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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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Kristina Peters's picture
Kristina Peters
2nd grade teacher, ELL teacher, edtech enthusiast

- Support new teachers' new ideas. Don't tell them "no", "we've already tried that", "that won't work", "but", etc. New teachers are creative enough to think outside of the box and then brave enough to share their new ideas. Don't kill the ideas so quickly!

Mary Donnelly's picture
Mary Donnelly
High School English teacher

One thing that I think is so important in the support of new teachers is a strong mentor. My district offers a mentor program where both the mentor (a veteran teacher) and mentee are awarded with in-service credit in exchange for spending a certain amount of hours outside of regular school hours together, either socially or professionally, to talk about the new teacher's concerns, collaborate on lessons, discuss "building issues," or just attend happy hour to unwind! In this era of budget cuts and lower administrator-to-staff ratio, it's often difficult for a building principal or a department director to spend time with new teachers to offer them the support and encouragement that they need. A strong mentor program could effectively pair a veteran teacher who not only has the time but also demonstrates valuable leadership qualities with a new teacher who could benefit from their experience, knowledge, and expertise. I have been teaching in my district for nine years and my mentor teacher and I are still very good friends and I consider her a go-to person when I need advice about all sorts of things!

Aaron Fowles's picture
Aaron Fowles
ESL Teacher

Being a new teacher myself (about to enter my 3rd year), I think I can offer some things that would help new(er) teachers remain in the profession.

Excellent mentoring is necessary. My district has a mentoring program, but it has been sub-standard. The mentors receive extra pay and an extra planning period to fill out the paperwork, then new teachers sign it. Real mentoring should be practical and provided by a teacher in the same or similar subject area.

Streamlined business processes, from turning in receipts to the distribution of information, can help a new teacher feel like the teaching environment is a good one in which a person can thrive. I have felt stifled many times by what I perceived to be monumental inefficiency in the offices and administration that surround me and dictate my working conditions.

Lastly--autonomy. Give new teachers some room to breathe and feel things out. New teachers are going to make mistakes, sure, but they are important stepping stones. As long as the mentor is there to catch them when they fall, new teachers should be encouraged to stretch themselves around until they find a teaching style that fits.

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