Factors Impacting Teacher Vacancies

by Matt Hurt

Last week Jim Bacon published an article about the fact that our teacher vacancy rate problem is not all about salary, and I agree that other factors also contribute to this problem.  Jim also posited that “It’s caused by teachers dropping out of the profession because they think their jobs suck,” and recent data seem to support an approximation of this idea.

This spring some of my colleagues and I were able to obtain and investigate the annual School Climate and Working Conditions Survey results from 2023. We specifically focused on the teacher results and were able to confirm a major tenet in the educational world: climate matters!

The survey questions were categorized as indicated in this spreadsheet. There were significant, positive correlations among all of the categories and SOL performance both at the school and the division levels of analysis. Conversely, these correlations were significant and negative with teacher vacancy rates. One singular question — overall, my school is a good place to work and learn — had the greatest overall correlation with both SOL outcomes and teacher vacancy rates. In other words, teachers were less likely to leave divisions in which they wanted to work, and those divisions produced better student outcomes.

Table 1 below attempts to better illustrate these relationships. Most of the questions were presented in a Likert scale with a range of answer options from one to six (six being the most favorable response). These results were aggregated by region, and the statistics below indicate the percentage of possible points for each category of questions. All values are color coded as follows: green most desirable, red least desirable, and yellow most central.

Table 1: Aggregate teacher survey results, teacher vacancy rates, and SOL pass rates by region in 2023.

Unfortunately, climate is one of the most intangible factors that impact teacher vacancy rates and student outcomes. There is no algorithm that an administrator at either the school or division level can employ which is capable of improving climate. Education is a people business and school/division climate can only be effectively addressed by working with all of the people involved and ensuring that their needs are addressed.

What exacerbates this problem significantly is that many leaders may not fully understand the current state of the climate in their school or division. For example, I spent the first four years teaching at a school that I thought was a wonderful school. At the beginning of my fifth year, I was transferred to another school in the division. Once I arrived at the second school, I wondered how I ever survived four years at the previous school, as the difference in school climate was that significant! Similarly, I have known of leaders who moved from a really bad situation to a bad situation. Once there, they felt that they had died and gone to heaven, not having the context to understand how bad their current climate actually was.

Another confounding factor that exacerbates this problem is the commonly held belief that climate is fixed in some schools or divisions by nature of a number of factors such as socioeconomic status of students, the percentage of students who do not speak English in the division, teacher turnover rates, rates of fully licensed teachers, etc. While these challenges certainly make the job tougher, enterprising leaders across the state have found means by which to mitigate them. When one looks into the data to find those positive outliers who face these challenges and are able to buck the trend, one also finds leaders who were able to effectively improve the climate.

In conclusion, school and division climate is critical. It appears that climate is a major leading indicator, whereas teacher vacancy rates and student outcomes are lagging indicators. Making a positive impact on climate is not easy. The only way this can happen is through employing servant leadership and developing and maintaining strong, positive relationships among all stakeholders in the organization: administrators, teachers, parents, students, etc. Leaders who convince their folks that their sole responsibility is to help their folks achieve success are those who make the most significant positive impact on school and division climate.

Matt Hurt is the  director of the  Comprehensive Instructional Program, based in Wise, Virginia. 

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31 responses to “Factors Impacting Teacher Vacancies”

  1. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Money. First, last, and foremost.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      they pay the teachers at the tough schools the same as the easy ones AND if their class does badly, it can affect their career, and teachers with half a brain know which is which. Low performing schools do not get good veteran teachers for the most part. They get the ones that other schools don’t want and/or newbies right out of school.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        It obviously doesn’t pay a decent wage either way.

        Teacher gender ratio K-12 US
        Gender Percentages
        Female 74.3%
        Male 25.7%

        Now, if’n these boys here at BR weren’t so, uh,… um,… straight laced(?) then maybe the environment wouldn’t be so hostile and the gap could be filled by transgender males.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          Teacher pay:

          1. is it enough to buy a house?

          2. is it enough to pay for child care if they are bringing up kids?

          3. does it pay enough for the cost of living where they live and teach?

          4. Does it build an adequate retirement?

          5. does it provide good health insurance including when they retire and it becomes secondary to Medicare?

          6. Will you get paid more if you teach economically disadvantaged kids?

    2. Ronnie Chappell Avatar
      Ronnie Chappell

      Interesting that scores were better in southwest Virginia where school districts are among the poorest in the state and teachers are among the lowest paid.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Those kids see the only way out is education or meth, otherwise they’re stuck in poverty.

        Compared to the median income there, a teacher’s salary makes them among the highest paid in the area. I guarantee that a new hire teacher is several $1000s above median county income.

