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Lots of winners when teachers stay. What can we do to help?

July 13, 2009 am31 8:40 am

When I see a new teacher, or even a pre-service teacher, I think, the odds are that this person is in for a short period of time. And it is a shame.

  • Teachers get better with time. Kids, colleagues, schools, the system, all benefit.
  • Classroom control goes up; discipline issues decline. Schools, kids, colleagues, all benefit.
  • Personal security goes up (over time, in general, yes, and after three years with tenure, of course); teachers are more likely to speak – about curriculum, about conditions in the school, about practices.
  • The teacher’s investment in the school goes up. The teacher is more likely to meaningfully participate in shared decision-making. In long term planning.
  • The teacher becomes more forward-looking. The teachers is more likely to seek to modify problems, abuses, weaknesses in the school. Colleagues are more likely to draw together to fix problems, less likely to leave their heads in the sand.
  • The teacher becomes part of the fabric of the school, which can function as part of the fabric of the neighborhood. Colleagues benefit from the stability. Kids benefit from the stability. Parents benefit, as the relationships they formed with their first kid’s teachers carry forward to their next kid, and the one after that.

I think I am right. Everyone in the building wins when a teacher stays past their second, their third, their fourth year. What do you think?

In New York City, we get lots of new teachers with potential. Recruitment does not seem to be the weak link.

And yet, not nearly enough teachers stay. Why? What can we do?

—- —- —-

Over the next week or so, I am giving this blog over to this question. What can we do to get more new teachers to stay in teaching. I am looking for comments, ideas, thoughts. I will be soliciting guest posts (something I have not done before)

Leave your comments attached to any post. Or submit a short essay to me at [This blog name] [at] [gmail] [dot] [you know].

I think this is a discussion worth starting.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. July 13, 2009 am31 9:52 am 9:52 am

    I don’t believe the DOE cares about quality teachers and quality education. They care about saving money and having someone to blame when things go wrong.

    The reality of education is that not all kids are academic, not all kids will do the right thing in school, no matter what the educational scientists of the world think. Someone must be scapegoated for the failures and that someone is the teacher.

  2. Cecilia Villabona permalink
    July 13, 2009 am31 10:14 am 10:14 am

    It is about time to stop moaning and complaining about who cares about what and to accept that all kids can learn and that it takes a village to raise one. Students are entitled to being valued and guided to learn and to become productive members of our society and all our children are our responsibility, as a nation and as a society. Schools are the only place where we have to take them (public schools, more precisely, and I work in an urban one).
    As a teacher I know it is not always easy to make through the day, but when I stop wanting to try to have my students learn I will find myself a job in sales or something else without social responsibility

    • David Kaufman permalink
      July 15, 2009 am31 5:52 am 5:52 am

      All students can learn but they come to us with different abilities and ways of learning. One size does NOT fit all. One teaching style does not fit all. That’s what makes teaching so creative and challenging – especially for the inexperienced teacher. Klein refuses to accept this.

      And it doesn’t take a village. It takes parents who are involved and a collaborative administration working with caring teachers like Cecilia to educate NYC students.

  3. July 13, 2009 am31 10:57 am 10:57 am

    Perhaps it’s time we re-examine the time-honored tradition of giving our least-prepared teachers the classes that are most difficult to control.

  4. July 13, 2009 pm31 12:27 pm 12:27 pm

    Teachers have the most under-paid profession in the U.S. I am a counselor at a drug rehab and although it is tough, it is nowhere near as tough as a teacher. Teachers receive a lot of flak and hold a lot of responsibility when it comes to the education system. At least in my profession the success rate is considerably lower and not frowned upon as much.

  5. Clara Hemphill permalink
    July 13, 2009 pm31 1:13 pm 1:13 pm

    You are absolutely correct that teacher retention is critical to school improvement. Sadly, new small schools have even higher turnover rates than established schools. In a recent article I wrote for the Center for NYC Affairs, I found a few schools, such as the Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science in the Bronx, that work hard to support new teachers and to make their jobs satisfying. The school brings new teachers in May, instead of September, so they can get acclimated before they have classrooms of their own. They work in teams, so new teachers have easy access to a mentor. And there is a career ladder within the school, so teachers can get more responsibilities and challenges without leaving the classroom. Here’s the link if you want to read the whole piece:

  6. July 13, 2009 pm31 3:44 pm 3:44 pm

    Short response: You’re right, Jon. Experience counts. Take Gladwell’s idea of 10,000 hours until mastery and do a little division. Give maybe 2 years credit for college experience and the act of taking classes yourself and you get 5 years as the turning point.

