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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

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

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

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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?

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Lia Binetti's picture

Oh, I've got sooo much to say on this topic, I could write a whole book! Bascially, Principals need to start really getting to know who the good teachers are! Some are totally clueless as to what goes on in some classrooms! Then give the...m some sort of praise for that... it could be simple, like at my school we had an employee of the week thing. Then when there are budget cuts and/or job openings don't let the good ones go because the Principal's neighbor's daughter just graduated (or got a new certification added) and needs a job! Nepotism and personality compatibility have no place in a school. The ONLY thing that should matter in hiring or keeping someone is who is the BEST person for the job. Period! Point blank, that's it! Nothing else should matter!
Also, districts mandating curriculum that a "professional" teacher sees is not working with her particular students shoud stop too. Don't spend the money in the first placy unless they are tested with that particular school's (not county's) demographics and then make allowances for teachers who do know what will work with those kids!
I've been teaching for 15 yrs. and I'm ready to leave b/c I'm so tried of playing the stupid political games they play! And that' sad because I am good, and could really help kids if given the chance!

Patti's picture

Teachers should be matched up with a veteran who has proven to be successful not only with test scores, but with students, parents, colleagues and administrators to team teach with year one. Year two would be an independent year.
Administrators should support new teachers with resources, professional development needs and time out of the classroom to observe successful teachers. All educators (no matter what the sign reads on the desk) should foster an atmosphere of professional growth in the best interest of the children. Teachers need to be encouraged to take time to become reflective on teaching practices. Professional Learning Communities across grade levels,buildings, regions, districts and states should be developed to assist new teachers and administrators become successful leaders. Expectations, procedures and policies must be clear from the start for new teachers. Support should come from "How can I help" and never a "Gotcha". Teachers need to know it will not always be easy, but with a strong support system in place it is always worth it!

Rachel Peters's picture

Here's what will keep your best teachers there:

* Safe 24 hour access to a clean, updated and well equipped school. Dedicated teachers work at all hours and want safe access to their classrooms. They also want to work in schools that are clean, updated, and well stocked with the materials they need.

* Freedom. Allow your best teachers some leeway to teach. Assume the best, not the worst. Often they'll do much more than you ever expected them to. Don't micromanage bulletin boards and how many pumpkins they have in their classrooms.

* Give teachers a reasonable number of students. 16-24 is reasonable. Anything more than this isn't. Aids aren't the answer. In theory they are wonderful additions to a proactive, personalized learning program. However, in practice they may need extensive training and may have no interest in following the classroom teacher's lessons.

* Create a positive, can-do school faculty atmosphere. Don't pick the same teachers over and over again to demonstrate instructional techniques. Don't allow a handful of our faculty to make important school wide decisions. Involve everyone. Make your decisions transparent and allow teachers to vote on important issues like how to spend money and how to schedule effectively. Get teachers involved--ask them for help and allow anyone to join a committee.

* Principals need to smile and come to work happy. If you love your job we'll love ours. Quit or leave if you don't.

Todd Finley's picture
Todd Finley
Blogger and Assistant Editor (Contractor)

1) Create far more time for collaborative planning.
2) Allow teachers to document their own professional development efforts, rather than requiring them to attend (too often) insulting professional development sessions where they are given PowerPoint lectures and suffer through condescending comments.
3) Provide housing subsidies in small communities so that young teachers will be attracted to rural areas in cadres.
4) All teacher training programs/colleges should be home-based in the public schools, not on a separate campus, and should be 5-year programs.
5) Provide more administrative support to teachers.
6) Market Constructivism to every parent and politician, so it's not just a ivory tower concept.

We've done a good job of dis-empowering teachers for economic and political reasons that don't take a Marxist theorist to identify. I'd love to see the opposite.

Debi Duke's picture

The best way to support all teachers -- and to make it possible for them to do their jobs -- is for this society to commit to making sure all kids have enough to eat, decent housing, and good health care. Kids who are hungry, homeless, or sick can't learn no matter how good the teacher is.

Stefanie's picture
Special Education Teacher

I just finished my first year of teaching. I would have to say having a mentor program where the mentor can come into the new teachers classroom several times a year would be helpful. I would have also benefited from being able to go into teachers classroom to observe them. I was in a district where everyone shared lesson plans via the network. This was extremely beneficial for new teachers. The Beginning Teacher Support Academy was not tailored to the needs of Special Education Teachers. The state requirements in CA have general education teachers go through a huge paper that is very time consuming and not very helpful.

Angie Hunt's picture
Angie Hunt
Dean of Students, New Orleans, LA

Invite new teachers into discussions from the first day of school. Ask them for their honest opinion on topics and value their input. New teachers may have fresh eyes/ideas that can help get initiatives done.

Jeffrey Dock's picture
Jeffrey Dock
Special Education

I know everyone says that pay is not an issue but if you have to put up with being told how and what to teach the balance is not there. Every job has it's negatives but many have compensations that make up for them.I've substituted in lots of schools and seen disgruntled teachers and new teachers and many of both that are just gliding through. Some of the older teachers are just waiting for retirement and aren't going to change anything. And the younger teachers learn from this; why do more? Just get along and accept the problems.So they might stick with it and or decide it's not worth it and quit because they are just not having any effect on their students or their school, which would at least justify the low pay.

My solution is that pay does matter. Let's double every teacher's salary right now and within five years schools will look a lot different. Doing this would mean that teachers would be paid as professionals on par with other professionals ( their salary would still be a lot lower than lawyers and doctors) But the expectations would be a lot higher for everyone working. No mre gliding through, no more lack of enthusiasm on the teachers part, or negative attitudes from teachers. Students would notice the difference too. And a whole different set of people would be recruited into teaching because they wouldn't have to justify themselves for not making good money or be asked why would they go into teaching, it doesn't pay.
Of course this is a wild dream that won't ever happen.

Nadine Elhathat's picture

The best way to support new teachers is to be available to them. We need to be open and supportive NOT judgemental. Over the years, I've been surprised by the number of new teachers who have said to me, "Nobody else says that this ever happened to them" and the number of veteran teachers who say,"Why should I help them? Nobody helped me when I started." This is why, after 22 years of teaching that I always help new teachers - offer ideas and lend an ear at the end of yet another frustrating day. It's so much harder now with the push for high scores and perfect bulletin boards - rather than on the child.

George Stern's picture
George Stern
Intern at Edutopia, college student, aspiring Educator.

A HUGE thank you to everyone who posted in this thread! There are some truly excellent ideas here. And congratulations to our contest winners: Mary Donnelly, Aaron Fowles, David Campbell, Brian Davis, Barbara Koski, and Danielle.

Make sure to visit our giveaway page each week to sign up to win more free education goods: http://www.edutopia.org/giveaway

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