You’ve Got ‘Em, Now How Do You Keep ‘Em?

In last month’s blog, I discussed some potential ways to secure teachers during this period when demand for highly qualified teachers is out-pacing the number of individuals graduating with teaching degrees.  Keeping your teachers is important! Let’s say you already have great teacher or you’ve managed to secure the teachers you need (undoubtedly by using all of last month’s suggestions).  How do you manage to keep the teachers you have, particularly when actually paying them what they deserve is unlikely in the present period of budget cuts to education?

First and foremost is finding out from the teachers what they want.  When the legislature enacted laws requiring the adoption of model framework for teacher and principal evaluations under A.R.S. §§15-203 and 15-537, the legislature also stated that schools were expected to adopt “incentives for teachers in the highest performance classification, which may include multiyear contracts not to exceed three years.”   Using an interactive process with the highest performing teachers to discover something to motivate them could also serve as a model to determine what sorts of non-monetary benefits can be used to retain teachers.

“Thank you” is one great way of retaining a loyal and stable staff.  Recognizing and publicly celebrating teachers’ accomplishments makes the teacher feel appreciated.  The recognition can, of course, be on the morning announcement list, it can be in a student newspaper, a paper sent home to the parents, or, in supportive communities, it could be a feature in the community newspaper.  It could involve creating a “Day” to honor a particular teacher with a name on a marquee or on a “wall of honor.”  Hey, it works at Home Depot!  Recognition can include a reserved parking space.  It can include a modest gift of a Starbucks gift card or a movie pass along with a bag of microwave popcorn.  Teacher appreciation day–or week–could also be celebrated.

Another technique for retaining teachers is creating and maintaining a positive, supportive work environment. Administrators need to treat employees with respect. Mentor teachers and “Big Brother/Big Sister” teachers can help new teachers find their feet. When teachers know that they are supported, they may find that working in a pleasant environment may make up for the lower salaries.  On the other hand, a toxic environment of back- biting, put-downs, and a churlish attitude toward co-workers, administrators, parents, students, the Board, and the community at large can drive away individuals, no matter what the salary might be.  While there may be no way to help a “Debbie Downer” turn that frown upside down, there may be ways to limit the damage by separating that individual from impressionable employees, by calling the person on spreading gossip and lies, by making a safe environment for people to report toxic behaviors, and then by acting on those reports.  Eventually, however, it may be best for the work environment of the staff as a whole to get rid of one toxic personality.  In that instance, Arizona School Boards Policy GBEA, requiring the ethical employee to maintain a “just, courteous, and proper relationships with students, parents, staff members, and others” provides a rule meant to be enforced and the tool to do it.

Retention bonuses or signing bonuses can be written into contracts to avoid a claim of violation of the “gift of public funds” or “additional pay” provisions of the Arizona Constitution.  If the teacher signs the contract on a day set by the District well before the 15 business day deadline, the teacher receives a signing bonus.  Often these are relatively small, but they remind the teacher that the teacher is appreciated.  A retention bonus system could be a fringe benefit adopted by the Board either as a policy or for a particular year’s contract.  Individuals who sign and return a contract for their 5th year or 10th year (or whatever is decided), receive a “retention payment” in December of an amount agreed upon in the contract. Since it isn’t part of a “salary,” automatic increases or renewals aren’t maintained by the District beyond the one time retention bonus.

While Districts and teachers may tend to focus on the “he who has the gold, rules” version, the “treat others as you would like to be treated” may make more of a difference in retaining teachers over the long run than salaries alone.


This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice regarding Keeping Your Teachers Is Important, or other Education Law matters, please feel free to contact Candyce B. Pardee at  800.863.6718, log on to,  or contact an attorney in your area. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona with a branch office in Yuma, Arizona, and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.