In the opinion section of this morning’s Post, a DC charter school teacher finishing her fourth year in the profession explains why she’s leaving.

The simple answer is burnout, a reason often given by the 30 – 50% of teachers (numbers vary based on the study) who exit from the profession within their first five years.

As you might expect, it’s not quite that simple.

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But there is more to those numbers than “burnout.” That term is shorthand for a suite of factors that contributed to my choice to leave the classroom. When I talk about the long hours, for example, what I mean is that, over the course of four years, my school’s administration steadily expanded the workload and workday while barely adjusting salaries. More and more major decisions were made behind closed doors, and more and more teachers felt micromanaged rather than supported. One afternoon this spring, when my often apathetic 10th-graders were walking eagerly around the room as part of a writing assignment, an administrator came in and ordered me to get the class “seated and silent.” It took everything I had to hold back my tears of frustration.

Almost every education reform program I’ve ever read centers around the concept of recruiting and retaining great teachers.

At the same time all those politicians and educational “experts” are proclaiming as indispensable the “highly qualified teacher” in every classroom, they also want to automate the teaching process with collections of “best practices” with the goal of squeezing out even better standardized test scores from each student.

So, why would smart, creative, highly educated college grads want to become teachers only to be handed a collection of recipes that dictates precisely how to present a narrow, test-driven curriculum?

Many of those same politicians declare that schools ought to be run like a business.

While that’s always been a lousy idea (repeat after me: schools are NOT businesses!), if there’s one element from the corporate world that can and should be adopted for education, it’s that people are your most important asset.

And that a constant and high turnover of talented employees is probably the most detrimental factor for any organization.

Losing half of new teachers every five years is doing nothing good for American education and any meaningful reform needs to start by figuring out how to fix that problem.


Image by mlhradio and used under a Creative Commons License.