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Teacher Turnover and Workplace Spirituality

Teacher turnover in public and private schools is a significant problem for the US education system. Almost 14% of teachers leave their current job every year, creating vacancies that are difficult to fill (Garcia &Weiss, 2019). Around half of these teachers leave the profession for various reasons, including retirement and seeking another career (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017).

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The problem of teacher turnover contributes to overall teacher shortage caused by various factors. The number of schools that tried to fill a vacancy between 2011 and 2016 tripled from 3.1 to 9.4 percent (Garcia &Weiss, 2019). Moreover, the number of schools that were unable to fill vacancies grew from 19.7 to 36.2 percent during the same period (Garcia &Weiss, 2019).

According to Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond (2017), high-achieving school systems in Finland, Singapore, and Ontario, Canada, have a turnover rate below 4 percent. This implies the schooling system in the US underperforms, and effective interventions are required to address this problem.

The shortage of teachers and turnover is associated with significant harm to teachers, students, and the US economy in general. First, a shortage of teachers hinders students’ ability to learn and decreases teaching effectiveness (Garcia &Weiss, 2019). It increases workload leading to increased stress and burnout (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017).

Therefore, teachers and school authorities encounter the problem of creating an effective workplace culture that can ensure the stable performance of an academic institution. Second, a shortage of teachers harms the reputation of the teaching profession in general. Currently, teaching is viewed as an underpaid occupation with high demands and vague carrier opportunities (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). As a result, the number of degrees in education awarded in 2016 dropped by almost 16 percent in comparison with 2009, even though the demand for teachers was growing (Garcia &Weiss, 2019).

The reputation problem further contributes to increased turnover rates and teacher shortage. Third, the issue harms the financial well-being of schools and the US economy in general. The problem is that turnover consumes financial and human resources that could be used elsewhere.

The problem of teacher turnover needs to be addressed on all levels to avoid the associated harms. Turnover can be addressed by tackling the central reason for avoidable turnover. Teacher turnover is attributed to dissatisfaction with the professions for various reasons, including low pay, unhappiness with administrative support, stress and burnout, lack of functional workplace culture, and dissatisfaction with teaching as a career (Ingersoll, 2001).

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Therefore, the most prominent methods for addressing teacher turnover is increasing compensation, enhancing teacher preparation and support, and improving school leadership (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). However, innovative methods for addressing turnover are also needed to approach the problem from a different angle.

Workplace spirituality is an emerging solution for addressing employee turnover that can be practiced in schools. It is a relatively new idea that started to develop in the late 1990s (Waddock, 1999).

Workplace spirituality is generally understood as an organization’s recognition that employees have both mind and spirit, and they are free to search for the purpose of their work using religious beliefs openly. Recent research demonstrates that the promotion of workplace spirituality can become a viable strategy for addressing teacher turnover as it improves teachers’ psychological well-being (Aboobaker et al., 2019) and organizational commitment (Mousa & Alas, 2016).

The present paper aims at providing in-depth information about the problem of teacher turnover both in the US and abroad. First, the paper will look at the issues from a historical perspective to understand how the issue developed in the past. Second, the paper will provide a summary of how the problem is viewed in the current scholarly and professional literature.

Third, strategies for addressing teacher turnover will be discussed with a particular emphasis on workplace spirituality. Finally, the paper will discuss what the Scriptures say about the issue. The purpose of the research is to describe factors that affect teacher turnover and an overview of current strategies for addressing it. The paper puts a special emphasis on the promotion of workplace spirituality as a viable method for addressing teacher turnover.

Historical Summary

Teacher Turnover in the US

Teacher turnover in the US has been a problem of concern for an extended period of time. The first research concerning turnover of American teachers was published by Stafford Metz and Howard Fleischman in 1974. The study was based on a sample of 1,205 US schools and the employment data for the 1968-1969 school year. According to the study, teacher turnover rate during the period was 19 percent (Metz & Fleischman, 1974).

Almost 9% of teachers did not return to the profession after separating from their jobs (Metz & Fleischman, 1974). Even though the numbers were high, Metz & Fleischman (1974) failed to provide an assessment of the information and acknowledge the importance of findings. Therefore, even though the first research on the issue was published in the 1970s, the problem did receive recognition until later in the 20th century.

