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Want To Retain Teachers? Why Not Treat Them Like Valuable Assets Rather Than Dish-Rags?

With the DfE’s muck rolling downhill, educators often get a stinking deal, but here's how managers can, you know, manage the situation

  • Want To Retain Teachers? Why Not Treat Them Like Valuable Assets Rather Than Dish-Rags?

In my wardrobe, I think carefully about how to use the most expensive item – a coat – best. I spent a lot of money on it, and I am not going to neglect it and misuse it. It is dry-cleaned, stored away from other things, used only for special occasions. This coat is treated with care and reverence. I don’t use it to dry the plates, clean the floor or to protect my car window from bird droppings.

In schools, the most expensive area of the budget is usually the staffing, yet the way schools treat that resource is concerning. Maybe, just maybe (especially with teacher retention being a real issue), we should explore how we treat our most valuable asset in schools, rather than treating teachers like dish-rags.


There is an all-important fact that is somehow oft forgotten in schools – teachers want to teach. They applied for the job teach. They are employed to teach. And when staff are disaffected, it is usually because they aren’t being enabled to teach. So what can managers change to allow us to do our jobs?

What is she doing to ensure teaching is taking place? What is she doing to remove the barriers to teaching? It might be a problem student, a badly implemented system or the fact that a teacher is expected to mark every single thing a student writes and fill in silly little planning sheets for every lesson. A manager should take ownership for this.


Sadly, we live in a world where some people think that certain forms of respect are a given right. ‘Bow down to me, for I have a title’. I’m sorry to say break this to those people, but respect is something that develops.

You could be respected for making the right decisions, handling situations well, knowing your stuff or being really supportive – but these things all occur over time.

From a teacher’s perspective, why would you automatically respect someone’s judgement on your lesson on teaching subordinate clauses, when that person has never taught subordinate clauses before? Managers need to ask themselves: ‘what am I doing in my role to embody respect?’


Fairness is one of the things that can easily spread bitterness in schools. Everyone wants to be treated fairly. Of course, you might have to treat people differently, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be fair. If one person feels they’re getting a worse deal than someone else they’re sure to be unhappy about it, and as a manager that’s something of which you should be aware.

Security and consistency

While we can live through small patches of insecurity, everyone wants to feel safe and secure in their job and life. Managers should always be aware of creating atmospheres of insecurity. Teachers look to you to instil confidence and security. You should be the one with the plan (or at least the semblance of a plan) – ‘There may be troubles ahead, but with me things will be okay.’

Plan to make teachers’ lives easier

We all have to work. Work isn’t always fun, but a manager should help control and manage stress. Support the staff by making them see their jobs as manageable and achievable. It may be a system or a process, but move towards making the working process smoother. A manager should stem the flow and tide, and not funnel it onto the staff.

Listen – Discuss – Offer a Solution

There will always be problems when managing people. Most importantly, listen to them, and discuss their issues. Then, step back and think of solutions. I have seen numerous managers make quick sharp judgements, or try to smooth things over in a friendly way, when problems need thought and consideration.

The best manager I ever had was a woman who embodied each and every one of these qualities. She was the most warm, friendly and supportive manger and people wanted to work for her. In fact, they worked harder for her than any other another manager.

Mangers don’t need to be a dictator, or a teacher’s best friend – they need to be a consistent and active part of their work life.

Chris Curtis is a teacher of English; he blogs at Learning from my mistakes: an English teacher’s blog and tweets as @xris32

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