By Katy Farber, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Katy Farber is a sixth grade teacher in Vermont. She is also an author, speaker and blogger. Her first book, Why Great Teachers Quit and How We Might Stop the Exodus, was released in July by Corwin Press. Her second book, Change the World with Service Learning: How to Organize, Lead and Assess Service Learning Projects, was released in January 2011.
A big part of the national conversation about education is how to attract the best and brightest teachers to the profession. It is a favorite line of many a politician. While that is well and good, it seems that many policy makers and education experts are missing the point: how to keep good teachers in our nation’s classrooms once they are actually there.
With about one-third of our teachers leaving the profession in their first three years, and even higher turnover rates in some urban areas, this is a pressing issue in American education that isn’t getting much attention.
We have an anti-teacher climate that has only worsened since I wrote the book “Why Great Teachers Quit and How we Might Stop the Exodus.” Based on my interviews of teachers nationwide, I learned firsthand why teachers are quitting the profession in droves, and personally, I saw it happen to my friend and mentee.
The situation has only gotten worse, with layoffs, pay cuts, anti-union sentiment, program cuts and strict mandates that are part of federal education laws. If we are to make any reform or new initiative work in education, we have to create schools that are supportive, humane, dynamic and creative. For many teachers (and their students), this is far from reality.
Here are some ideas for how to stop the flow of talented teachers out of the profession, based on my interviews, experience and research:
1. Provide leadership and growth opportunities for teachers. Many teachers don’t want to be principals, but they do want to stretch, learn and grow. Provide teachers with meaningful opportunities for leadership that are paid, challenging and enriching, such as curriculum planning, mentoring, academic coaching, action research, technology integration and professional development leadership. Opportunities like these have been shown to increase teacher retention and investment.
2. Cultivate collaboration in schools. Isolation breeds trouble in teaching. We know student outcomes improve when teachers are part of professional learning communities. When given time to collaborate, reflect and develop plans to improve on daily, teachers feel more respected, professional and able to adjust and improve their teaching practices. This doesn’t happen by accident. It takes careful planning and coordination to work job-embedded professional development time into busy teaching schedules, but schools will see enormous student and teacher benefits as a result.
3. Create humanity in schools for students and teachers. Many teachers have trouble with the basics: finding time (and coverage) to use the bathroom, to eat lunch or to express milk to feed their babies. Other teachers have their schedules created without any thought to how they might be affected. Seek teacher feedback when creating schedules, considering that teachers need to take care of themselves, especially during standardized testing and special events. Frustrations with simple and needed tasks can lead to burnout and health problems.
4. Solicit teacher feedback and use it in decision making. Many teachers feel powerless, that their voice as an educator doesn’t matter to policy makers at the local, state and national level. No reform will work unless you have the people actually responsible for implementing it at the table.
One way to begin this is for teachers to plan on sending representatives to each school board meeting. That way, they can have a voice in school governance, and report back to staff about issues, concerns and upcoming topics for meetings.
For all curricular decisions, changes and plans, seek feedback from teachers throughout the process. Teachers are an underutilized resource in policymaking; they are too busy most of the time teaching to participate. Principals and superintendents can empower teachers by calling for their involvement in policy making and providing substitute teachers when necessary so they participate.
5. Plan for a better work/life balance. A team of teachers, administrators and other school staff can improve the climate and community of the school by planning activities that support wellness. No, I don’t mean more canvas bags with inspirational teaching quotes on them!
Many teachers are overwhelmed with paperwork and intense job responsibilities. School leadership can help by streamlining cumbersome paperwork processes, and providing as much clerical support as possible. Make sure the schoolwide duties are shared equally by classroom teachers and other school staff, because often the burden (and most of the pressure) sits primarily with classroom and academic subject teachers.
Wellness funds can be used to improve the school climate and facility, and improve the health of school staff. Weekly running and walking groups, lunch potlucks, and yoga classes can improve morale and promote a healthy work/life balance for busy teachers.
6. Create an environment that compensates master teachers who continue to grow, evolve and perform. Most of the focus on teacher compensation has been raising the entry-level salaries of new teachers. While that is a great step, schools and communities should also create an environment that compensates master teachers who continue to grow, evolve and perform. Many midcareer and master teachers are facing nominal salary increases. For example, a 30-year veteran in my area of Vermont retiring this year would earn around $60,000. Many talented teachers nationwide see how they have to fight for small pay increases in a very public manner. Teaching is one of the only professions where the level of education and responsibility is not commensurate with its salary.
There is no one magic bullet for retaining teachers. But we must work to make schools comfortable, creative, refreshing and exciting learning environments if we are to keep our nation’s best teachers in the classroom, providing the highest quality education possible.
This is the elephant in the room. If we keep hiring great teachers, and then forget about them for years to come, many will continue to leave for higher paying, more innovative and better respected careers.
We can’t let that happen.
What are your ideas for making teaching a more sustainable career?
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Katy Farber.
This will be my 23rd year of teaching. The PA poster forgot to mention that politics in education is horrendous. Having subbed for 7 years in PA because, "You're just out of college and need experience", to "You're such a great teacher and we'd like to give you a job, but..", to "You've stuck with our district so long and we need good subs" was really frustrating. Moving south solved the job problem.
Teaching the last 15 years in public education proved to be reflective of all of the posts above. Public education is SO slow to change. Having gotten a Walden masters online recently in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment recently was such a rewarding and gratifying process. Being so eager to share all I've learned turned out to be a double-edge sword of we want you to tell others, but not make changes in how classroom and schools run. That makes people very uncomfortable.
Educational research is pointed in the right direction. Too bad so may stagnant teachers and even more stagnant administrators won't see that a REAL partnership between home and school and rigorous standards will create a brighter future.
I left piles of worksheet copies I was "supposed to" give to students to be "one of the team" behind along with a sign saying "Take over. It's yours." and walked out.
Charter schools with a philosophy of high expectations (academic and behavioral), accountability by students/teachers/parents, and encouragement for creativity hopefully will be the way to go for me this year!
I've been a teacher for going on 17 years. I have two graduate degrees from a well-known, well-respected research University (consistently ranks in the top 25 in the United States), plus my bachelors. I seek out professional development and volunteer for leadership opportunities. I've been a club sponsor and a coach. I have always taught in low-income, or inner city schools, and continue to do so. I have always taught special education. For the most part, my administrators have been awful; the administrators in my private school were the worst, although with the exception of 3 assistant principals, each senior administrator (head principal, director, whatever) has eventually proven that they really have no clue what it is like in a classroom. I've been at my current school longer than I stayed at any other school, and never envisioned myself leaving until midway through this year. The last two years have been a nightmare of health issues caused by a bungled surgery, and this year my department chair and my principal made sure I was aware that being sick was not acceptable. My principal showed no respect for me and my situation by listening to the department chair, who told lies. I was screamed at in front of students because of state testing, and doctor's orders were ignored. The one part of my job I truly enjoy is being taken away from me as punishment for being sick, and I was not-so-subtly encouraged to look at other schools for positions despite receiving another excellent performance evaluation. Parents of the students I teach have heard that I might be leaving, and are not happy; I have had some of the same students for 4 years. In the years I've been at school, I've brought in over $10,000 in grants and in-kind donations, but because I have been sick the last two years, I have not done as much, although I did write a grant this year. I was told that I have never supported my school or the school's community. Outside of teaching, I'm active in the community and have been since I started teaching, even though I didn't even live near where I taught. Its ludicrous.
Being sick has made volunteering, traveling, or doing anything other than go to doctor's appointments impossible. And I spent my summer (all 5 weeks of it; my position has me return earlier than most of the other teachers) going to doctors appointments as well. The only thing I had left in my life that I enjoyed was working with my students with special needs, and now that is being taken away from me as well.
Why should I keep teaching? I'm really not sure; this was the first time since I started teaching that I applied for jobs outside of teaching. This was the first time I applied for positions that would take me out of the classroom. And all because my principal couldn't show some empathy & compassion. She feels she's "accommodated me enough" and I don't support her school.
I entered public ed after being successfully self-employed for 12 years because I wanted a change and found teaching rewarding. I LOVE teaching, but I have to say that the current anti-teacher culture is just too much. My job is stressful, yes, and it really does not pay well for the amount of time I invest. Work-life balance is impossible to achieve during the school year and I do stress about being able to do something as simple as eat my lunch or use the restroom when necessary. But if something drives me out of teaching, it will be the top-down management of education and the lack of respect for teachers from parents. And, I have to add, that if the unions were to go, I would leave public ed in a heartbeat and never look back. From my perspective, the unions are the only thing making working conditions tolerable and my only leverage of advocating for what's best for students. After all, teachers' working conditions = student learning conditions.
Joan, I appreciate your thoughtful post. I am a para at a hs in our neighborhood in CO. We do not have union here, and it made me wonder, as I read about your love of teaching and your opinion of leaving it if it were not for the union, just what affect does a union have on educational staff satisfaction levels? Has me curious.
I have a sort of 'fly-on-the-wall' perspective sitting in the classrooms, walking the halls and attending staff meetings. I hear and see many things perhaps APs, teachers and students do not. I am honored beyond measure to be a support in classrooms where the teacher is giving all heart and soul to students. I am hopeful every time I see our district send a post like this one to our email. I see change creeping into our schools– sometimes at a snails pace– but albeit change.
But I wonder if it IS because we have no union out here, because it is run by the passion of the people? There is a heavy, heavy price to pay for that freedom (crazy board meetings, many deeply rooted political issues, funding etc., etc.), but sometimes that is the seed for change too.
Thank you for your comments, and I hope you do continue to love to teach. It is teachers like you who make paras like me love to come to work everyday.
Well said. One of the lost difficult thing in education is dealing with the complete lack of respect from student and parents. There needs to be a cultural change and teaching needs to be valued.
After 10 years in the classroom I had to resign because we had a baby and needed flexibility in our schedule. This just doesn't happen in most schools!
I am a National Board Certified Teacher with 19 years experience. Every evaluation I have ever had has been great. STILL my principal feels like she has to dictate everything I do in the classroom and come in for 14-20 drop in evaluations a year. This makes me nervous even though she tells me my teaching is great. It makes me feel like she is looking for something wrong, or like she thinks I am not teaching when she is not in the room. I have caught her in the hallway trying to listen in. She does this to every teacher at our school and the climate is one of fear and helplessness. We were told that we had to use the Daily Five and Cafe model for teaching as well as do guided reading, Saxon phonics and literacy centers the way a woman she hired does. I feel like a robot, not a teacher. This year will be my last year. I am taking early retirement and going to a private school where they will give me the liberty to teach. I have always believed in public schools, but anyone who has any kind of teaching experience knows that there is no one way to do anything that works 100% of the time. If you take my creativity away, you suppress what I gave of myself to my students. I cannot work under those conditions. It is depressing, and it is keeping the children from learning what they should.
The REAL PROBLEM is that there are a lot of teachers in the classrooms who do NOT DO THEIR JOBS. These teachers have been a problem for years and years and the administrators do NOTHING to try to get rid of them. They just make these blanket rules, procedures, and policies to try to protect the students in the bad teachers' classrooms. This may help those teachers hit the mark more often, but it is causing me, a master teacher, to leave. I know what to do, and have proven it over and over. Hopefully my private school experience will be better and I can be myself and create the lessons I know will help my students learn.