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Teacher turnover started to receive increased attention in the 1980s when many highly publicized reports about the matter emerged. The National Commission on Excellence in Education, the National Academy of Sciences, and many other groups of researchers began to worry that turnover could lead to teacher shortage (Ingersoll, 2001).

The concern was explained by two demographic trends during the time, including increased enrollment in schools and increased attrition of teachers due to aging (Ingersoll, 2001). Since the middle of the 1980s, school staffing was declared a major concern by the US government (Ingersoll, 2001). This created incentives for the emergence of a large body of empirical research concerning teacher turnover and factors that affect it.

In the 1980s, research concerning teacher turnover was mainly based upon personal characteristics of teachers, such as age, gender, marital status, and teaching field (Ingersoll, 2001). During this period, it was determined that educators teaching special education, mathematics, and science were more likely to have turnover intentions than others (Ingersoll, 2001). Moreover, older teachers were more likely to leave the current place of work in comparison with their younger counterparts (Boe et al., 1998).

At the same time, married were less likely to turnover than single, and males had a higher chance of leaving their jobs in comparison with females (Ingersoll, 2001). However, the early approaches to exploring the problem were associated with numerous biases, as researchers often took into consideration only teacher attrition and did not recognize organizational factors.

In the 2000s, scholars and professionals started to realize that teacher turnover could be predicted by work conditions. Ingersoll (2001) stated that understanding teacher turnover from the organizational level was crucial, as the policies practiced at that time could “divert attention from the primary underlying problem—the manner in which teachers and schools are managed” (p. 525).

Ingersoll conducted a quantitative study revealing that compensation, conflicts with students, administrative support, and workplace culture have a significant impact on teacher turnover along with personal factors. Loeb et al. (2005) claimed that school characteristics, such as the size of the classes, the poverty rate of students, the ethnicity of students, and working conditions have a significant impact on teacher turnover rates. In summary, during the 2000s, research on teacher turnover started to shift the focus from personal factors to organizational.

The data on teacher turnover rates was somewhat inconsistent, depending on the source of information. According to Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond (2017), the rates varied from 13 to 17 percent between 1988 and 2013. However, the report published by Boe et al. (1998) claimed that teacher turnover in public schools could be as high as 30%. In 2008, the teacher turnover rate was estimated to be approximately 25.6 percent (Boe et al., 2008). However, regardless of the exact figure, the turnover rate remains very high in comparison with high-achieving school systems (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). Therefore, the problem of teacher turnover has been significant since the 1980s.

Workplace Spirituality

Workplace spirituality has become a matter of discussion only during the past two decades. In the 1990s, motivation was viewed only through the lens of material gains, benefits, and recognition (Waddock, 1999). In other words, organizations were viewed only as a source of economic growth. However, the integrated framework introduced by Wilber in 1996 stated that economics was only the measurable and observable side of life within organizations (Waddock, 1999).

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Wilber claimed that employees’ motivation was impossible without community feelings, aesthetics, intuition, awareness, and meanings (Waddock, 1999). Therefore, building professional communities within organizations was vital for organizational efficiency. Waddock (1999) realized the growing need for brining employees’ hearts, minds, bodies, and souls to organizations. Thus, the late 1990s was the period when workplace spirituality was first mentioned as an opportunity to improve the community within organizations.

In 2004, Carole L. Jurkiewicz and Robert A. Giacalone acknowledged a growing interest in workplace spirituality as a way to enhance organizational performance. Jurkiewicz and Giacalone (2004) viewed workplace spirituality as “a framework of organizational values evidenced in the culture that promote employees’ experience of transcendence through the work process, facilitating their sense of being connected to others in a way that provides feelings of completeness and joy” (p. 129).

In the early 2000s, workplace spirituality was believed to have a positive effect on the community within companies; however, there was little research available to confirm the matter. The first rigorous research concerning workplace spirituality started to appear only in the 2010s. For instance, Gupta et al. (2014) designed a questionnaire to measure four aspects of workplace spirituality, including meaningful work, sense of community, organizational values, and compassion. All these factors were found to have a positive impact on job satisfaction. Since links between job satisfaction and retention are well established, workplace spirituality can have an influence on turnover.

Current Research

Teacher turnover is an issue widely discussed in the current scientific and professional literature. Current estimations of teacher turnover rates vary from 14 to 16 percent (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017; Garcia &Weiss, 2019). Around 50% of all turnover is due to attrition, which is a significant problem due to the shortage of teachers (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017).

