Why do teachers stay teaching? What makes them leave?
The Alliance for Excellent Education and the New Teacher Center, heavily backed by corporations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, just came out with a report focusing on teacher preparation and sounding the age-old alarm that new teachers quit within a few years. It is costing 2.2 billion they say. And they provide some suggestions that might be worthy to examine. Things like facilities and resources and new teacher mentoring could help. The report can be found HERE.
Make no mistake, if we don’t have a crisis with teaching already, we will have one in the next few years. But it goes much deeper and further than the above nonprofit thought meisters care to admit, or it could be that they want a different kind of teacher (one who follows), or no teacher at all (technology).
One thing is for certain, they have not spoken much with real teachers. That has been a serious mistake, because as smart as these folks might be about business, you don’t get teachers to commit to reform, unless you make them a part of it. You also don’t endear them to you by blaming them in the media and constantly telling the American people they have failed, especially when they haven’t.
But teachers do have problems, and dare I say many of the problems they face, are problems the groups, like the ones above, have created.
If you are a teacher today, it can be a serious and gut-wrenching decision as to whether or not to stay in the classroom. Here are the scenarios I have collected by reading and talking to many teachers and parents:
1. You are a kindergarten teacher and your principal shows up and tells you to remove the play kitchens and water tables, along with the costumes, dolls and blocks and everything related to playtime. What do you do? They tell you it’s time to get serious about teaching and learning.
2. Your school district announces there will be fewer breaks and they will now ban recess so as to have more time for test prep, because they need to save the school from closing. PE is also on the chopping block. How do you respond, or do you say anything?
3. If the principal says they can’t help it, but you are going to have to push the reading skills, administer Response to Intervention, and follow Common Core, PARCC, Smarter Balanced Assessment, and New Generations Science and you don’t think it’s good for your students, are there any steps you can take to get out of it?
4. Your school board has just come out in favor of two more hours added to the school day so students can prep harder for reading. You know your students are already burned-out on all the reading review you do during the day. You know more time is too much, that it is the equivalent of child abuse. What do you do?
5. Your dear friends, the art and music teachers, have just been let go, and now you must “blend” these subjects into reading and math. You know the quality of these subjects will never be the same again for your students. How do you proceed?
6. You have angry parents who want you to quit teaching to the test, and they don’t want you administering the test to their child. They want you to stand up against testing. You don’t like the high-stakes tests either. How do you manage all the data collection when you want to be doing more meaningful work? How do you support parents and do what’s right for your students without losing your job?
7. You are teaching high school and suddenly you are told your school will move to a block schedule and each student will face eight classes instead of the customary six. You know this will be overload for the high achieving students who will most likely add more advanced placement classes to their schedule, and arduous for students who are already struggling with learning and attention difficulties. Do you speak out?
8. You are a regular ed. teacher but your class sizes are increasing and the administration has added more students in your class with a variety of disabilities and some ELL students too. How will you reach so many students with so many needs?
9. The school library just lost most of its books, and the shelves are now almost empty. One of the reasons you are told, is to align the books to the curriculum. You have also lost your school librarian. Is there a way you can get the books and the librarian back?
10. You have poor children in your class. Some you think might be homeless and others look sick. Your school lost its nurse a long time ago. Your school counselor is not readily available, if you have one. How do you help these children and also the child who has a severe toothache?
I’m sure I am leaving out other scenarios but you get it. So teachers must decide…do they stay or do they go? Either way they choose, teachers usually feel guilty.
- There are some who say that teachers who recognize the draconian classroom goals and objectives and their professional emasculation, should all quit. They should announce to the world that they hate high-stakes testing, or Common Core, or an innumerable array of insidious reforms, and then they should proudly stake their career on their beliefs and walk out the door.
- Some do this, and then they go fight like hell for the rights of teachers and students. Every teacher wants a voice, because teachers DO THE JOB!
- Some teachers of like mind, ban together and put up a fight, like the teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School who boycotted testing. Other schools should learn how they did this successfully.
- Some teachers cry for awhile, then they turn away. They believe the only thing they can do is work on something else that will bring joy and happiness into their lives. They focus on their corner of the world, where they feel they have some control.
- There are many teachers who can’t quit teaching because they have families, and, or, it is the only way they can support themselves in a sluggish economy. And they became teachers because this was the career they loved. So they go along with the plans trying to cushion children the best way they know how, speaking out, arguing as much as possible without getting a pink slip (removed from their position).
- And there are teachers who could quit but don’t, because they will not be driven from their career and they believe they can fight from the inside. They look for every opportunity to connect with others who are of like mind. They fly under the radar screen of the administration, until they know the coast is clear, then they show up at school board meetings with an entourage of like-minded parents.
- And there are teachers who fight with their unions, even when they disagree with the union presidents, and/or they have connected with the Badass Teachers Association and are on their way to march in Washington D.C. as I write this, or they start up and belong to other groups like Save Our Schools or Parents Across America. They are teachers by day and activists by night!
- And of course there are the teachers who will buy into any reform put in front of them. They may not be happy but they feel secure. Or maybe they really do like the reform.
Who’s the best kind of teacher? That is not for me to judge, although I don’t like the reformy teachers because I don’t like the reforms. Every teacher must make up their own minds what their career means to them and how to best serve the children in their care. And there are always a whole lot of deeply personal outside factors that enter into the decision.
My only wish for any teacher is that whatever route they take they make peace with it, and that they continue to care for children somehow and in some way, because that is why they became teachers in the first place.
I revived my post from last February “Setting Students Up to Hate Reading” because there has been a lot of “kindergarten/college” talk lately. Some teachers felt I unnecessarily criticized kindergarten teachers. So I added a paragraph in reference to kindergarten teaching. I had tried previously to deal with that in the comments but felt it important to state something in the actual post. It is in red so you can’t miss it! And it led me to write this post today.
Also, along with this theme, in my next post, I am going to address what teachers can do to help their students if they are in a troubling situation with terrible reforms foisted upon them in their classrooms. I have some ideas, but if you would like to share yours that would be great. You can be anonymous or I will state your name. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
And for all of you teachers and parents attending the Badass Teachers’ Rally in Washington, best wishes for a safe and productive trip.