I recently led a seminar on teacher retention. It was short and to the point. It was based on conversations, quick surveys, research, and experience. It was prompted by something I had learned at a previous seminar. Two years earlier, I was at this same conference and was shocked to learn from another presenter that nearly half (45%) of new teachers quit during their first five years.
How, I questioned, can something we have looked forward to, studied for, interviewed for, and sacrificed for, be such a monumental disappointment as to cause half of us to just walk away and not look back? I don’t mean change schools, I mean just quit education forever.
After talking to colleagues, I did what any good researcher would do–I Googled it. One of the first articles I ran across was from a math teacher whose complaint was that he was barred from teaching the traditional math he was taught in school. His advisors up the food chain wanted a more intuitive approach where discovery and feeling were paramount. His argument was simple: 2+2 still equals 4, and any human with a working memory needs to know their multiplication tables. His leaders wanted him, rather, to allow students to “discover the concept” of two numbers being equivalent to a third. I loved his response. He wrote, and I’m not quoting, that the likelihood of undisciplined, ill-mannered, disinterested students discovering a concept that a studied, intellectually invested mathematician took years to develop was zero. And yet we play the game.
In my conversations with teachers, another big problem is discipline. There is none. Corporal punishment is considered ancient and barbaric. Intimidation and embarrassment are considered cruel. Reasoning is useless in all but a precious few circumstances with reasonable students. Administrators’ hands are tied by local and state rules. The inmates have taken over the asylum.
Another concern is the amount of “hoop-jumping” cited by both teachers and administrators. Ask any teacher, any teacher, and you can get a feel for what I’m talking about no matter where you live. Much of it is what used to be called “paper work” but which is now done mostly online. Some of it is to make areas more competitive for federal funds, some of it is what is humorously and quietly called CYA work. But the amount of it has increased over the years and even though it yields little immediate reward for the classroom teacher, much of its completion falls to these folks. Frustration mounts, and teachers just give up.
If you want to know how teacher feel about their working conditions, just Google “Teacher working conditions survey” and click around. Not all states have their own survey, but many do. You may have to read between the lines, but if your antennae are up, you’ll get the message.
Finally, if you want to get an earful (or eyeful) go to the link below and read about the frustrations of one teacher who says so much that so many would like to say.