I so agree! It's a gotcha world. Would it hurt to get a post it with a praise word or a smiley? Maybe a thumbs up. Why do we always feel that they just threw n invisible flag on the play?
How about the idea of letting teachers teach....too many have their hands in the teaching profession, including administrators and politicians that have no clue about what is best for students and in the classroom. Teachers are continuously dictated to about what they should do during the day, including being overscheduled. No wonder many students are having a hard time learning in this kind of educational landscape and environment not conducive to learning in many cases. As a teacher, I find it interesting in my professional development training, there are never any state, district, or school administrators in these trainings or seminars, yet they are the ones who seem to tell teachers what they should and should not be doing. Let teachers do what they do best and what they were trained to do – teach! Instead we are serving on many committees, being given constant overloads of information, over paperworked and so on!
Sick schools don't help. After 8 years of working in two different schools with glass fiber particulates I now have numerous chemical sensitivities. Most school districts cover up environmental problems in an attempt to avoid law suits. That's what they did in my district. It happens more than you can possibly imagine. The rhetoric out there is that there are all of these tenured bad teachers out there. Bull. But you know what IS out there? A lot of people who have given everything they have to try to make a difference, then got sick in the schools and then got crapped on by school districts who won't do the right thing. Believe it. It's the truth!
There are some great points here that have been promoted by other educators as well. I love the idea of stripping silos and would love to learn more about how schools are doing that.
Ok I just finished my first year of teaching. Let me start out by saying I am now 39, so i have been places and seen things. I received no support whatsoever. My "Mentor" was someone from another department, with a different planning period, who i saw more often passing in the hall than actually sitting down with them. How could we, when one was available the other wasn't, and by having a different curriculum and background, had no real advice to help me out other than basic things i could get myself. I was given no support from the administration, who were either worried about the State coming down on them (it was under a school improvement grant) or so scared of a lawsuit that they wouldn't support discipline unless it was a criminal act or a dress code violation (and we are not talking about naughty bits hanging out, we are talking if there is a manufacturers logo on their polo shirt). I tried to call parents, which we had to do before we were allowed to write them up, and 90% of the time i got no answer, or if i did, nothing was done. I literally felt as though i was just tossed to the wolves with a "hope you survive". Honestly the kids weren't that bad, it wasn't like there were fights or violence. There was just apathy and disrespect (what we used to call lack of home training). Who cares if i pass or not. I am not worried if i do the work or not. They knew the school was under the states watch for high drop out rate. They would not have anything done to them for fear of that rate going up. Ultimately the policies and the practices in the school were to protect the Admin over the teachers and students, I am not going to lie, the prior two schools i was in (for my observations and student teaching), I was not getting paid and enjoyed going to work even though i was paying them to let me work. This last year though, If it were not for knowing that there are better places, I would probably be out as well.
In regards to Walker though, I am not joining the union. I teach history, i know what they started as and what they have become. One of the provisions of that beloved collective bargaining in WI was that the school system had to purchase the teachers insurance from a company that was, wait for it, owned by the teachers union. By eliminating that alone, it saved enough money to save almost if not all (i am not sure the exact number) of the at risk teacher jobs in the state. The union is not for the members, it is for the union organization. If this were the 1880s to about WWII, i would support them wholeheartedly. But the modern union is a business that breeds a cult of personality amongst it's members. I am personally glad (and if I live in WI I would say the same thing) that Walker weakened them. I get a few weeks off a year (which i really don't as there is something I am doing for my classes, even if is something as mundane as knocking down the always growing stack of history books, I get good benefits, and i get a retirement. i understand that is part of my salary. I don't need to make a million dollars, I just want parents and students to be held accountable for their education and behavior. If your kid has no severe learning disabilities (and i am not talking ADD, I have severe ADD and i still got As and Bs in school with no meds) and they fail, it is not because i didn't teach them, it is because they decided they didn't want to learn.
The reason why you have the benefits is because of the Union. If and when you run into problems with the administration of your school, you will need the support of the Union. You will find it to your disadvantage to negotiate or talk one on one with your Administrator. You will need a repesentative and witness. Someone who knows your work rules.
The "good" benefits that you have now did not come easily. It was through the blood and sweat of union members. Please don't take this lightly. Protections lost now will not easily return.
Some people say that the Union does not do anything. The truth is the Union is YOU!! Maybe you should find out who your union representative is at your school. Get to know him or her. What the Union works for benefits all teachers: members and non-members.
By the way, Govenor Walker is not going to stop at the point that you feel comfortable. He will not be selective. It will hurt. However, you are new to the professional field of teaching. Don't think you can do it alone.
Hope you have a successful year!
I was teaching Logic and Philosophy in 1973 and admin. put an end to it because they indicated that it was so difficult for students and so the class was disbanded. Dumbing down America.
