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How can we support good teachers and keep them in the profession?

Grace Rubenstein Senior producer at Edutopia

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?

Comments (44)

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Fifth grade teacher in Middleton, Wisconsin

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For me the reason to stay a teacher is simple; I feel like it is my home. To get to that feeling though there are things we must do at our schools and as fellow educators:
1. Make a human connection; say good morning, goodbye, invite to lunch, invite to coffee, ask about the kids. Reach out and mean it!
2. Support daring to be different. We can all conform but isn't it much more fun to teach different lessons, run your room in a different way - really make it your own.
3. Share your better stapler - I have made friendships over my awesome stapler. Use something to reach out.
4. Do something over the summer with your colleagues - whether it is taking a class or having dinner, keep up the connection since those same people may be your lifeline on one of those days.
5. Have reason to trust your administration - praise them for their right decisions, ask them about the ones you disagree with. If you know their reasons, it is often easier to believe and trust in them.
6. Discover yourself - I am a better teacher because I share my life with students. By opening up and spinning in your own life into instructions, students relate and you create a better community.
7. Learn to laugh about it, cry about it, vent about it - teaching is emotional, so learn to get your emotions out so you don't ruin your night at home or your day in the classroom.
8. Before you give up, try a different grade level or put in one more year. Some years your class is more difficult, sometimes the grade level we teach isn't just right. Don't give up before you start all over.
9. Know your passion before you begin; the warning signs will be there during your education if you are not meant to be a teacher. Trust your instinct and allow yourself to realize if the job is not for you, it's ok.

Fifth grade teacher in Middleton, Wisconsin

Make it your Home and don't forget to share your stapler

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The reason I remain a teacher is simple; my building is my home. Because of that I know I will never leave the profession, however, to get there her is what I believe in:
1. Reach out! Not just to a mentor but to everyone, say goodmorning, say goodbye, invite to lunch, share a cookie - reach out and mean it.
2. Dare to be different. If you have a different approach, trust in yourself and do it, run your room the way you want it to be run, otherwise it will seem inauthentic and you will get confused.
3. Open up. Your students love to hear about your life so share it with them to create community.
4. Share your awesome stapler. My stapler rocks and many friendships has been made because I offered to borrow it to someone.
5. Have reason to trust your administration. Praise their right decisions, question their other decisions but have a two-way relationship with them. They are not a machine, they are human beings rooting for your success.
6. Don't disconnect over the summer. Whether you share a class or dinner, do something with your colleagues. It is a wonderful way to build up trust and those people may just save you on one of those days.
7. Discover yourself. Bring you into the classroom, know what your passions are, know how you learn.
8. Stay true to yourself - being a teacher is often a calling, if you start to have doubts about during your education, explore those doubts. It is ok to decide not to be teacher.
9. Give it one more try. If you become a teacher an decide to quit, try another grade level or wait for the next ear to begin. Sometimes the particular class is a strange fit or high demand but the next year is the best year of your life. Sometime the original grade level you thought you loved, is not really your fit. Explore other options within your building or district before you give up.

Diane Gremp

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Give teachers administrators that :
understand professional development must be relevant, continuous and timely. No one hour, one shot training sessions!
encourage creativity by supporting innovative ideas
support and encourage change using a... PLC Model...I could go on and on

The Career Teacher Track at YES Prep

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At YES Prep Public Schools, a Houston-based charter management organization that has sent 100% of its students to college for the past decade, we have approached this problem by deisgning a way to elevate the teaching profession. Our new Career Teacher Track will allow teachers to achieve "master teacher" status over the course of their career. As an analogy, it will be like achieving partner at a law firm. In order to accomplish this, we will be rolling out systems to support growth of teachers in years 1-2, 3-5, and 6-10. We recognize that those supports will look very different. We also plan on using time as currency, allowing teachers to create flexible scheduling combined with hybrid roles that allow teachers to teach for a part of the day and tackle other projects other parts of the day.

Of course, this is a simplistic version of what we will do, but those are our ideas. Please let us know what you think about them.

