced a 27% teacher turnover rate. Many positions remained unfilled – Lower Kuskokwim had 78 teacher positions open for the 2022–23 school year out of approximately 350 total teachers.
REL Northwest is partnering with Lower Kuskokwim School District to identify evidence-based strategies and tools to continuously monitor and improve working conditions with the goal of increasing teacher retention. To do that, Lower Kuskokwim plans to implement the recommendation of strengthening teacher working conditions from the state's Teacher Retention and Recruitment Plan.
As a first step in assisting Lower Kuskokwim, REL Northwest staff reviewed and summarized research on working conditions and teacher retention. The accompanying fact sheet, Addressing Working Conditions to Improve Teacher Retention: An Exploration of the Research, describes eight categories that may influence a teacher's decision to stay or leave:
In working sessions, Lower Kuskokwim leaders decided to focus first on school leadership, given ongoing initiatives. REL Northwest engaged the leaders in activities to identify how changes around school leadership may improve working conditions. Lower Kuskokwim staff hypothesized that school leaders could provide additional leadership opportunities for teachers, offer timely and constructive feedback to teachers, and provide consistent and equitable management of student behavior. Staff also identified a school leadership responsibility unique to their district – managing teacher housing. Housing is a major challenge in remote villages without road access.
REL Northwest led partners through an activity to generate hypotheses for how school leaders could improve housing and develop a theory of action for how those strategies would improve working conditions and promote retention. The strategies included establishing realistic housing expectations for new teachers, revising the process for leader evaluation of housing needs, and changing the budgeting process to make maintenance needs and upgrades easier.
The theory of action suggested that incoming teachers would arrive with more realistic expectations about housing and be able make needed improvements. If the teachers are more satisfied with their living conditions, they would be less inclined to seek positions in other areas and more likely to remain with the district.
As a result of the work, district leaders are designing a program that allows teachers to apply for district funding to make simple housing upgrades, such as changes in lighting or painting. In subsequent working sessions, REL Northwest will work with Lower Kuskokwim to identify and develop action plans for additional strategies to improve working conditions. The partnership will also create tools to assess and monitor data on working conditions that the district can use to inform retention efforts and human resources decisions.
See below for additional resources:
Alaska Teachers & Personnel, University of Alaska (2022). Information for Foreign Teacher Candidates. https://www.alaskateacher.org/foreign_teachers.php
Vazquez Cano, M., Bel Hadj Amor, H., & Pierson, A. (2019). Educator retention and turnover under the midnight sun: Examining trends and relationships in teacher, principal, and superintendent movement in Alaska. Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest.