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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Regina Pauly's picture
Regina Pauly
Librarian at the University of Wisconsin - Platteville

I think there is a lot of fear in schools. Creating a climate where ideas can be freely discussed and supported, saying "yes" more than "no", and recognizing achievements on a almost daily basis, would go far.

S.L. Cook's picture
S.L. Cook
Instructional Designer and Educational Reform Proponent

I think a LOT of the problem is the current educational climate created by all of the standards assessment. Now, I *do* think we need to assess progress, but I think the push to teach for outcomes is pulling American Education away from true learning--and is taking much of the 'fun' out of teaching.

Think back on when you were a child.. Who were your most loved teachers? Who made learning FUN? Whose class did you like going to in high school, and which classes were boooooring. I think MOST teachers go into the profession with visions of themselves being those dynamic, fun teachers that have a passion for their kids and the kids love them. You ALL know the kind of teacher I'm talking about.

When a teacher FIRST enters a classroom today.. Say, a Science teacher (U.S. students are getting further and further behind in science, BTW).. She comes in with great ideas for hands-on projects, and experiments, and discoveries which instill learning passion in children. She's excited about teaching, and hopes to be a 'great' teacher.

Welcome to the job--she's given a list of standards her kids MUST meet for the next testing cycle, and she has to drill-and-kill facts, vocabulary, concepts, etc. There's little time for excitement and fun because everyone has to be 'ready' for the test. (Am I wrong?)

It doesn't take long for the teacher to feel like she can't teach like she knows the kids would love for her to teach. The kids are bored out of their gourds and only the auditory learners are really learning anything, so the scores go down in spite of the teacher doing her best with her assigned task. When the scores go down, she gets discouraged, and she feels frustrated and disenchanted because THIS is NOT the job she wanted or thought she'd have. Not only are the kids bored, she's kind of bored with all of the teaching to the test herself. Dynamic classrooms seem to be more and more difficult to find.

To retain great teachers, I believe we need to let our teachers teach with passion in the subjects they are passionate about, and we need to re-establish a love of learning in the classroom. We need to look for ways to engage all learners in the classroom--auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and tactile learners. By building dynamic learning environments, the kids will have fun learning, be engaged, and will actually learn MORE than they will drilling for the test. The teachers could have their creativity back, and teach really cool concepts that build a better foundation for lifetime learning. The kids would be more engaged, and everyone would be happier!.. AND, I bet we'd see revitalization in some of those teachers who have become jaded and are "poor" teachers.

I think we'd retain a lot more of our teachers if we let them do the job they wanted to do in the first place.. PASSIONATELY teach content with meaningful connections rather than worrying sooooo much about "the test"! Just my thoughts, For what they're worth. ;-)

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Editor

I'm with you: Passion is what it is all about when it comes to learning (and teaching!)

My worry with the current hyper-focus on the one shot, multiple-choice state test is that all the wonderful ways children are expressive, talented and intelligent (that cannot be measured quantitatively), aren't as valued as the results of these tests.

You wrote: "We need to look for ways to engage all learners in the classroom--auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and tactile learners."

And it got me thinking about a blog post we featured last month by Claus von Zastrow. He talks about engaging the various learners in dynamic ways, while still keeping an eye toward academic standards. It's called Do Standards Kill Creativity? You might find it an interesting read.

Thanks for contributing your thoughts and ideas to the discussion on school reform!


Bonnie Bracey Sutton's picture
Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Teacher Agent of Change, Power of US Foundation

Teachers can often reward themselves within the profession with the groups that support them. The problem is often that the school site, supervisor and the school system support changes and is not consistent. There are several reasons that good teachers leave. Lots of administrators don't want a star teacher, a well known expert in the classroom, nor a person of nationally known excellence. I am not sure why this is, but it causes all kinds of trouble.

Another thing is that many supervisory people may have a lack of depth in their content knowledge, or flexibility to allow teachers to gain
new ways of working through educationally affiliated groups such as the NSTA, the National Geographic, the NCSA , which would involve knowledge that is not common to administrators who have been in their position for some time. is about computational thinking and math.
I understand that there are people who only want to teach old math, but we have a new call , from the Gathering on the Convocation on the Gathering Storm to create change consistent with new ways of working.
Probably the NCLB standards fetter some of this difficulty.