Associate Professor

Retaining Good Teachers

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Yes, mentoring is critical, but it doesn't have to be a formal program:
1. Ensure new teachers are invited to social events, like Friday Happy Hour. I don't drink but this time with the "seasoned" teachers really helped me feel a part of a community when I was new.
2. Do not let them isolate themselves, particularly during lunch! Walk down to their classroom, after all it is almost like a second home for some teachers.
3. Share encouragement, give kudos, and don't let them focus on the negative. New teachers have to be reminded that it isn't all about the test scores or behavior issues and we are not all failing.
4. Create a social media site for teachers to share. A private Facebook group can allow teachers to post discussion questions and ask for help.
5. Share resources! This can also be done with the Facebook group, but share favorite websites and resources you have collected during your tenure as a teacher. Remember how hard it was as a new teacher trying to build everything up from nothing.
6. Share resources (part 2) - If you are a member of a professional organization, share the publications and resources. Remember new teachers often have financial burdens (like student loans, new housing, etc.) and may not be able to afford the professional organizations membership fees. Also, let them know what organizations are really helpful and informative in their field, and which organizations simply look good but may not provide the practical help they need while they establish themselves.
7. Maintain a sense of community among the faculty. The health of the faculty community impacts new and seasoned teachers alike. People have to feel a part of a group and like where they work. Unfortunately it is too easy for teachers to isolate themselves in their classroom. Conscience effort by all of the faculty needs to be made to ensure this isolation doesn't happen.
8. Not to downplay to the importance of administration (they are the rudder guiding this ship), but don't wait for or expect the administration to set up formal mentoring programs or support. It is the entire faculty's responsibility.
9. If possible, involve school parents in supporting new teachers. Engage the PTSA in doing something special to support new teachers.

Why is this the only industry

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Why is this the only industry in the world that when things get bad, you blame the front line workers. If a store is failing, do you blame the cashiers; or when a factory is not performing, do you blame the assembly line employees? Of course not. The responsibility lies with the board and CEO. Except in education. If students aren't performing, punish the teachers, hire new teachers, and continue following the exact same curriculum set by the board and superintendent. Maybe it's time to hold those who make the rules as accountable as those that have to follow them.

Culture of the Learned

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I think in order to attract and maintain top quality educators, we need to look deeper than just administrators or meetings or even salaries. We need a climate in this country where being educated is something worth being. It seems educatio...n is seen as a means to an end. It seems more important to have a degree in order to make money. Being an educated person is not seen as being important.

When I walk into my remedial reading classroom, I am faced with many students whose parents have only the vaguest idea of what an education is and why it's important. They can't support or encourage their kids to be successful because they don't really think it's important.

Until we have a climate in this country where knowing about the world we live in and about the cultures that inhabit it is seen as having intrinsic value, no amount of "reform" will really change anything.

Culture of the Learned

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0

I think in order to attract and maintain top quality educators, we need to look deeper than just administrators or meetings or even salaries. We need a climate in this country where being educated is something worth being. It seems educatio...n is seen as a means to an end. It seems more important to have a degree in order to make money. Being an educated person is not seen as being important.

When I walk into my remedial reading classroom, I am faced with many students whose parents have only the vaguest idea of what an education is and why it's important. They can't support or encourage their kids to be successful because they don't really think it's important.

Until we have a climate in this country where knowing about the world we live in and about the cultures that inhabit it is seen as having intrinsic value, no amount of "reform" will really change anything.

In Michigan...

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In Michigan, it's unlikely...Teachers need to be respected socially, politically and administratively. Our new retirement bill has caused many to seek teaching positions elsewhere. Good luck to all of them. With proper support and respect, good mentoring...teachers will thrive!

Diversity and Support

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I really like the diversity of comments from people. That what makes good teachers the acceptance of diversity and the fostering of individual's talents. Schools should not be about producing clones for students or forming teachers into consistent 'same' models.
To do this there needs to be the elements that many have spoken of.
1.Good mentoring with support not stifling creativity because that's how it has always been done.
2.Positive people within the staff and especially the administration. The effective of negativity is massive and infects whole schools. The students pick up on it and it makes going to work horrible.
3.Good working environment, flexible spaces, clean, innovative and diverse. We ask our students to sit on cheap, uncomfortable furniture, yet parents in their workplaces have environments that contribute to their productivity.
4. Administration that is open, support and skilled in areas they need - understand the business of schooling, not just good educators or long term teachers. If there good educators keep them in the classroom and put administrators in who know about HR and administration.
5.Support from parents and the community that teaching is worthwhile.

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