Tagged: sustainability

 /  By  / comments 2 comments. Add yours!

How long should teachers stay at their schools?

favicon 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.

I agree.

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:

Amazon Retention

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?

 /  By  / comments 5 comments. Add yours!

Are charter schools youth cults?

favicon We all know that charter schools tend to have younger, less experienced teachers than their traditional counterparts. And there are pros and cons to that.

But this morning, I read an article in the New York Times that left a pit in my stomach. In the piece, “At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice,” reporter Motoko Rich concludes that charter schools foster an environment whereby it’s acceptable, and even welcomed, for teachers to stay in the classroom for a very short time before moving up to become an administrator or pursuing a more lucrative, prestigious profession.

Ms. Rich calls charter schools “youth cults.” That’s a provocative statement.

I’ve worked in charter schools for 14 out of my 17 years of teaching, so I understand their demands. In my 20s, I routinely worked 70 to 80 hours a week. At my school in San Francisco, we were young, and sometimes, we were tired. But rather than encouraging teachers to leave after a couple years, our school talked about sustainability. It’s a good thing, we believed, for students to have teachers with full lives, including families and outside interests. It’s a good thing for students to have teachers from diverse backgrounds. As a result, our school made changes, including adopting a salary schedule to encourage teachers to stick around for more than five years.

Now I’m learning that my experience was a rare one. In the past few years, big and powerful charter school networks have grown stronger. As a result, they no longer have to hide the truth. Check out what Jennifer Hines, a senior administrator of a Houston-based charter network, said:

There is a certain comfort level that we have with people who are perhaps going to come into YES Prep and not stay forever.

On the one hand, it’s comforting that there is truth-telling. On the other, as someone who taught for a long time and who still believes in the importance of the classroom teacher, I think it’s hugely bothersome. Also annoying: her language, which comes across across to me as too careful (e.g., “certain comfort level,” “who are perhaps,” “stay forever”). That’s a calculating sentence.

In the article, Ms. Rich goes on to profile a 24-year-old teacher, Tyler Dowdy, who is in his third year and is already looking for the next new thing. My first reaction was, That doesn’t seem to be a problem. My first school (not a charter school) made me a leader in my second month. But then came this quotation at the end:

I feel like our generation is always moving onto the next thing and always moving onto something bigger and better.

All I have to say is, Ugh, ugh, ugh. Like, a major ugh. There is so much wrong with that quotation. (Ms. Rich is likely very pleased to have gotten it.) There is so much pretension, so much privilege, and so much condescension in that statement.

Nonetheless, I can’t entirely blame Mr. Dowdy. He’s just a young teacher who is hard-working and smart and maybe unaware of the complexity of public schooling. That’s because he’s worked at a school with an expectation that matches his own.

(Yes, I just sounded old and curmudgeonly and jaded there! Sorry about that.)

Rather, maybe the problem is not with young people who want to teach for a few years and then become principals or doctors. As Ms. Rich suggests, perhaps the problem is with charter school networks and organizations like Teach for America, which “churn out” teachers, according to charter school detractor Diane Ravitch.

But even if that’s true, I’m not sure what the answer is. There’s too much of an either-or dialogue going on: either we stick entirely with the public school system, along with all of its faults, or we move toward more charter schools, along with their faults. I do wonder why we can’t figure out something somewhere in the middle that meets the needs of more young people.

What do you think? favicon