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Those kids see the only way out is education or meth, otherwise they’re stuck in poverty.

        Compared to the median income there, a teacher’s salary makes them among the highest paid in the area. I guarantee that a new hire teacher is several $1000s above median county income.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          rural schools are relatively easy compared to urban schools.

          cost of living is usually lower. The schools are not tied to only low-income neighborhoods.. often the entire county or large portion with a mixed income demographic. Urban areas have “low income” schools and non-lower-income schools. Teaching low income kids often means parents with poor educations who do not have solid high paying jobs, often low paying minimum wage…etc…

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            You’re 22 years old, just completed your degree, single, and you’re going to take a job in a place where the number of intellectual equals is severely depressed and the most exciting nightlife are raccoons?

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            Well, you’re gonna do the best you can do but your life experience IQ is still building and each step is your own learning experience.

            That’s why the turnover at lower performing schools is high.

            They come out of college, they see the “problem” and they get out of dodge quick. Next year, a new group of “recruits” newbies shows up to “learn” that’s not the place for a career.

          3. Matt Hurt Avatar
            Matt Hurt

            It seems to me that it’s less about the teachers and more about the leaders. I find teacher quality fairly stable across the state, but leadership is the big variable in my humble opinion.

          4. Randy Huffman Avatar
            Randy Huffman

            It is also interesting that SW Virginia is faring so well when at the same time they are facing declining attendance and being forced to close some schools. I just read an article about it in Cardinal News but couldn’t get a link to work.

          5. LarrytheG Avatar

            I agree. It’s clear that principals vary greatly in ability and skill and that can have a dramatic impact on school performance.

            But I don’t think it should work that way in multi-school districts lead by district administrators.

            All principals in those districts should be held to the same standards and if a given school has performance issues, then the district leadership is primarily responsible for making changes including repacing the principal if need be.

            Rural schools with far fewer schools, the district leadership and the principals are much more in touch and aligned and if changes are needed they are taken

            In more urban school districts it does not seem to work that way because as I’ve pointed out before, you can have a district like Henrico and school performance runs the gamut from high to low – AND it does not change… the low performing schools continue to be low performing schools without much, if any improvement.

            The leaders of Henrico Schools are the responsible party. If a given school has year after year low performance, don’t blame the principal and just continue. Action is required by the District leaders IMO and apparently it does not happen. They just go on year after year with the same low performing schools not improving. And not just a few in Henrico’s case, dozens…of schools that are abysmal in their SOL scores.

            People talk about “disruptive”, “out of control” students which is very real. What happens to a kid who goes through 1-5 grades and still cannot read and do math – in their current classes. They do very much become disruptive. There future is more and more apparent that when they graduate, they’ll be lucky to find a low wage job if at all.. and the school to prison pipeline is very real – but it starts in 3rd grade when the kid cannot read or do math and it rolls forward and gets worse.

            The administrators of the school district bear direct responsibility for this IMO, you can’t blame a principal , fire him/her, and the school continues to be terrible no matter who is principal, no matter how many are replaced.

          6. Matt Hurt Avatar
            Matt Hurt

            There are a variety of leadership paradigms at play in Virginia, and I have experienced among the best and worst at producing good outcomes for kids. Those that view education as a people business and the jobs of leaders (whether at the division or the school level) is to ensure the success of our folks realize better results all other factors remaining equal.

            It’s also like one of my former superintendents once told me. If the teacher produces bad results one time, it’s on the teacher. The second time, it’s on the principal. The third time, it’s on the central office.

          7. LarrytheG Avatar

            One of the things that would benefit the schools and kids IMO, is to rotate the principals. It gives them wider experience and at the same time establishes a performance record for themselves that would
            mitigate a one-school outlier verses a clear pattern with one principal and others.

            Not every person is cut out to be a teacher nor a principal.

  2. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    Interesting. Having gone through the Gallup “engagement” surveys for years at the shipyard, I recognize that effort. I’m actually surprised the gaps between regions are not larger, but then I’m sure at the county/division level, or even the school-to-school level, the gaps are more dramatic. There is a 12-point spread between the highest and lowest pass rates among the regions, and the highest turnover rate is triple the lowest.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      The great advantage of the “fewer than 50-employee”company is that you’re never polled about such silliness. You merely gripe to one another over a 5 o’clock martini on Friday, and by noon the next Monday, everybody’s heard it.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    I’m not seeing the whole table…. can’t see the far left row entries.