    That’s when lesson plans start to become internalized instead of followed, when kids just behave because you’re not even certain what you said but it was the right thing, when you’re spending less time but doing more, and when you’ve finally got that lesson on FOIL beaten into submission!

    For some reason, Wild Bill doesn’t quite agree and neither do too many decision makers. According to Bill Gates, after 3 years teaching quality stagnates. Adding a Master’s degree doesn’t help much either, nor does being a TFAer. In fact, his only real idea about improvement is KIPP, because he saw a teacher running excitedly around the room once at a KIPP school. He has lots of money and never finished college so that makes him an expert on education, don’t you know.

    Anyway, his talk at the TED conferences last year (after he dropped his previous save-the-education-system method of smaller schools because it didn’t seem to be working) included this newest theory about teachers and experience – How to Make Great Teachers.

    I might devote a few posts to this topic myself, in between Scholar’s Bowl questions.

    The video if you missed it:
    Malaria is first and then education at about the 8 minute mark.

  7. Michael Shulman permalink
    July 14, 2009 am31 11:09 am 11:09 am

    This is a really important discussion. New teachers are totally vulnerable. In fact, I’ve seen examples of probationary teachers being drummed out of this profession for virtually no reason at all. Too many administrators are arbitrary, down right abusive and unsupportive. One example will suffice. I spoke to a third year teacher in June who was angry, heartbroken and befuddled by her administrator. She wasn’t observed until February of this school year. The observation report didn’t arrive until June (by the way, a clear violation of the contract). The observation was unsatisfactory. Two days later she was told there would be two additional observations for lessons prior to February. Insane? You bet! I told her to contact her union district rep–which she did. The point is this was totally arbitrary. No doubt it calls into question the motive of this principal. Two things are clear. The union must build in protections for probationary teachers. At the same time new teachers should be made aware of the procedures leading to tenure, how to read signs that they may need assistance, and finally, ways to handle these situations.

  8. anonymous nyc teacher permalink
    July 14, 2009 am31 11:46 am 11:46 am

    Not a complete answer, by any means, but some thoughts on the obstacles to retaining teachers in their first few years:

    Asking brand new teachers to spend a period a day supervising the cafeteria is surely not the only thing that makes teachers leave, but it can’t be helping. Of course, I don’t think having more senior teachers doing cafeteria duty is the answer, either, so maybe getting rid of cafeteria duty altogether should be a priority for the next contract.

    We need to give consideration not only to how many preps a teacher has, particularly in their first few years, but to how many of those preps are new to that teacher. At my school, it has been common for teachers to have 3 preps including 2 they have never taught before. While permitted under our contract, that’s too much.

    New teachers should not be writing curriculum, at least to the extent it’s possible to avoid and they don’t want to do it. But in small and new schools, teachers are often responsible for writing the curriculum for the classes they are assigned to teach. (I don’t know how this works in larger, more established schools.) So we have inexperienced teachers being told to figure out what topics to teach, in what order, using what materials, etc. – We should be giving “curriculum maps” to new teachers, not asking them to create the maps themselves.

    A grad school professor of mine described being a beginning teacher in the old Soviet Union. As I recall, he had one prep per week: One lesson that he taught, over and over again, to I don’t remember how many different groups of students each week. I don’t know that we want to go that far, but I think it’s worth looking at the models for the first few years of teaching that exist in other countries – Not everyone just dumps teachers in to a full courseload with little support and tells them to work miracles.

    Finally, asking new teachers to begin as apprentices in May and June sounds nice, but I don’t see how it’s consistent with actually using the Open Market system in the manner it was intended, given that the transfer period only begins on April 15th. Do experienced teachers have a legitimate chance to apply for vacancies at the Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science, or does the school only expect to hire brand new teachers who are available to start (volunteering?) in May of the year before they are officially hired?

  9. ade permalink
    July 14, 2009 pm31 7:46 pm 7:46 pm

    District level administrators will never figure out how to attract and retain good teachers. Teacher retention starts with good administration–at the school level.

    New teachers are molded by their experiences early on. If the cultural environment of the school is such that a teacher may derive a realistic sense of achievement from an acceptable amount of effort, then there is a good chance that teacher may remain in the profession.

    The culture of a school is greatly influenced by the policies (or lack thereof) of the administrators in the building.

    For example, I have witnessed many new teachers resign in fear and frustration after repeatedly receiving unsatisfactory observations. Were these teachers horrible at their profession? In most cases, they absolutely were not. But they were being evaluated using the same standards applied to veteran teachers.