Use of the participatory culture, requires a technology knowledge that is more than a one time hit, practice in using the various new ways of working in technology requires support and knowledge of the culture, not just technology connection. Being flexible, and open to new technologies requires understanding of simulation and modeling, games in education, computational thinking, and infusion of participatory culture in meaningful ways. I doubt that except for books, and experts on line , and some conferences.. people like Chris Dede, Milton Chen,
.. their ways of thinking require reflection and immersion,use, examination, and evaluation of learning in new ways.
Perhaps the TED that is the generic TED.. that is the TED events that don't just speak to the rich, ie they cost less than $6000 dollars for the event will help. Everyone talking about education should also include some of the people who teach or who have mentor or extensive
experience. Often reporters don't get it because they don't understand the learning landscape. Bonnie Bracey Sutton

Dorothy Fox's picture

Support good teachers by empowering them as experts! In Finland teachers are treated as highly regarded professionals! This is one of the reasons their system works. Teachers in Finland make educational decisions not politicians. Deemed as experts, teachers would be free to make important decisions about what they teach and how they teach.
Support teachers by allowing collaboration and connection with other teachers. Authentic learning communities need to be fostered and supported in school districts. Teachers working together and collaborating with teachers in their own schools, across the country and worldwide is necessary in the 21st century. Let our expertise be shared!

Julie Waite's picture
Julie Waite
Life Coach for Teachers

Small support groups within the school can be very helpful. Have defined ground rules. Teachers need to feel safe and respected. They need to be able to share their fears and their triumphs and learn from eachtoher. All adults and children in the school treat all others with respect and joy. It's contagious. Reach out to those hurting and provide loving support to them, staff and students.

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Editor

Hi Julie,

Thank you for sharing. Your comment reminded me so much of a workshop that my district sent me to years and years ago. I think it was my second year in the classroom, and this lovely woman who'd been teaching in poor, public schools in the South for 30 plus years talked to us about the two most important elements of teaching: compassion and love. Some of my colleagues thought the day a little too touchy feely, but I absolutely was thrilled and rejuvenated by it!

Rebecca Alber

[quote]Small support groups within the school can be very helpful. Have defined ground rules. Teachers need to feel safe and respected. They need to be able to share their fears and their triumphs and learn from each other. All adults and children in the school treat all others with respect and joy. It's contagious. Reach out to those hurting and provide loving support to them, staff and students.[/quote]

Shari Hodges's picture
Shari Hodges
BA Music Ed, 1969, Cal State LA. Paralegal, Writer, Music Teacher

In the Old Days, before Stanford Research decided to rewrite the rules and sell a lot of tests, you took 35 units of Education so you could learn how to teach. Then they put you in a classroom. And given the fact that most qualified teachers come from that system, and were educated by qualified people, it obviously worked.

What happened was a lot of school districts decided to profit from text book deals, and put a lot of their friends in jobs, and booted the good teachers out. It started a domino effect of successively bad teachers who literally didn't care and honestly didn't want to teach. They wanted the money. I know, because I watched this go down. That's why I took my kids out of school and homeschooled.

My daughter went to a school district that was eventually shut down - because the teachers were a bunch of housewives who never even graduated from college. I know quite a few superintendents who went to prison for embezzelment. And then of course, the Federal government started placing undercover agents in teaching positions. I know, because my brother put them in there. He's a PhD from Stanford who recruited teachers, when he wasn't involved in espionage.

Now what you have is a lot of propaganda, and a United States Department of Education, who "oversees" everything. A lot of people are saying we need to get rid of these guys and their agendas in order to get back to quality education. No argument here. There's a massive profit going on in the schools.

I even worked for a educational research team from Stanford that was funded by the Ford Foundation. This was the team that put computers in the classroom. They themselves, were not computer programmers, so they had a of hack software installed - but boy they sold it to the districts for a lot of money.

There's big money to be made if you can enlist a district to use you as a consultant.

I teach in a low-income district, and just yesterday I heard another story from a desperate grandmother that her grandchildren were being ignored by the schools. With all the money Stanford pours into their efforts to test all these college students for teaching, so far, they haven't managed to do the basic job of teaching.

I went over to a local teacher training program, and sat for an hour listening to some idiot woman describe how many hoops candidates have to jump through to get into the classroom. I sat there and laughed. In the Old Days, we didn't give assessment tests to teachers - and you guys turned out alright, didn't you?

