How can we support good teachers and keep them in the profession?
There's been a lot of buzz lately about teachers' unions blocking efforts to relieve bad teachers of their jobs, notably in a recent New York Times magazine cover story.
But while we tackle those concerns, let's not lose sight of an even deeper need that we urgently need to address.
50% of new teachers leave the profession within 5 years (I know that stat gets batted around a lot, but it's legit -- I've talked to the researcher who found it). Surveys have shown that it's not the low pay that sends them packing; it's the working conditions. Lack of support from colleagues and administrators. New mandates every year about what and how to teach. Standardized tests that don't gauge the real needs and abilities of their students.
I'd be willing to bet that there are more good teachers who bail out than there are bad teachers who stick around and can't be fired. And even more good teachers who stay but endure years of frustration and never get to reach their greatest potential amid all the constraints of the massive education bureaucracy. So how do we make schools the kind of places that good teachers want to stay? And where good teachers can thrive?
I believe this is one of the greatest -- if not the very greatest -- challenge we face in making our public schools successful. I'll throw out a few ideas to start:
- Invest in great training for principals and hold them to high standards of academic and social leadership. (Seriously, of all the factors I've seen that can make or break a school, I think the quality of the principal is the most important.)
- Build strong mentoring programs for new teachers and supportive collegial communities among teachers at each school.
- Develop better assessments that measure more sophisticated skills in more diverse ways (some of the federal Race to the Top money is meant to encourage this).
What do you think? How can we meet this challenge? Where should we start?