I taught in the science classroom for 5 years. It was the hardest thing I've ever done! In reading articles and books about teaching the main consensus was that the first 3 years would be difficult. I thought, well, if I put in the time the first three years my job will be easier the following years. I would arrive at the school at 7:15 a.m. and my goal was to leave by 5:30 p.m. to pick up my children from their daycare by 6 p.m. It was a really good day if I had five minutes to eat lunch during our thirty minute lunch break. During my fourth year of teaching, I was voted by my administration and faculty to be our school's Teacher of the Year and I thought, "Yes, I made it past the hardest part of this profession. Now, I can just work towards improvement." During my fifth year of teaching I made $3,000 less a year (the pay was gradually reduced every year), we lost half of our weekly prep time and during that lost prep time we were assigned another class to teach. So, instead of teaching six 90-minute blocks in two days we were asked to teach seven 90-minute blocks adding another 30 students to our existing student load of 180 students, but we were still asked to make calls to parents, attend special ed, IEP, 504, professional development, departmental, and faculty meetings, make lesson plans, make copies, prepare science labs, grade papers, and visit other teachers' classrooms to observe best practices during the prep time we had left, and somewhere in there develop positive rapport with our now 210 student population inspiring them to be good citizens that can contribute positively to society. Oh, and we were supposed to be happy and upbeat about the changes our state made to education. No thanks! I now work in a different field where my science background and degrees are rewarded. I get to work at 8:00 a.m. and leave at 4:30 p.m. with a full 30 minutes to myself for a lunch break. It's amazing!! The best part is when I get home I can actually spend time with my boys and sleep through the night instead of setting my alarm for midnight to wake up to grade papers or make lesson plans. To all the teachers out there that are still teaching my hat is off to you and I am grateful for my experiences as a teacher (which included a death threat by a student that my administrator did not want to do anything about until I pushed the issue), but I will not EVER return to that horrendous profession.
This statement is extremely important for educators to process, and other "stakeholders" to become aware of. Other stakeholders include politicians, state department of education leaders, federal department of educational leaders (including Arne Duncan, a "leader" with no educational training and a disastrous record in Chicago and Washington), local politicians, parents, and district level administrators including "human resources" department heads. I am now completing my 35th year as a school psychologist in the public schools. In recent years, respect for educational professionals has markedly deteriorated, within the educational administration structures, among the public, in the media, and among our legislators. At this time, I would not recommend a young college or high school student pursue a career in public education, unless he or she simultaneously prepares for an alternate career. Sad but true. Unnecessary but true. Damaging to our society but true. Sometimes the truth hurts.......
Schools need to set the bar higher instead of lowering it. There are school districts in my area where students absolutely cannot fail. They cannot be given a grade under a 70. They are permitted to retake tests as many times as they need to in order to bring their grades up to a 70.
Discipline should be taken seriously. Teachers are teachers, not babysitters. They are not there to hold your child's hand through every step of the way.
Bob, I wish teachers got to decide these issues, but they don't. Administrators and politicians do.
Hi Jo Ann,
I pay around 245 a month for my policy that covers only me. My district wanted 1100 a month for me to include my one child so we had to pick up an individual blue cross/blue shield for her. I pay around 180 a month for my TRS contribution. By the way , to those that bash the unions, we do not have a union in Texas. I believe there are three states that do not allow collective bargaining. I only wanted to illustrate to the folks that believe everything they hear in the news media that we do not really have golden retirements and cadillac health care plans. we need national healthcare desparately in this nation.My own daughter now works for a nation wide retailer and she has a crappy plan also.
V, my hat is off to you. Have a great life.Folks don't realize or care what teachers go through and the amount of heartbeak we see. It tends to take little pieces of your soul. I went back to elementary because I grew tired of seeing my secondary students die from bad choices. Attending the funerals just hurt to much!
I hope you did not take what I said to imply that I think you have any kind of "golden" retirement or health care plan. I just wanted to make the point that teachers don't further their cause when they focus on compensation issues, especially in this economic environment when almost everyone is struggling. When teachers don't demonstrate an understanding of this, they lose not only sympathy, but also credibility. Most of the college-educated non-teachers I know are in about the same financial situation (sometimes, such as in the case of social workers, worse off); most don't have a defined benefit retirement, for example, and are hoping to save enough to add $1000/month to their Social Security at age 67. They become angry and resentful when they hear complaints about the compensation issues, but when they hear about the day-to-day problems teachers have with parents, administrators and politicians, they are much more sympathetic. If teachers can frame their complaints in the context of obstacles that not only discourage good teachers from staying in the profession, but also have negative consequences for the education of our children, then respect will follow, and compensation issues might receive a more sympathetic ear.
Leon, one more thing, I agree completely about the need for national health care. I think it is the right thing to do for ALL Americans. It will benefit teachers also – if all Americans have health care, then that will take away the resentment the uninsured feel for paying taxes toward the insurance of public employees.
if you want to retain great teachers, PAY TEACHERS MORE. Higher wages will both attract better candidates and keep the ones you have. This is basic Keynesian economics. Gifted college graduates will always choose Medicine, Law, Finance or Engineering because those professions pay in multiples what Education does. Until you fix that part of the equation, there will always be a gap.
Keynesian economics? Throwing money at a problem isn't any part of the solution. Paying teachers more merely increases the pay of the same tenured teachers we have now. The "Teacher of the Year" in one area just got let go due to union seniority, and your solution is to pay the teacher that wasn't teacher of the year more money? Teachers in Illinois are very well paid, the results are not so impressive. Teachers around here always want more, more, more! In the midst of the recession, Ottawa, IL. teachers went on strike!! As long as teachers remain silent, and support their unions support of poor teachers, they'll never get the respect they think they are "owed!"
rdh–I agree to an extent. Yes, some teachers should be making 6-figure incomes. The problem is–how to determine which ones. So far, no one has come up with a reasonable and effective form of performance-pay. I consider myself a master-teacher. I am National Board Certified and have my Masters degree. I receive fantastic evaluations every year. I do receive a small compensation for my advanced degree, but nothing more. The teacher down the hall who also has a masters degree but who cannot control her class, or does not try to differentiate her instruction makes exactly the same amount as I do. Worse than that, there is only about a $20,000 difference between my salary (at 25 years experience) and that of a first-year teacher! That is because they keep raising the entry pay, but not anyone else's. My experience has made me a great teacher, and I should be making a lot more money for what I do. It is very frustrating. But until an acceptable method of paying for performance can be found, we are stuck with this system. Fortunately, most of us did not go into the profession for the money. Otherwise, we could never stick with it.
I work with ex-teachers who now work as analysts for a dept. of education. In large part, I am not impressed.
Had to correct one more item. Very often, ADMINS taught just the bare minimum years, in Texas, it's just three years, and got out of the classroom because they knew they could not handle it, and they knew that the money was is in administration.
That is one of the main problems with most of the administrators where I taught. The only decent ones were those who had been teachers for at least a decade first. The funniest part is that it is precisely these people who are performing the classroom evaluations which partially determine a teacher's future.
Overall....I love teaching. I love the students, I love watching them work together and figure out real world problems together. What I crave the most is respect. I want the public to know that I work really hard for my kids. I respect them and have fun with them. Yes, we have summers off but we don't get paid. We have unions around because without it...we would never get a raise. Oh wait, we haven't gotten one in five years but at least we haven't been furloughed yet thanks to the union. Yep...teaching is rewarding but difficult!
As usual, many just make blanket assumptions without direct evidence to rely on. First, in Texas, after 18 years of teaching my salary is 43,000. I am NOT exempt from any property,federal or state taxes as some apparently think. The biggest drain on the nation's economy has been the loss of government jobs that also paid taxes and tax cuts for millionaires. The truth has just come out today that Reagan in the great recession of the 1980's actually added 600,000 govt. jobs to boost the economyRick Perry cut 5 billion out of our Texas budget,laid off 10,000 teachers and funneled a great percentage of the money to charter schools. This last part didn't make the news because well Texas is a one party state..Austerity cannot work because you are laying off the real taxpayers.Secondly, my insurance is worse than not having any. I have a 1000 deductible that I cannot pay and high copays such as 175 for ER visits. Medicaid would be a minute fraction of this. I sleep and teach in pain the vast majority of the time because I just cannot afford Dr.
Lastly, my pension will be 1750 a month upon my retirement. Texas has a formula where years of servce and your age must equal 90. Yea, try retiring in Texas and living the good life.
Leon, I have no doubt you earn every penny of your pay and deserve more. Teachers work much harder and deal with far more obstacles than the public can imagine. However, as someone who has taught and also worked in the private sector, I think some of your comments about compensation are naive. Your health insurance policy sounds better than mine, and pretty typical of what most employers are offering today. I don't know how much you pay monthly, but the premium probably has a total cost of about $1500/month for a family, more if there is any dental coverage, and any part of that which the school board or state pays is part of your benefit package. As far as retirement, fewer than 10% of private employers still offer the defined benefit pensions which you have; thus, if a private sector employee wanted to have $1750/month to live on after retirement, he or she would need to have saved ~ $500,000. And while I will not argue that $43,000 is a great salary – even in Texas, where salaries are somewhat lower than in many states, it is well above the current median salary (I just heard that it is now ~ $35,000). When people talk about the high salaries of others who are college-educated, remember that those numbers are distorted by a few high-paying fields (engineering, for instance) and the superstars in other fields. Also, remember that many who receive those better salaries have inferior benefits. A friend of mine has a Bachelor's degree in dental hygiene and does make more money than you do, but receives zero benefits – no paid sick leave, no health insurance, no pension. I have two friends who left teaching and then went back a few years later because of the benefits and the hours – even though we know teachers work outside of their scheduled hours, they said that they missed having some flexibility in their evenings and summer, as well as having holidays off. My point is not to say "you have it good" but rather that compensation issues are pervasive throughout out society. Teachers who focus on these issues turn off the public, who are feeling the same pinch, if not worse. Instead, teachers need to focus on educating the public about just how hard their jobs are, dealing with nonsupportive parents, unrealistic testing, and ever increasing regulation.
With all due respect to the dental technician, I think the skill set that person uses on a daily basis is nowhere at the same level as the one teachers must use; nor does it require the emotional/"intuitive" investment; nor does it require that the dental technician work outside his/her hours at the office.
The reason teachers talk about salary level compared to similar professions is that our level of training and expectations for performance are equal that of engineers, doctors, lawyers, etc. Comparing what I do to be equivalent to a dental technician, or receptionist, or any other job that does not require the same foundation of knowledge and skills is part of the problem - people think "anyone" can walk off the street and teach. This is not to say that people doing other jobs are unintelligent or inferior, but it is to say that teachers should be paid on par with their training and duties.
I feel your pain - am a Texas teacher – 20 years – and looking forward to retirement in 3 years. I know I can't survive on the meager TRS retirement plus 3 annuities I've been paying into for various years. As for me – me and my money will be retiring out of this country in a low cost of living country in Latin America. I've given my best as a teacher – one of those government service workers everyone enjoys bashing - I will not spend my retirement money in a country that has repeatedly blamed my profession for the ills of society. best of luck to you
I taught math for 3 years. There were many problems with the system (in addition to the fact that I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning).
1. About one third of the math teachers didn't fully understand the material they were supposed to be teaching.
2. The new teachers were given the worst classes to teach (lowest level and most discipline problems). Those teachers with several years experience would have been better able to handle the classroom management of these nightmare classes, but their tenure enabled them to complain sufficiently loudly to avoid the "bad" classes. Many new teachers quit after one year (or during their first year) because of this. This problem is crazy because it can be avoided.
3. The administration, for whatever reason, refused to apply discipline to problem students. This is a somewhat complex problem; the main idea is that teachers had almost no power in their own classrooms and the students knew it.
4. Teachers in my district were required to supply all or most of the motivation to succeed to the students; parents were never held accountable. It is reasonable for teachers to give some motivation. It is unreasonable to expect teachers to turn around the lives of severely troubled youths who destroy the class environment for the rest of the students.