The trends of teacher turnover in the US are presented in Figure 1 below. The cost of turnover is estimated to be $20,000 per person, given a school can fill a vacancy within one academic year (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). However, many schools struggle to fill these vacancies in time, especially in high-poverty schools, which leads to increased workload and decreases the academic achievement of students (Garcia &Weiss, 2019). Overall, the turnover rate is high in southern states, while northeastern states have the lowest turnover rates in the US as they offer high-paying jobs (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017).

However, even northeastern states have higher turnover rates in comparison with high-achieving schooling systems of Finland, Singapore, and Ontario, Canada (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). Therefore, schools need to employ effective retention strategies to address the problem of high turnover among teachers.

Teacher turnover trends
Figure 1: Teacher turnover trends (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017).

Turnover, in general, is viewed as a complex issue affected by both personal and organizational factors. In their systematic review, Al Mamun and Hasan (2017) acknowledge avoidable and unavoidable turnover. The unavoidable turnover “results from life decisions that extend beyond an employer’s control, such as a decision to move to a new area or a job transfer for a spouse” (Al Mamun & Hasan, 2017, p. 65).

Therefore, the purpose of designed strategies to increase employee retention should aim to decrease avoidable turnover. Al Mamun and Hasan (2017) distinguish between nine types of factors affecting avoidable turnover: managerial factors, workplace environment, pay, fringe benefits, career promotion, job fit, clear job expectations, perceived alternative employment opportunities, and influence of co-workers. These factors need to be addressed to address the problem of turnover.

The factors affecting teacher turnover are similar to those affecting employee mobility in general. According to Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond (2017), teacher turnover is caused by dissatisfaction with the profession. Three central reasons for dissatisfaction with teaching are “pressures associated with test-based accountability, unhappiness with administrative support, and dissatisfaction with teaching as a career” (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017, p. 30).

A literature review provided by Khan et al. (2017) identified that teachers’ turnover intentions depend on age, marital status, gender, number of children, compensation, career opportunities, recognition, work conditions, peer and supervisor support, and job satisfaction. However, Khan et al. (2017) put a special emphasis on the level of pay, job stress, and increased workload among teachers. These three factors, however, were found extremely interconnected with Pearson’s correlation coefficients of 50 and above (Khan et al., 2017).

The authors concluded that increased workload creates additional job stress, which affects teachers’ intentions to leave (Khan et al., 2017). In other words, Khan et al. (2017) suggested that job stress mediated the relationship between increased workload and turnover intentions. However, no model was created to confirm this relationship.

In her dissertation, Tolliver (2018) claimed that the availability of time for collaboration, facilities and resources, teacher leadership, school leadership, professional development, and instructional practice and support have a significant effect on teacher retention. Moreover, Tolliver (2018) concluded that there was no significant difference in teacher turnover and job satisfaction between high-poverty and non-high-poverty schools, which was inconsistent with Boe et al. (1998).

Tolliver (2018) concluded that the majority of teachers are dissatisfied with their current job. This dissatisfaction is by disproportionally low availability of time for collaboration, lack of resources, dysfunctional workplace culture, and improper management (Tolliver, 2018). While the methods for achieving this conclusion were questionable, the findings were significant and added to the current body of knowledge.

Current research also suggests that psychological and emotional well-being is a significant predictor of retention intentions Aboobaker et al. (2019) suggested that teachers with increased resistance to stress and resilience are less likely to have turnover intentions regardless of other conditions. The problem is that stress leads to exhaustion, depersonalization, and decreased teacher achievement (Aboobaker et al., 2019). If a teacher is able to resist these conditions, he or she is likely to turnover (Aboobaker et al., 2019).

These suggestions were consistent with research conducted by Chirico (2017), which concluded that teachers from consecrated schools are less likely to turnover despite increased stress as they have functional coping mechanisms to resist stress. These comping mechanisms help to deal with anger, frustration, anxiety, depression, and nervousness (Chirico, 2017).

Teacher turnover is also affected by the level of preparation for the profession. According to Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond (2017), teachers “who entered the profession through an alternative certification program were 25% more likely to leave their schools than were full-time teachers who entered teaching through a regular certification program, holding all else constant” (p. 25). However, for the majority of teachers, alternative programs are the only way to receive certification, as they cannot afford to stay without an income to receive high-quality teacher training (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017).