    Newer teachers are rarely as skilled as veteran teachers. Yet if a novice teacher can withstand the onslaught of abuse hurled by parents,administrators and students, he/she is almost guaranteed to get better. This, of course, depends upon the school environment and the support the teacher receives over time.

    Administrators should therefore understand that improvement and potential for growth should be as much a part of a yearly evaluation as the actual formal evaluations. There should be policies in place designed to provide peer support which would foster professional growth.

    This does not have to mean more “professional development” as it currently exists at most schools. But this could occur by allowing individual teachers to mentor new teachers for additional compensation–perhaps as a biweekly or yearly bonus. (Perhaps additional bonuses could be provided to mentoring teachers if the teacher achieves tenure.) This responsibility could also be rotated throughout the year to allow new teachers to get a detailed view of different teaching styles.

    This also does not mean that schools have to be committed to retaining bad teachers. It simply means that schools should make a significant committment toward developing talent and making sure the investment has a chance to pay dividends.

  10. Elyse permalink
    August 11, 2009 pm31 5:10 pm 5:10 pm

    I spend last year as a first year teaching fellow. I’d fully intended to keep teaching in NYC schools, but my principal gave me a U, which means my teaching career here is over. Maybe I deserved the U. I don’t think so, but I don’t care anymore. She also gave a U to 5 other new teachers at my school (2 fellows, 1 though a CUNY program, 2 with BAs in education.) In all of our cases, it was unexpected until the end of the year. She has also done this for at least the last 5 years to all the new teachers at my school! Nobody really understands why, but it is detrimental to the fellows program and of course to all of us who now have to find new jobs in this economy. I only had 4 observations, one in September (a U), one planned in December (an S) and two unannounced, both Us. My school has a union rep, but she was out on medical leave for about 4 months in the middle of the year, and it turns out she was buddy-buddy with my principal anyway.

    I loved teaching, and I think I could have been a much better teacher with some experience. I had tons of problems with classroom management, but I’d already made a plan for the next year and I had implemented some strategies that were working for me. I didn’t have any mentoring from other teachers, and I was basically on my own all year. And yes, teaching was very difficult, but I was doing okay with the kids. All the negative pressure was from my administration. Anyway, I wish I’d had a chance to become a better teacher, and I didn’t have one because of my principal.

  11. Elyse permalink
    August 11, 2009 pm31 5:22 pm 5:22 pm

    A couple more complaints, since I’m venting:

    I started off the year with a great program. My school has 8 periods a day, and I was teaching 18 periods a week. My principal noticed this, and gave me lunch duty, extra classes, advisory and even made me teach gym(!), until I was teaching 30 periods a week, leaving me with lunch and exactly one prep a day. I was told that lunch duty, advisory and gym didn’t count as teaching periods because I don’t have to plan for them. I also started a morning tutoring program with her permission and was suppose to be paid for it. I filled out the forms for the payroll secretary and everything, but never got any money. I think I’m owed about $600, but I’m sure I’ll never see it now.

    As a new teacher with essentially no union rep and no mentor, I really had no idea what to do about any of this, and during the year I was so overwhelmed with planning, curriculum mapping, teaching 100% of my classes outside of my certification area, making my own photocopies (no copies at school…), prepping eighth graders for the regents, and dealing with the fact that I didn’t have a classroom or desk, that I didn’t do anything. I once complained to my principal about regularly getting coverages that gave me between 5 and 7 periods teaching in a row, and she changed my schedule, but this was probably the beginning of the end as far as being rehired for this year.

    And still I would have come back next year if I’d had a chance!

    • August 11, 2009 pm31 8:05 pm 8:05 pm

      Could you e-mail me with a little more detail, especially the name of the school?
      Thank you, and best of luck. I am ashamed and angry that this system treated you so poorly.
      [this blog name] [at] [gmail] [dot] [com]

      • lori permalink
        September 14, 2009 pm30 8:30 pm 8:30 pm

        As a first year high school math teacher, this horrifies me.

        Does a U rating definitely mean a person can no longer teach?

        I mean everyone has told me it takes a matter of at least a couple of years to become a truly good teacher.

        If I was at a school with students that came equipped with what they need (study skills, motivation) to do well, wouldn’t it be easier for me. I am at a difficult school and am trying my best.

        Should I fear that my career may end before it begins? I don’t mean to complain but I DO love teaching. I was born to do this. I know I need improvement but Elyse’s post is giving me a near anxiety attack.


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