5. There seems to be this wide spread idea that teacher quality can be measured almost purely by looking at pass rates for state tests. Those who happen to teach "gifted" kids are then often assumed to be of higher quality than those who teach kids at the other end of the spectrum.
The above list is obviously just the perspective of a new teacher who was lucky enough to be able to find a better career.
Chris, well said!
Like several others who commented here, I spent 3 years teaching. I am not someone who "settled" on teaching because I couldn't make it elsewhere, either. If you have never taught, you just have no idea of the reality of being a teacher. It seems to me that in our current culture a child should never be made to feel uncomfortable–even if they have not accomplished their schoolwork, are disrupting the class for other students, or even threaten a teacher. Parents are either not involved in their children's lives or are always right when they complain, because administrators have no decision rights either. I could go on and on, but instead I'll just challenge all of the parents reading and commenting to stay involved with their children and compassionate with teachers.
I have been asked to apply for teaching positions in 3 states. In each case, I thanked the administrator for the offer and made this counter offer; "when your teachers are allowed to control their classrooms, call me." That was 2 years ago; nuff said.
Quit giving them tenure.. That would go a long way to having good teachers.
You have no idea what you are talking about. I had tenure and as a result I could speak my mind to administrators that were clueless and incompetent without being afraid of losing my job. Tenure allows teachers to do what's right instead of having to do what incompetent, inexperienced administrators tell them.
Aren't administrators former teachers? Just interesting how it is never tenure or incompetent teachers that pose a problem
@ Art, Unfortunately, tenure also allows poor teachers to 'stand up' to competent administrators with good ideas.
I don't really understand why tenure is the problem. Yes....I have tenure. What does that mean? To me it means I most likely won't get pink slipped. It doesn't mean I will never lose my job. It doesn't mean I don't "try" as a teacher anymore. Hell...i am the one writing and winning grants so I can have more money for my students to do hands-on labs when the budget cuts are so deep that there's not much money in education.
Can't find much more passion on this issue and not many answers than in my home state, Wisconsin. Wisconsin is/was known for its progressive roots and deep ties to educating its citizens. Now, we are struggling. I won't get into my anti-Walker rant, or what his Act 10 has done to the state's teachers and students, but my husband is a teacher, and your ideas are good ones. It's not so long ago that these things WERE all happening for teachers. Not sure when that started to change? When I was in elementary school in the 1980's, every kid wanted to be a cop, firefighter or a teacher! A lot of the kids I graduated with did go on to become great teachers. I really don't understand when it became a profession to poke fun at, and not a profession to uphold. To me, they are just as important to our society as doctor's and lawyers, so why the beef? Oh, yeah, taxes. YOUR taxes pay THEM. So people feel like they have ownership over the teachers. True, there are many bad teachers. Um, just like there are many bad doctors!
All I know is that my husband is a fabulous curriculum instructor. He is a mentor for younger teachers. He teaches summer school and takes grad courses over his summers "off" (he's never had a real summer off, in over 11 years, he has to work and take classes in the summer!), while also helping to watch our two children while I am also at work.
This isn't a woe is him vent. This is just the facts – we need to treat and pay our teachers and then maybe our society wouldn't have so many issues if we start with people when they are kids (and yes, I agree with posters who say weed out the bad teachers, and only hire the good ones). Dont' even get me started about parenting. The biggest factor why my husband's students don't succeed, in the case that they don't succeed, is poor parenting.
"When I was in elementary school in the 1980's, every kid wanted to be a cop, firefighter or a teacher." Yes, those kids wanted to be those things for the benefit they provide to society, not for the pay, benefits and ability to retire at age 50. Unfortunately, we now have police and firemen who game the system in many states where they can work double overtime in their final year of employment and retire with more pay than they actually made anytime in their career. There isn't an anti-teacher, anti-fireman or anti-policeman vibe in this country there is an anti-public union thread that has been growing over the years based on the reasons I gave above.
All of this feel good, "community" logic is not going to solve the issue – in fact, it's part of the problem. Schools are not supposed to serve as parental outlets, grocery stores to provide two meals per day and other parental-level duties, including teaching basic manners and courtesies to children. Teachers are forced to deal with thirty-five or more in a classroom, plus try to deal with all of the economic, social and emotional issues that these children show up with. On top of that, today's newer breed of teacher is just not prepared themselves to be there in the first place. I met a teacher two months ago that did not know the capital of Vermont. This says a lot. She laughed it off, but I think she should have been embarrassed instead. This is why the schools are failing. No one is accepting responsibility – not parents, and not teachers, all of whom are nothing but excuses to raise taxes to the government. Money won't fix this.
I don't need to know the capital of Vermont to be a great math teacher. I don't tell people that I'm a history teacher because they always feel compelled to ask some obscure random history question. Teaching is an art form that takes time & effort to perfect. New teachers aren't the best teachers, just like new dentists, construction workers or maids need time to be "good"!
All the teacher bashing is pathetic! Walk a mile in my shoes. It'll surely change your tune!
One of the easiest ways to retain great teachers is to hire better teachers in the first place! I hate to say it, but a degee in education is a common fall-back for people who either don't know what they want to do for a living, or people who simply find other fields of study to be too difficult.
Maybe if the pay was enough to actually live on, schools could attract some decent talent, not just the bottom-tier minds that regard being a teacher as "Plan B".
Really, Sumo? Really? Education degrees are for those who find other fields of study too difficult? Are you a teacher? Do you hold multiple college degrees like the teachers I know? I was awarded a full academic scholarship to study Engineering at a top college in the Midwest- and I CHOSE the partial scholarship to another so I could study Education. I wanted to give back to society. I guess that makes me a bad (and also stupid) person in your eyes. So, if one assumes you were not educated by wolves, you are saying all the teachers you had were stupid and worthless? How did you manage to become the scholar you are with all those stupid people you were surrounded by all those years?
