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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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Jeremy Jones's picture

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.

Terri Schoone's picture
Terri Schoone
Associate Professor

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.

Mick Carter's picture

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.

Kathleen Marshall's picture

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.

Kathleen Marshall's picture

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.

Carole Kamerman's picture

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!

Justine Power's picture

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.

Catherine Falknor's picture
Catherine Falknor
Secondary School ESOL and College English

Helping each other succeed should be the code for teachers and administrators. When I got started in new teaching positions at schools, I was thrilled to be part of a new community, eager to help enhance the school and work environment, and desirous of collaborating with fellow teachers in a wide variety of areas. Sometimes I met a person who was open to collaboration, but more often, I met unwilling partners. I found it bewildering that so many would work only within the available parameters. Usually in my first year, I threw myself into new things. Later, because my energy got dissipated having to work solo, I too fell into line with the "veteran" teachers who had shaken their heads when I offered them my ideas. Then, I realized I had to look elsewhere for work. Even though my ideas were popular and successful, I often wasn't helped carrying them out the next year.
In classroom management, cooperation is absolutely essential. One rare school I worked in had administrators supporting new teachers and subs with frequent visits to their classrooms to ensure mutual respect and good discipline.
To retain teachers, schools need to help them feel their ideas are welcome. Instead of reacting with "confusion" and disinterest, administrators should help teachers collaborate on utilizing their positive experiences in schools, such as presenting enjoyable student programs, implementing new curricular approaches, adopting initiatives to involve families, and involving the whole school in community service projects.
Usually, teachers have responded to a sensed "calling" to be educators; however, if success seems too elusive, ie administrators notice only their faults, their guiding light gets extinguished and they wander away to greener pastures.

Jason Kornoely's picture
Jason Kornoely
Elementary Teacher

Is the education sector that much different from any other industry where keeping the workers happy increases productivity and decreases turnover rate? How about feeling appreciated everyday, not just on Teacher Appreciation Day?

I think we start with the little things, and the rest takes care of itself. Google goes about the little things the right way! My school district doesn't.

"An army marches on its stomach."

Google provides delicious (and varied) meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner--free of charge! My school district has strict rules about charging teachers for any extra food (which eventually gets thrown away) from the day's hot lunch choice. I'm not looking for a handout, but let's use some common sense here!

"All work and no play make Jack (and Jill) a dull boy (and girl)."

Google lets her workers play to blow off steam and generate creative ideas, not only during lunch and breaks, but whenever! In my building, lunch hour is an opportunity to correct papers, catch up on email, gobble food, and use the bathroom. How about a weekly ping pong/Foosball/Wii Sports/book bowl/Jeopardy/Wheel of Fourtune/Trivial Pursuit tournament? I have colleagues that started an American Idol pick 'em style tournament; which was very well received.

Create a culture of sharing and creating together.

At Google, the workers eat in the office cafeteria during lunchtime. They suggest this idea so workers from other areas of the Google machine can talk and familiarize themselves with each other. Sharing and creating together becomes that much easier when you know the person your working with. My district (and most likely every district) can't make time for collaboration due to lack of time and/or financial constraints (paying substitute teachers). The one thing the teachers in my district desire is time to share, collaborate, and create together.

Food, play, and time to share. It's just that simple. Kindergarteners do it why can't we?

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Online Editor
Blogger 2014

It's great to read the valuable lists that Edutopia members (teachers on the frontlines) are sharing here! Not only excellent suggestions for supporting good teachers to stay in the profession, but some of you have specifically addressed the need for supporting new teachers to avoid the attrition we so often see after only 3-5 years in this profession, especially in lower-performing schools (where retaining master teachers is particularly critical!)

A common thread In many of the lists is a need for teachers to be seen, receiving feedback and support.

Isolation is deadly in our profession. I know this from firsthand experience.

When I was teaching in an urban public high school, there were great chasms of time that would pass (weeks even!) where the only conversations I'd had at work that were longer than one minute were with teenagers. We have to open classroom doors, visit each others' rooms, invite parents and expect our administrators to role up their sleeves and help co-teach a lesson once in awhile.

What might be other strategies for beating the isolation blues that so many of our teachers suffer from?

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