Vision Doesn’t Come Cheap

For as long as I can remember, we’ve heard the statistics about the high turnover rate among new teachers.  The numbers vary depending on the study but reports say that anywhere from 30 to 50% of teachers leave the profession in their first five years.

A churn rate like that in the professional ranks of most corporations would be cause for concern, with a battery of VPs and consultants looking for ways to fix a situation that wastes a lot of money for things like recruitment and training. In education, it’s just one more problem to ignore.

As with most issues in education, the reasons for this high turnover are complicated. But for anyone interested in a solution, this might be a good place to start.

The perceived low status of teaching is also a serious obstacle to keeping teachers in classrooms. So, of course, are compensation issues and questions of how teachers’ effectiveness is evaluated, the subject of frequent and corrosive headlines that often reduce teaching to test scores.

Not surprisingly, many new teachers reported a phase where they felt disillusioned, defeated, and a deep sense of having failed. Teachers who have been academic high-achievers often cannot deal with this sense of failure; they have been hard-working, motivated, and successful in virtually everything they have done. They blame themselves for not better overcoming the shortcomings of the system and soon begin to believe they are not good teachers.

It doesn’t help when politicians and pundits also blame teachers for everything wrong with schools (as well as the economy), while at the same time cutting support wherever possible.

The writer of this piece concludes that we need to renew a “broad vision” for the teaching profession based on the ideas of former Harvard president Derek Bok: “Education institutions [must] assume the responsibility to cultivate interests and supply the knowledge that will help young people make more enlightened choices about how to live their lives.”.

That’s very inspirational. But is our society prepared to pay for that vision?

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