Michael, I am also impressed with your courage to speak up and share your views. Thank you for your service, and for your appreciation of those in the field of teaching who are also serving our country.
Sumo, I think the things that you stated show how many people feel. That is extremely unfortunate. I had to pay the same amount of money for my education that most engineers do, but as soon as I became a teacher, I had to get more education. I live by Boeing and I have more education than most of the men and women who make close to double what I do. Who lands on teaching as a backup? Those that do would not last long. I would like to see you deal with 160 students a day, put up with insults from Politicians, the parents who do not always prepare or support them, and the media who seem to only focus on the few bad seeds. Teachers are being forced into horrible conditions by small minded people who have no idea what an actual school is like anymore. Before you judge teachers, step into a classroom and volunteer and hold your opinion until to see what actually goes on.
Sumo does not understand two aspects of teaching: First, most teachers are not in education for the money. We keep hearing this from politicians, and other people who don't teach, that money is the answer to the teacher retention problem. We need respect, support, and decent working conditions... not huge amounts of money. Second, if you use college degrees and high academic achievement to identify these people who will be better teachers- you clearly know nothing about what we do in the classroom. If you want to find great teachers look in their heart, not in their head. Great teachers know how to communicate and translate information into a curriculum that students are motivated to learn. Sure I have two science degrees, but that is not why I'm a master teacher.
John, Excellent post!
"We need respect, support, and decent working conditions... not huge amounts of money."
In addition, John, teachers need resources to use for developing their creativity, skills for individualizing instruction, further training in instructional efficacy, motivation/inspiration/modeling to promote their professional reflection and growth. As medical doctors continue to "practice" and develop their knowledge and skills with collegues and research, so too do teachers need to continue to "practice" and collaborate within their career experiences. Money alone is not the answer, Sumo.
I taught high school shortly after graduating with my bachelors degree. Pay was low, and many kids in my school had little parental involvement in their home lives. I didn't like the "babysitting" aspect that came with having to discipline the kids, but over the year we made progress and I started to get some students motivated. That would have made all the other cr*p worthwhile. One day I caught a student cutting weed on her desk (she admitted it), and security wouldn't take her to the principle's office. I didn't eject her from the class because that would have just been her free reign to go out back and smoke it (another rampant problem at my school). This was during a time I was debating whether to return the next year or not. When I talked to her principle after school he just laughed and said "Oh that Lisa..." but nothing was done. That sealed the deal. I was not going to work in such an environment if I couldn't even get the support of the administration. Switched careers. Miss some aspects of teaching but I try to fulfill it in other ways.
As a person who taught in NYC for 34 years, I can relate to your experience. Many times administrators just poo poo what some students do and never do anything about it. People outside of teaching have no idea what really happens in a school on a day to day basis. What makes it worse is that they THINK they know what goes on.
We, parents, should prepare kids well-ahead before the next year class begins. Donate gift cards or participate for special events.
I come from the parent side of this conversation, our best teacher experiences were the teachers that included us in what I like to call the inside track to the realities often put upon educators from their peers, admin, district and union environments. It was one thing to send one's child to school another to know that the expectations were far broader than what when on just in the classroom. How were we to know as parents?? It gave me a deeper admiration for those that rose above all of that, that somehow found balance and determination despite some of the obstacles and mostly that continued to impact and educate children. Great post Katy!!
I taught for three years after college. The problems I had were A.) Teaching to the test. I was teaching grade 8 math and from December-April we were supposed to be spending 2 hours/week on teaching to the standardized test. considering we only have 5 hours/weel to begin with there really wasn't much time to actually teach my kids.
B.) The kids (and parents) were terrible. Nobody ever holds them accountable for anything and when you actually expected them to work for their grade you got their irate parents calling you and yeling.
C.) School admins always side with the parents never the teachers.
I left the profession because I didn't sign up to be a punching bag. I signed up to be an educator.
As a parent and the child and sister of teachers, I truly sympathize. My sister has recently left the profession after becoming terribly discouraged. The school where she worked required her to do weekly email to parents, had at least one faculty meeting (usually lasting two hours) after school and sometimes two meetings a week. She was required to read a book a month and write a report on it and also had training monthly where she stayed on Friday night until 9 pm and went back on Saturday from 8 am to 3 pm. She was never supported by the administration or the parents of the pupils and discipline was impossible to enforce. The mental strain finally told on her and she got out. She is a wonderful teacher, speaks three languages, has lived in several different countries and is a highly creative, resourceful artist in her own right. Until the problem of discipling students is resolved, with support for the rules and for the teachers, students will not be able to learn , even those who want to!
I hear ya. Everything you said is 110% true. Too bad the public is clueless about these things.
In teaching you can bust your blank to be a great teacher and the guy across the haul will take home the same pay as you regardless of whether he checks in at 8 and out at 3:30. Who is the fool?
If you are good at what you do you have to be a saint to stay in teaching. If you are bad at what you do teaching is the perfect place for you. No one can touch you.
Move to SE PA where it is not uncommon for teachers to be making $80K to $105K depending on district and county some in as little as 15 years or less if they take enough post-grad courses. On top of that, the pension is 87% of salary after 35 years (that is not a mis-key, 87%). All for a job with 12 weeks of time off each year, tenure, and health care contributions that are almost always less than 15%. 65% to 80% of any school districts budget is compensation so stop the nonsense about blaming the Boards and Adminsitration for the problems unless you want to blame them for over compensating employees
Really? Then why is it so hard to attract and retain teachers? Also teaching for 35 years is not so easy. Ever hear of burnout? If things are so great for teachers where you are, why not become a teacher yourself and enjoy all the benefits. The salary you talk about is AFTER teachers spend tens of thousands of dollars AFTER their B.A. What other profession that requires the same educational level as teaching does pays less after say 10 years? BTW, the fact that you said that teachers get 12 weeks off shows you know nothing about teaching. I'll bet you also thing that teachers only work 6 hiors a day too. What a fool.
