One of the Get Schooled blog’s most eloquent and articulate posters, Jordan Kohanim, who gave up her north Fulton teaching job this year, shared this list of ways schools could stem the exodus.
By Jordan Kohanim
There are some obvious solutions to this problem which can be addressed at the grass-roots level.
1. Acknowledgement: This one of the most important factors. Recognizing that teachers have a difficult job and are doing the best they can (and often successfully so) is an essential and surprisingly easy thing to do. Acknowledgement across all realms of education — not just math and science is essential. All teachers have a role and purpose in a school. This doesn’t mean the principal needs to have a Ra-Ra session every year, but admitting that:
•This is a hard job, with not enough monetary compensation, that most people appreciate silently.
•There is a counter narrative that disparages the work of public schools which is largely false
•Teachers are being asked to do more with less and are adapting to those expectations for the sake of their students
Principals need to attach meaning to that. They need to express it not only to their teachers, but also their community. Leaders need to admit that public education is a worthy and successful endeavor — one that would not be successful without its teachers. Too many times, leaders refuse to counter this narrative because it allows them the savior role. If they agree with the perception that public education is failing, they can be the hero that saves it. This can lead to another dangerous scenario where educational leaders get caught up in their own ego and the misconception that a school’s success hinges less on the ability to govern and more on the principal him/herself.
2. Financial Gain: I have not seen a STEP raise. Had I stayed in teaching, I would likely not ever see a STEP raise. The money is not coming back for a long time, if ever. This is a hard economy, so it is no surprise that schools and teachers are suffering along with everyone else. That being said, leadership does not always have to do an across the board raise. There are other ways to compensate teachers. A good leader must be resourceful in involving the businesses around the school. Reaching out to the local businesses to provide free meals to teachers during teacher work days can make a big difference. Having local businesses give out freebies to teachers in the form of classroom supplies can also help. Respecting teachers’ time enough to understand that endless meetings is not the most appropriate use of Teacher Work Days — work days that need to be used to plan for larger classes and a new curriculum. As one of my teacher friends put it, if there are so little monetary resources, those resources need to be put where they will do the most good — in the classroom. Finally, giving hope. As I said, had I stayed in teaching I would likely never see a STEP raise.
Every year I taught, I lost money either through furloughs or benefit cuts. Had I been told there is a light at the end of the tunnel, I might have tried to stick it out. Instead, I received a narrative of money woes that basically told me to suck it up, that I should be grateful I had a job at all. I am grateful I have a job; I wish it were teaching. Instead, it is a field in which I am monetarily compensated for the time I put in.
3. Destroy the Martyr Mentality: The other dangerous perception that exists in teaching today is the “do it for the kids” narrative. This means that if you were a good enough teacher, if you cared enough about teaching, you would suffer whatever it takes to make your classroom successful. After all, you got into the job not for the money or the summers off, but to help society, right? This mentality creates a Kafka-esque Hunger Artist scenario. Teachers are told to sacrifice more and more to show just how dedicated they are. Equating an individual’s ability to suffer for the sake of his/her work is not a durable approach. There must be a breaking point.
Allow teachers the freedom to speak out about the conditions in which they teach without fear of retaliation. Shift the public perception that good teachers suffer for the sake of their students. It is not necessary. Teachers are not monks and nuns. School leaders need to produce a narrative that teachers are not the sole equation of success. Schools require all community participants from local businesses and social institutions to parents and elders to contribute to the success of the school. A school’s success affects housing value and thus the wealth of the entire community, so it would behoove all members to bear the responsibility of the success of their school — not just the teachers.
Of the utmost importance is the voice of the educational leadership. The voice needs to change from one of blame-shifting to one of support. Everyone can acknowledge that changes are being made to improve schools, but scapegoating teachers will not only demoralize them and drive them out of schools, it will forever tarnish public education. Leaders need to sacrifice their egos and admit they are not the sole bearers of success. They need to impart to the public the importance of keeping GOOD teachers — not just the importance of getting rid of BAD ones.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog