Teacher Retention

Scholar perspective

By | Bryan Bohanan

Teachers serve multiple roles in the lives of students: mentors, teachers, sources of knowledge, and key contributors in shaping the lives of students. Well-being is nuanced; the need for physical, mental, and emotional health can vary from person to person, and a sense of purpose, satisfaction, balance, and meaningful relationships are often in conflict with teaching.

As the teacher in the article noted, the demands of teaching create a space of imbalance, multiplied by the needs of students in the classroom, parents, low pay, and healthcare. Well-being is often at risk, specifically for BIPOC teachers. The question posed, “Is it worth it,” is complex, as the success of individuals as teachers is variant; if well-being is rooted in balance, mental and emotional resilience, and meaningful relationships, then schools must provide specific supports and resources for BIPOC teachers so they are not constantly at risk.

Historically, BIPOC educators have faced a lack of representation, predominantly in white schools. From a structural standpoint, that lack of representation does not allow BIPOC teachers to seek or work toward a sense of well-being. If the well-being of BIPOC teachers is continuously in conflict, the likelihood of BIPOC teachers remaining in the field will continue to drop. Well-being does not have boundaries. Thus, the feeling of an “absence” of well-being spills into other aspects of life, creating a feeling of burnout. This may be due to the risks to a teacher’s well-being at work; it will then be compounded in areas such as financial stability, work satisfaction, and work/life balance, thus making the teaching field “not worth it.” The following considerations are presented to support BIPOC teachers to stay in the field and make the teaching experience worth the investment they are making as educators.

Workplace culture and climate: BIPOC educators may experience less supportive or inclusive spaces, creating a cycle of trauma and trauma responses that keep well-being in a constant state of flight or fight. Understanding the experience of BIPOC teachers in the space can provide a higher sense of purpose and relationships.

Professional development and advancement: BIPOC teachers need more access to opportunities, specifically in leadership or resourced positions, so that the sense of purpose matches the intensity of recruitment of BIPOC teachers. Professional development opportunities that support BIPOC teachers that have been historically limited due to marginalization, bias, and systemic oppression are essential for well-being (i.e., interpersonal development, financial literacy, home ownership, teaching pedagogy that is culturally supportive and relevant).

Addressing bias and discrimination for BIPOC teachers, specifically spaces that perpetuate whiteness. There need to be systems of accountability that allow white teachers, amongst others, to have space to learn, grow, and reflect, which has implications related to pay and position mobility.

The examination of interactions between varying roles, supervisors and supervisees, and white/non-white individuals has to be observed, reflected upon, and addressed when necessary. The most impactful change can be made if it is observed and addressed in the moment

The outcomes must be tangible as meaningful relationships are vital in achieving retention but will be at risk if respect and reciprocity are absent

Addressing the invisible caseload: BIPOC teachers must be given positional authority to navigate the multiple spaces of interaction. Often, BIPOC teachers learn and understand the experiences of other BIPOC educators or marginalized groups and are not in positions to create tangible change, which overloads their caseload. Advocacy creates a perception of change, but true change is rooted in decision-making authority and actual outcomes.

Addressing well-being will allow for physical, mental, and emotional safety. For BIPOC educators, this is often at risk due to the inflexibility of schedules or dangerous colleagues. Social connections and relationships cannot be centered on navigating racial issues. This sense of negative expertise is often counted upon from BIPOC educators, with no ability to change behavior outside of information sharing, making it largely unsustainable and often ineffective.


Bryan Bohanan
Director of Clinical Experiences and Partnerships
Metro State University of Denver