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Teacher Retention: Us vs Them

July 26, 2009 pm31 12:45 pm

This post is part of an intermittent series about improving teacher retention in New York City. See also

If we can keep teachers in the system teaching, there are all sorts of winners. Kids, schools, colleagues, neighborhoods — all of them benefit from the stability, continuity, experience. The new teachers themselves benefit from being not as new: the job gets easier, they do it better, less stress, of course more pay…

But retaining teachers produces losers as well. Who?

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The New Teacher Project and similar organizations lose, at least insofar as they have fewer new slots to fill. I assume part of their compensation is per capita. And this year, TfA is out of New York City and the NYCF is down to 700, over a 50% cut? Think of what would happen to these guys if the number of new teachers making it to 7 years doubled…

State and Local governments lose, in a small financial way (though they make it up in indirect benefits to society as a whole). Teachers with more years earn more. If teachers stay, there is more deferred compensation (pension) getting paid out down the road.

Some newer principals lose, especially if they are insecure. Teachers with experience (and tenure) are more likely to ask questions, and to assert their rights against unfair or arbitrary directions. Newer teachers are far easier to cow, to boss around, to abuse. Inexperienced principals may feel threatened by teachers who know their way around the school and the classroom, and know more than the principal.

Some senior principals are in the same boat. Even harder to make excuses for them. But if they yell and scream and bully and belittle, they are generally happier (?) with teachers who won’t ask, won’t fight back… Also, as they turnover faculty at their own schools (by design or otherwise) they need a system that provides them with a pool of ready replacements. (See Do Not Apply and the associated articles for much more discussion.)

Some curriculum developers and staff developers, especially those pushing stranger programs, look for pliant, non-questioning teachers. My Math Wars Skirmish and my run in with a staff developer both showed signs of how they work around senior staff and look for beginners. There are a group of publishers, trainers, etc, who also need new teachers. But it doesn’t always work this way. There are staff developer people who work with all teachers, who aren’t there to force the pedagogy du jour down everyone’s throats. In New York I’ve encountered more who have been easy to work with, more who are positive, than the other kind. But there’s enough bad ones out there that the point must be made.

Charter schools. To the extent that these are anti-union institutions (and yes, I know that is not true of all of them), it is easier to exist as high turnover schools in a city with high teacher turnover overall. Why should anyone ask why charters don’t keep teachers long, when things look similar in the public schools?

Bloomberg and his Chancellor. High turnover weakens our union, making it easier to push all of us around. High turnover means fewer teachers are in it for the long haul, leaving our contractual rights more vulnerable to their predations. They know that it is harder for us to fight back when such a large number of teachers are brand new. High turnover bolsters their push against tenure, against senior teachers, against ATRs.

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Those are them. That’s who benefits from teachers leaving after 1, 2, or 3 years.

Do you even have to ask yourself, which side are you on?My nano

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jack Israel permalink
    July 28, 2009 am31 10:48 am 10:48 am

    Teacher retention is a subject fundamental to the success of any school system. It is a subject that does garner nearly enough attention in the schools or by the union. One suggestion would be not to give the new teacher the most difficult program possible, one consisting of 5 ninth grade classes for example. Another underutilized strategy are the Teacher Centers like the one we have at DeWitt Clinton. These centers can serve as a place where new and veteran teachers can bond. I have witnessed an actual exchange of ideas devoid of the better than less than stuff that can poison the relationship between the vets and the newbies. Of course competent administrators who have actual teaching experience that can “mentor” the new teachers instead of using intimidation would be instrumental in any long term retention strategy. Finally, an attempt to get the new teachers involved in the chapter should be a given. Just by attending the chapter meetings the newer teachers can be made to feel the camaraderie of a common cause.

  2. July 29, 2009 am31 10:31 am 10:31 am

    And that’s what I’ll write about next.

    Activists in schools have an interest in improving teacher retention, and they have (some) of the means.

    I don’t know what to say about the hardest classes going to the newest teachers. It’s true. It’s a problem. But we rotate, and that’s protected by contract. Maybe we can do better making sure that new teachers benefit from rotation… but that doesn’t address the first year…

    But, yeah, Teachers Center, chapter meetings, those are things we can control.

  3. July 29, 2009 am31 10:35 am 10:35 am

    I left “reformers” off my list of losers. Reformers come in a variety of stripes. In general, the anti-union types, they don’t like teacher retention.

    But they don’t actually lose anything (except maybe Jay Matthews and his test-prep employer, the Washington Post, which benefits from beginners doing the drill and not asking questions.)

    On the other hand, we have pseudo-reformers right here, like Eric Nadelstern, the CEO of something or other, and possibly the next chancellor, who built a key part of his resume on anti-teacher reform. Hell, Nadelstern, essentially blew up schools to create his mini-school failures, dispersed the experienced teachers from the closing schools to the wind, and staffed many of his failures with nothing but 1st and 2nd year teachers.

    Most of these reformers don’t like retention, but some do. Even those who don’t, only a few lose directly when teachers opt to keep teaching.

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