Most people decry teacher turnover. Schools should do more to make teaching sustainable. Students do better when they have experienced teachers who know their schools and communities.
But how long should teachers stay? What’s the sweet spot? Given today’s labor landscape, in which the typical worker bops from job to job every couple years or so, what’s possible?
Tonight I’ve been reading an excellent profile of Jeff Bezos in Business Week. There’s an interesting little graph from the article:
Pretty crazy, don’t you think? I mean, I knew that the tenure of most tech workers was short. But one year for the typical Amazon employee? That’s insane. By Amazon’s standards, Yahoo’s median 2.4-year tenure seems really long in comparison.
What would happen in schools if the average teacher tenure were less than two years? In many urban public schools, that figure is unfortunately a reality. Maybe that’s why I sometimes felt like a dinosaur at my last school, where I stayed for 12 years.
I remember that it took me nearly three years at my first school to figure out what I was doing. And then, at my second school, it took another two to adjust to my new environment. If that’s true for other teachers, it makes sense for schools to create conditions such that teachers would stay for six to eight years, at minimum.
But if you ask the typical urban public school principal how long she realistically hopes that teachers will stay, the answer won’t be longer than five years. (This is wishful thinking.) This means two or three years of getting good, followed by two or three years of being good. And then, the cycle repeats.
There are, of course, many forces that make it hard for teachers to stay longer. And there aren’t too many things that schools can do, outside of strong professional development, to counteract factors like overwork, underpay, challenging work conditions, and limited resources.
It’s just not easy.
What are your thoughts? How long should teachers stay at their schools before moving on?