    I know there are significant differences between schools and climate but I don’t think a well-run division should have that much variability. It should not be a situation where the teachers themselves perceive “good” and “bad” schools to teach at and no I’m not surprised that the ones known as “not good to teach at” end up with performance issues across the board because the teachers that do end up there either had no other choice and/or do not realize the issue (newbies).

    RTD pointed out a few days ago just how segregated the schools are these days and that schools located in low-income neighborhoods typically have issues , trouble attracting and keeping good teachers, etc, etc and it shows up clearly in their
    academic performance.

    You can take a more urban county like Henrico or Chesterfield and they have some of the highest performing schools in the state – at the same time, the same school division with the same administrative leadership also presides over some of the worst performing schools in Virginia.

    Clearly school “climate” is in play but does that mean the leadership in the division has not role/responsibility in the
    low-performing schools in their district – i.e. “it’s the principal”?

    How do non-traditional/non-public schools handle these issues?

  4. Ronnie Chappell Avatar
    Ronnie Chappell

    Enlightening post.

    Pay is only one factor affecting job satisfaction and performance, and I’d argue one of the least important. It only becomes a major issue when pay and benefits are not sufficient to allow a worker to make ends meet at the end of every month. If pay is sufficient, most people look at their pay advisory about once a year, to see how their most recent raise affected their take home.

    Far more important:

    Do they perceive their work as important, meaningful and appreciated?

    Do they have the autonomy – the authority – to do their work and accomplish their goals the way they believe best and most effective?

    Are co-workers and supervisors supportive and not micro-managers as long as outcomes meet or exceed expectations?

    People will stay in a terrible job if the pay is high enough. Motivated people will leave if employers fail to answer the questions above the right way. No one becomes a teacher to get rich.

    1. Thomas Dixon Avatar
      Thomas Dixon

      “Do they have the autonomy – the authority – to do their work and accomplish their goals the way they believe best and most effective?”

      As someone who worked in state gov. employment for 26 years, this was the biggest issue we me and many of my co-workers. It doesn’t matter how creative, dedicated, or insightful you are… your job is dictated by people in offices far away who have no connection with it and often no understanding of what works. Makes you dull and frustrated.

  5. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Just to say it one more time since everyone has on their blinders, it’s a WORLDWIDE TEACHER SHORTAGE.

    Yep, even China has a teacher shortage. France? Yep. Kenya? Yep.

  6. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    I filled out those climate surveys in the past. As a younger teacher I would thoughtfully consider the questions. The last five years I xmas treed the survey. Why? Because I didn’t think anyone would read them or act upon them.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Laughing is an action.

  7. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    The data does not seem to bear out the theme that Jim Bacon is constantly beating the drum for: “classrooms are out of control.”

    1. Matt Hurt Avatar
      Matt Hurt

      It depends where we’re talking about. One thing I failed to mention in the article is that in odd years (such as 2023) the state surveys elementary and middle schools and in even years high schools. The out of control issue seems to be more prevalent in some high schools. One of the big driving factors seems to be the issue of disproportionate discipline. Some schools in an effort to eliminate disproportionate discipline among subgroups of students have adopted discipline strategies that have not yielded orderly classrooms. When this happens, teachers find it difficult to teach and therefore often find other employment opportunities, either in another school/division or another field altogether. Anecdotally this is a real problem, but there’s no reliable data from which to measure this.

  8. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “Conversely, these correlations were significant and negative with teacher vacancy rates.”

    According to your spreadsheet, the r^2 for those factors which were negative was 3% to 18% which indicates there is not a strong correlation between them and teacher vacancy rates. This pretty much disproves JAB’s argument.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      geeze..you are such a buzzkiller….


    2. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Roughly the same negative correlation between stocks and bonds, which historically when things go south, you lose either way.

    3. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Roughly the same negative correlation between stocks and bonds, which historically when things go south, you lose either way.

    4. Matt Hurt Avatar
      Matt Hurt

      I’m not convinced that the instrument the state uses to capture this information is good enough to say that these results are the end-all be-all on the matter. First, the survey is 125 questions, and I’m not sure that everyone who completes it really gives it their full attention when doing so. Second, schools are required to make it available, but folks are not required to submit it. They do have certain data suppression rules in place, such as 50% return rate is required, but they did not indicate what the return rate was by school or division- that likely matters.

      We also don’t have any data from the state about teacher retention rates. Vacancy rates may hide the fact that while a large number of turnover occurs each year that we were able to mitigate empty classrooms by contacting with companies that bring teachers from Asia and other parts of the world to fill our gaps. Retention rates and vacancy rates are two different things, and I would bet the farm that the climate survey, as flawed as it is, would correlate much stronger with retention rates than vacancy rates.

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