Why Most Teachers and Therapists Quit

In schools around the country, the turnover rate of teachers, speech therapists, and other clinicians can be highly inconvenient. For students, their learning or therapy is disrupted. For principals, they feel the pressure to find adequate replacements, often on short notice.

But before trying to fix the problem, let’s first better understand it.

School principals wear a lot of hats: School Leader, Teacher Evaluator, Student Discipline Chief, Developer, Implementer, and Evaluator of School Programs, Reviewer of Policies and Procedures, Schedule Setter, Hirer of New Teachers, Public Relations Point Person, and Delegator. But perhaps the most crucial is that of “School Manager.”

And why is the role of the school manager the most crucial for principals?

Because depending on how well the principal performs as a school manager will be crucial to what type of staff he/she can field for the students in the school. And ultimately, the success of the school in general, and the students, in particular, is directly related to the quality of the teachers, speech therapists, and other clinicians who serve the children.

Here’s a bit of data for you to consider. Decades of Gallup data and interviews with 25 million employees concluded that 50 percent of employees left their job “to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career.” People leave managers, not companies.

Gallup CEO Jim Clifton summarized it in the following way: “When the wrong person is the manager, not compensation, not benefits–nothing will be appealing enough for the employee to remain.”

Clifton says decision-makers at the top of the food chain spend billions of dollars each year on everything but hiring the right managers. He writes, “They’ll buy miserable employees latte machines for their offices, give them free lunch and sodas.”

So, if principals are committed to helping their schools and the children who attend them, they should heed Jim Clifton’s words, “Become the best manager you possibly can!”

And how can you do that?

Acquire These Character Traits

Here are four traits of managers, in our case principals, that research suggests will lead teachers, speech therapists, and other clinicians to perform at the highest level and stay with their job for the long term.

1. Honesty

Excellent managers are radically honest. When they are genuine and vulnerable with their employees, the employees will often reciprocate by giving their trust to the manager. Transparency is the hallmark of radical honesty. And honesty is always the best policy.

2. Supportive

Great managers support their employees by being interested in their jobs and career aspirations. Great managers look for learning and development opportunities, and if necessary, create them. At its core, there is emotional engagement between the manager and the employee.

Being supportive includes being supportive when employees are going through difficult circumstances or transitions in their personal lives. John C. Maxwell put it this way, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

3. Recognize Strengths and Talents


When employees are fortunate enough to have caring and talented managers, those employees’ strengths will continue to grow throughout their careers. Everyone loves to use their unique gifts and talents. The best managers leverage close relationships with employees by determining their strengths and helping to enable their development.

4. Empathy

Global training giant Development Dimensions International (DDI) has studied leadership for 46 years. The firm assessed over 15,000 leaders from more than 300 organizations across 20 industries and 18 countries to determine which conversational skills have the most significant impact on overall employee performance.

Every manager needs to be aware of their findings. While encouragement and recognizing accomplishments are significant, listening and responding with empathy was found to be the most critical driver of overall performance. Displaying empathy is the manager’s secret weapon, but it can’t be faked. It must be sincere.

Be Innovative

Mining Hidden New Treasures

Sometimes principals need to get creative in finding ways for their teachers, speech therapists, and other clinicians to remain in the school. Kevin Armstrong, the principal of DuPont Hadley Middle School near Nashville, TN has instituted new-teacher meetings every month, and new teachers are asked to lead sections of professional development for the veterans.

“We have a wealth of knowledge from teachers who are just coming out of college that have learned new strategies that some of our veteran teachers have not been exposed to,” he said. “It makes young teachers feel good when they’re able to lead a professional development session of something they just learned, in some instances, a couple of months ago.”

Create a New Instructional Paradigm

Another idea is known as the Opportunity Culture model, an initiative led by Public Impact, an education policy and management-consulting firm in Chapel Hill, NC. The model seeks to put high-quality teachers in charge of more students.

Teachers who have demonstrated effectiveness with student learning are named “multi-classroom leaders” and are tapped to lead a teaching team and provide on-the-job coaching to their teachers for a handsome bonus. Teachers who are being guided begin to embrace the model. They feel supported, and that means they are more likely to stay.

Give your Teachers a Gift

One principal, Jayda Pugliese, the principal at St. Mary Interparochial School in Philadelphia, PA, teaches one period each week in every grade level as one way to demonstrate support for her teachers.

“I’m a new principal, a young principal,” she said. “I didn’t want them to feel like my ideas were going to chase them away. [I wanted them to know] I’m going to put in the work to support them in any capacity.”

Her solution is to teach in each grade level for one period a week. Teachers can spend time planning or catching up on work, or they can observe Pugliese’s lesson.

“Teachers enjoy their free time, so I’m giving up my principal time to try to support my teachers, show them that I notice their free time is valuable,” Pugliese said.

It Can Be Done

Becoming a great school manager isn’t magic and it isn’t luck. It involves dedication, perseverance and lots of hard work. But if you are a principal, you have already signed up for all of this and much more. Knowing what to focus on will make the journey that much less painful and that much more successful. You can do it!