Teachers have been packing up classrooms and wrapping up the year to start their summer break, although many of them will work for extra money, many will take courses and workshops, read and do self-study, and de-stress and finally get some sleep. Thanks for all your hard work this year, teachers!
But many won’t be back next year. Nearly half of teachers leave urban schools within their first three years on the job, just as they’re beginning to have the strongest impact on students. This high turnover rate is unusual in other countries and has high costs. Teaching is one of the hardest and most important jobs in the country, but teachers often find that the system makes their work harder and ultimately drives them out. (We screened the new documentary American Teacher last fall, which told several teachers’ stories.)
Why do teachers leave? Factors include burnout, threat of layoff/job instability, low wages, and testing pressure. Poor working conditions are also a major factor. In a large Gates Foundation survey, teachers “agreed that supportive leadership, time for collaboration, access to high quality curriculum and resources, clean and safe buildings, and relevant professional development were even more important than higher salaries.”
These positive conditions are often why teachers stay despite the chaos and pressure. A great Oakland teacher Jill Thomas wrote an Op-Ed a few years ago (no longer on the newspaper web site) where she said:
…Finally, it comes down to the adults that teachers have the opportunity to work with and learn from. I feel lucky to be able to say that I love my department. We look forward to meeting together in order to build our program across grade levels. We challenge each other’s practice with a balance of compassion and rigor, keeping our students’ needs at the forefront of our work. Such cohesion is unusual and rather recent. It wasn’t until we participated in the [National Equity Project] initiative Impact 2012 and were anchored by our instructional coach that we were given space within our staff meetings to meet together and do serious work on a regular basis. Because teaching can feel so isolating despite being surrounded by people all day, being a part of a professional learning community bolstered my commitment to teaching and inspired me to improve my practice.
We work to ‘humanize’ school systems, which tend to be oppressive institutions, so that the people who work in them and the students who depend on them can thrive and learn and develop their potential.
Ultimately, teachers come back for the students. The Huffington Post began a new series today titled “Should I Stay or Should I Go? Teachers on the Students Who Keep Them Coming Back.” We will post later this summer about some focal students that teachers have been learning from and inspired by…