Therefore, states that do not offer financial aid to future teachers are more likely to rely on undertrained teachers, which, in turn, leads to increased turnover rates (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). Among other factors affecting teacher turnover are school characteristics, including administrative support, maximum district salaries, school size, and the proportion of students of color (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017).

Among these predictors, the lack of administrative support was found to have the highest predictive ability (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). In summary, teacher turnover is predicted by school characteristics, teacher characteristics, and workplace conditions.

Strategies for Addressing the Problem

There are numerous strategies in place for addressing employee turnover in general and teacher turnover in particular. All the strategies aim at controlling the factors that contribute to the problem. However, it is vital to understand that strategies should aim at addressing only preventable teacher turnover.

For instance, according to Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond (2017), teacher turnover is lower in schools, where students are mostly white and wealthy. However, it would be unethical and illegal to admit only white students with high income for public schools. All the strategies described below were tested and approved by numerous review boards. Therefore, all of them can be used to address turnover among teachers with varying degrees of effectiveness.

General Strategies

Strategies for addressing turnover should vary depending upon the factors that affect turnover in every specific school. However, there are recommendations applicable to the majority of organizations. In general, Al Mamun and Hasan (2017) recommend recruiting suitable employees, effective leadership, training, and development, identifying financial problems, improving workplace culture, and balancing life and work. School authorities need to make a suitable combination of the methods to create a sound retention plan.

Recruiting Suitable Employees

An effective retaining strategy cannot exist without a sound recruitment practice. Every school needs to be able to select the most suitable employees from the pool of available teachers (Al Mamun & Hasan, 2017). Schools need to identify the qualifications needed for a job to be done properly and hire candidates with adequate qualifications and experiences (Al Mamun & Hasan, 2017).

This is especially true for positions that have increased workload and high stress, as an inexperienced teacher who does not know how to resist stress is likely to turnover (Aboobaker et al., 2019). However, the use of this strategy is limited due to the growing shortage of teachers.

Effective Leadership

Hiring and training effective leaders is crucial for retaining teachers. Leadership factors and administrative support were found to be the most significant predictors of employee turnover by Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond (2017). School authorities and HR managers need to be leaders rather than managers and push towards the potential of teachers while appreciating their performance (Al Mamun & Hasan, 2017).

Effective leadership leads to increased engagement, confidence, and commitment among employees (Al Mamun & Hasan, 2017). This strategy should be implemented in all schools, as there are little barriers preventing school authorities from using it.

Employee Development

Employees need to know about their career opportunities and what qualifications are needed to achieve the desired position. School authorities can promote increased on-the-job training to help their employees develop (Al Mamun & Hasan, 2017). This is especially relevant today, as many teachers have insufficient training due to the lack of financial support (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). An employee who received support from school authorities in terms of career advancement will feel gratitude to the organization, which will decrease the chances of turnover (Al Mamun & Hasan, 2017).


Compensation is believed to be the central predictor of turnover in the majority of organizations (Al Mamun & Hasan, 2017). Compensation of public school teachers depends upon state policies; therefore, the problem is difficult to address on the local level (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). Therefore, the problem of low pay in public schools should be addressed on the state and federal levels. However, in private schools, increasing compensation may become a viable retention strategy.

Improving Workplace Culture

Employees need to be satisfied with culture, work environment, and organizational structure to be loyal to an organization (Al Mamun & Hasan, 2017). All the employees need to be led by a central idea guided by a unified philosophy (Al Mamun & Hasan, 2017). Therefore, establishing an organizational philosophy and rules is crucial to retain teachers.

Balancing Work and Family Life

Without a balanced life, employees are more likely to burnout due to their inability to manage increased stress. If a teacher does not have enough time to solve family issues, they will experience increased stress. Additional stress can lead to burnout, depression, anxiety, and anger (Chirico, 2017). Instead of treating psychological conditions, school authorities have a chance to prevent them from appearing. Thus, controlling the workload of teachers is vital to prevent the misbalance of family and professional life.

Teacher Training

Teacher training is another problem that should be addressed on federal or state levels. The problem of underqualified teachers was mentioned by numerous professional reports and scholarly research (Boe et al., 1998; Boe et al., 2008; Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017; Garcia &Weiss, 2019). The government needs to create programs helping students to pay for their education if they decide to choose the profession. The programs should also aim at popularizing the teaching profession to create non-financial incentives for students to choose teaching as a career.

