Retaining teachers is a problem; senior teachers help
NY1 interviewed Cathie Black last week, and among other things, asked about lousy teacher retention in New York City. She stumbled, as teacher retention is not on her radar; breaking seniority is. (summary, from Gotham Schools, below the fold)
Bloomberg and (Klein) and Gates and Kopp and (Rhee) and now Black like to talk about the problem of “bad teachers.” That’s bunk. We all know that, at least in New York City, about half of all teachers (what’s the real percent? 43? I forget) hired never make it to tenure. They were good enough to get hired, but decided they could not make it, or an administrator decided (rightly or wrongly) for them.
Anthony Cody, Oakland teacher and teacher-activist, poses a different problem: How do we keep teachers in the classroom? He writes about keeping science teachers in Oakland. Read. This guy is talking about giving kids better teachers. He is talking about changing the game on the ground. This guy is talking about making teaching a job that people want to make a career of. If we want to improve education, this is the conversation we need to be having.
TeamScience Tames Teacher Turnover in Oakland
Four years ago in Oakland, one out of three science teachers in Oakland was a first year teacher. Due to a combination of the lowest pay in the Bay Area and some of the most challenging conditions as well, we have had a tough time retaining teachers, especially in the field of science, where well-educated individuals have so many options. Many of our science teachers enter through an internship program that only asks for a two-year commitment. Three years after they begin, 75% of these interns are gone.
This high turnover creates serious problems. Novice teachers have energy and spirit, but usually lack the curricular and management tools to teach well. We have many small schools, so it is not unusual to have a school where the science department chair is a second or third-year teacher. When I started teaching, I survived in part because of a few experienced colleagues who shared tips and lessons with me, and reassured me when I had a tough day. Our novices are often surrounded by other novices, and lack that reservoir of expertise.
In the year 2008, we formed a partnership with the New Teacher Center in Santa Cruz, and, with funding from the Sidney Frank Foundation, launched TeamScience. We recruited twenty veteran teachers from across the District, and assigned them each one or two novice teachers to support. Our goals were to increase collaboration and collegiality across the District, to build the leadership of the mentors, to increase the effectiveness of new teachers, and to reduce the level of turnover.
Summary of Black stumble on high attrition from NY1 interview, as reported at Gotham Schools:
Another moment of exposure had to do with teacher attrition. After a discussion about the “last in, first out” policy, Louis asked Black if she was concerned that almost half of New York City school teachers leave after 6 years in the classroom.
Well you have to know, like, what’s really at the heart of the issue. I don’t know that we know what’s really at the heart of the issue. Teaching is a hard job. We want the ones who are committed. We want the ones who make a difference. We want the ones who want to work hard and really change the lives of these young people. They’re there on a mission. So, you know, some are going to leave.
She then returned to the “last in, first out” question, arguing that perhaps teachers would be less likely to leave if they weren’t concerned about being laid off. “Right now there have to be a lot of teachers thinking, ‘Maybe I don’t have a job next year.’ Can we afford to have thousands of teachers think to themselves, ’I have to leave the system now because I may not have a job in a few months?’ That’s going to be a catastrophe,” she said.