Teaching doesn't have anything to do with assessment tests. If your students can't advance to the next grade, then you need to go get a career doing something else. Don't blame the parents. Don't blame the students. Blame yourself. You just don't know what you're doing in a classroom.

Katherine Judd's picture
Katherine Judd
College writing and communications teacher

I took the time to read all the comments, and I must say I agree with most of the comments. The one item that rang with me was the mentoring program. If it is a good one, it works. If not....YIKES! When I was training to become a teacher (which, by the way, I thought was a joke), I had ONE semester with a mentor. She was a good one and worked with me on every aspect of her class. The following semester, I received three sections of an English class that I had NOT taught or had the opportunity to observe. It was sink or swim time! Over the course of the last fifteen (15) years, I have gained a reputation as a "black sheep" or "troublemaker." Why? Because I placed my students FIRST, my integrity second, and the administration third. Oh, I followed the rules and regs as set down by the admin types, but I not only went out on a limb, I swang from it! I allowed my students to give their inputs into ALL aspects of the class, including assignments, due dates, technology, and MYSELF! Once they realized they had a voice and a right to use it, my students' enthusiasm and scores rose dramatically. We had a great time in the classroom, yet I was never hired to a full-time position. Why? Because I refused to follow the politics in education! Education is about learning, not marketing. If I hear one more time about how to "market" myself, I will scream. I finally found a school that not only encourages innovation but asks how I do it! Without meaning to or attempting to market myself, I became the "go-to" person for new ideas and innovations in my department. I share, talk, and encourage all new teachers to listen to their students! do we keep good teachers? Give them the training they need, then let them TEACH! After all, if the training was any good, the new teachers will be good as well. Also, do away with insulting "professional training workshops" where all we do is listen to the same rhetoric semester after semester. (Workshop means hands-on work; presentations mean listen quietly!). All principals and chairs NEED to visit the classrooms with an open mind and watch their teachers. Finally, if we must sit through "professional workshops," then PAY US PROFESSIONALLY! Stop telling us how important we are, then paying us a pittance. One final thought: Teachers are, indeed, born, not made. If you are a "made" teacher, find another line of work. "Made" teachers are more likely to become employees who are merely there to draw a paycheck. I was teaching ten (10) years BEFORE I became a teacher.

Shaq's picture

Mentioned this somewhere else, but here it goes:
Well-train them:10% of all applicants are accepted, those that do must obtain a master's degree in the subject they are teaching, and the government 100% subsidizes the cost of the training.

Well-compensate them: Minimum salary should be 48k+10k in benefits-this should not be cut or frozen, period.

Respect-Develop universal curriculum. But, allow teachers to use the national curriculum as a BLUEPRINT, not a guide, in developing their lesson plans(aka give teachers autonomy and flexibility in developing their teaching methods, not force to regurgitate the same material over and over). Allow all of the teachers to have adequate time to work after school(at least one day a week) to insure that they collaborate and work together, making sure they are all on the same page(as far as progress, student development,continuing good teaching techniques that encourage students and ending techniques that don't).Keep in mind, different students need different types of motivation to succeed.

Other: Eliminate the NCLB Act. In fact, ban standardized testing and multiple choice tests altogether. Instead, have teachers teach students how to deeply understand a few key concepts in a course, and teach them to develop higher-order thinking skills. An example of this in practice would be to have homework graded on a six point scale:
1 for remembering the concept
2 for understanding the concept
3 for applying the concept
4 for analyzing the concept
5 for evaluating the concept
6 for creating a new concept
The homework should be given enough classroom attention to allow students to complete it in class(as all students don't have the privilege of having either a loving family or a crime free neighborhood) and allow students to either work in groups or by themselves(for 20 minutes the next day) asking questions and being able to focus their attention on developing their skills on what they didn't understand, and not pay so much attention on what they already understand(students should be able to help each other with their strengths and weaknesses during this time). Furthermore, to prepare for college, homework shouldn't be collected, but homework problems and concepts should be tied into quizzes that build upon learning, not memorizing.

P.S. Sorry if I haven't brought up any good points or talked(sorry "typed") too much. Any questions on specifications or anything please ask, I'm open to feedback.

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