Workplace Spirituality

Currently, the promotion of workplace spirituality is viewed as a retention strategy for teachers in both private and public schools. Since it is a relatively new idea, the research on the subject is scarce, and findings are inconclusive. However, current research demonstrates significant potential of the strategy to become a reliable method for addressing teacher turnover. Workplace spirituality can be considered a type of organizational culture that unites all the employees.

Mousa and Alas (2016) suggest that intentions to leave a job is often caused by high stress and burnout due to high expectations imposed by public schools. However, these intentions can be addressed by increasing workplace commitment, which can be done by promoting workplace spirituality (Mouse & Alas, 2016). The research confirmed that workplace spirituality decreased turnover and level of absenteeism in teachers in public schools (Mouse & Alas, 2016).

Aboobaker et al. (2019) claimed that the relationship between workplace spirituality and turnover was mediated by psychological well-being. In other words, workplace spirituality decreased stress and burnout while enhancing resilience. Such improvements promoted the emotional stability of teachers, making the desire to leave the current place of work less frequent (Aboobaker et al., 2019).

Chirico et al. (2020) conducted a pilot study that tested a prayer intervention as a strategy to decrease burnout among teachers. The results were promising as an experiment revealed a significant change in symptoms of burnout in comparison with the control group (Chirico et al., 2020). In brief, the current body of knowledge demonstrates the high potential of workplace spirituality and religious interventions as a strategy of decreasing turnover.

In his doctoral dissertation, Achuff (2018) aimed at identifying factors that contribute to retention among teachers. The phenomenological study revealed that motivating factors that promoted retention were spiritual impact, calling, love of teaching, student interaction, and school support (Achuff, 2018). The teachers mentioned that workplace spirituality helped them understand that teaching was their calling (Achuff, 2018).

Teachers also found joy in sharing their religious worldview with students was rewarding and joyful (Achuff, 2018). These findings were confirmed by another phenomenological study conducted by Göçen and Özğan (2017). The study revealed that teachers view religiousness and spirituality crucial for self-identity, organizational identity, and growth. In summary, teachers in different schools view workplace spirituality positively; therefore, no resistance is likely to be met by organizations.

Biblical Integration

The suggestion that religiousness and spirituality should be a part of teaching is supported by the Scriptures. The Bible says that one should “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 11:18-19, New International Version).

This implies that teaching is flawed if it is not based on the Word of God. All teachers need to understand that all the skills and knowledge they use to educate children are a gift from God (Horton, 2017). Thus, teachers are to be selfless and see their profession as their calling and a way to serve the Almighty (Horton, 2017). In other words, teachers need to integrate academic knowledge and Christian values to be successful in their job and fulfill their purpose. Teachers should interpret every aspect of their lives within the framework of God’s Word.

Christian principles cannot be promoted in an environment where spirituality and religiousness are not welcome. Therefore, the Christian worldview naturally supports workplace spirituality, as it is considered an integral part of teaching. Without God’s Word, academic knowledge is purposeless, as it does not help students and the teacher to enter the kingdom of Heaven.

In Matthew 5:19, it is said that “anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (New International Version). This implies that the sacred duty of every teacher is to share the knowledge about the Almighty with children. In his research, Achuff (2018) confirms that many teachers in schools where spirituality is promoted did want to leave their jobs because they could openly share joy, love, peace, and temperance Scriptures gave them with students.


Teacher turnover in the US is higher than in high-achieving school systems. The problem may lead to a significant shortage of teachers, which is associated with decreased academic achievements of students, a growing workload on teachers, and increased economic burden. Common factors affecting teacher turnover include demographic, personal, and organizational characteristics. Age, sex, marital status, and the number of children are significant demographic predictors of teacher turnover.

Psychological and emotional well-being, physical health, job satisfaction are common personal characteristics that affect turnover intentions. Compensation, career opportunities, recognition, work conditions, peer and supervisor support, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment also have a significant effect on retention.

Current strategies focus on addressing these factors and include recruiting suitable employees, promoting healthy organizational culture, improving teacher training opportunities, employee development, balancing family and professional life, increasing compensation, effective leadership. Promotion of workplace culture is also seen as a promising strategy for addressing employee turnover, as it increases organizational commitment and improves psychological well-being.


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