I have taught, and I am very sympathetic to the problematic working conditions described here, as well as the frustration that the public is unaware of how hard teachers actually work and the obstacles they face daily. However, I have to say that when teachers get hung up on salary issues they lose my (and much of the public's) sympathy. A few years ago, a local teacher (whom I know to be an excellent teacher) wrote an op ed in which she wrote (fairly) about the long hours she worked of which the public was unaware; however, she then described other professionals as working 9 – 5 with an hour for lunch, a wholly unfair stereotype. Just as good teachers put in far more than the required hours, so do good professionals in other fields – not to mention that I don't know anyone who works 9 – 5 and gets a full hour paid for lunch.
Just as Robt wrote, there are some (not the majority) school districts that compensate very well. However, even in communities that pay more modestly, there are MANY professions which require degrees and pay less than teaching. In my area, social workers with master's degrees make less than teachers – and deal with the real physical threats of going to a family's home and telling the parents they are going to take their children away. Police officers have to have a degree, work holidays and deal with high risk situations, but they make less than teachers. Beyond salaries, the benefits teachers receive are far superior to those of most people in the private sector. I heard yesterday that only 7% of Americans are still covered by defined benefit pensions – and teachers are highly likely to be in that 7%. I leave near a state border – teachers routinely retire in their fifties from one school district, cross the line and work for the other state for a decade, and collect two pensions. The vast majority of the college-educated people I know make salaries that are in the same range as teachers, but have vastly inferior benefit packages: their only pension is what they were able to save, their health insurance has less coverage and a higher cost, and they are required to work far more hours per year.
Too many times in my experience as a parent, teachers mail in their jobs.
I cannot tell you how many times my HSer would come home and answer my 'how was school today' question with, 'pretty good. Watched another movie in English.' I would ask why, and the answer typically was either they had a sub or didn't know why. Teachers were ALWAYS late in recording my sons' grades, so it was hard to hold our sons accountable for their grades when they weren't posted right away.
Personally, the minute the Feds took local control away and thought that they could better run schools, it was the beginning of the end.
And church-run schools were *so* much better, right?
Pay teachers living wages and divert all educational funds to the classrooms instead of the overweening bureaucracy of administrators, stop stupid 'feel-good' programs that don't benfit anyone, limit 'corporate testing' and let the teachers TEACH instead of babysit.
I agree, politicians in Ohio have used public education to balance their budgets and put blame on teachers. In fact it is an all out attack on teachers. In the future, nobody will want to be one as becoming a Doctor will be easier and less stressful than becoming a teacher. In my District, I was employee of the year in 2007 only to be laid off due to property levies not passing. The financial burden has been pushed onto the local tax payers to pass property taxes meanwhile while our govenor prides himself on a millions surplus raindy day fund while the schools continue to financially bleed out and can't stand up straight. I have a few months left in education now. My future hangs on a community property tax. I have the wonderful politicians to thank. Great job, keep passing more house bills in Ohio senate to further discourage edcuation. That rainy day fund is now in education in Ohio.
Did you compare becoming a teacher to becoming a doctor? Oh, God – you have no clue.
Greg, you are so right that teachers get blamed for politicians' messes, but, seriously, you make teachers look incredibly uninformed when you suggest it would be easier to become a doctor. To get into medical school, one must have a GPA in the 3.7 range in a highly challenging curriculum, then attend four years of medical school (add $200,000 debt to whatever is owed from undergrad), a rigorous program that leaves no room for part time work, then complete a residency of a minimum of 3-4 years. Unless the physician lands a salaried position, he or she will have to pay all the practice bills (nurses, billing clerks, lights, rent, insurance, supplies, etc.) before taking a salary and paying off those student loans. I know a couple that lived off the teacher-spouse's income until the practice turned a profit – they were in their forties before they could afford their first house. By that point they were beginning to worry about how to save for retirement. Do most doctors end up doing well financially? Of course, but just as teachers face obstacles the public doesn't acknowledge, so do doctors.
She forgot the one major thing that occurs whe I have seen many good teachers finally throw in the towel...stop demonizing public school teachers for political gain. Just look at what politicians have done and said about teachers so they can gain points in the political areana. WI Gov. Walker is a prime example. He blamed a large portion of the state deficit on public employee unions, in particular, teacher unions, when in reality much of the deficit was due to poor budget/spending habits. Spending tons of money and cutting taxes at the same time. That's like quitting a six figure wage job, taking a minimum wage job, and still expecting to live in a 20,000 sq. ft. house with servants.
I spent 6 years of my life after high school pursuing a teaching career. I joined the military to put myself through school and completed two tours overseas, pushing my graduation date back. I lasted 3 years in the teaching field before I had to retire. Isolation, lack of support, overwhelming work load, and the ever-present gravity of NCLB made the job I thought I would spend a lifetime succeeding at into a nightmare. I found that an actual warzone was less stressfull to be in than a public education classroom. This is not a hyperbole.
Wow. As a public school teacher for 16 years, I thank you for letting the public know how difficult it is and how hard we work to produce the best learners. I am sorry that you didn't find it fulfilling after everything you did to make it a reality for yourself. I commend your tenacity and wish you all the best. Thank you for serving our country.
Tell that to Robt in a post above. He thinks teachers have it too easy.
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