May is recognized as Teacher Appreciation Month, but appreciating teachers demands a 12-month effort, and no time is better to show appreciation than this end-of-year holiday season.
Mid-career teachers are leaving teaching at the reported annual rate of 8 percent, twice the rate of high-ranking education countries such as Finland and Singapore. The Learning Policy Institute reports 200,000 teachers leaving a year. The institute reports reasons for leaving include inadequate teacher preparation, lack of support and mentoring for new teachers, dissatisfaction with compensation that ranges 20 percent less than college graduates in other fields and better career opportunities.
Studies from the Universities of Pittsburgh and Tennessee cite low pay and lack of autonomy as the main reasons teachers leave the profession. In this test-driven and data-driven era, teachers lack the authority to teach what they think is best for their students. For example, marginal students who failed to achieve adequate testing progress attend a school day almost 100 percent vendor-prescribed test preparation, with teaching reduced to administering. In other words, for students who dislike school the most, we are giving them more reason to dislike school, and we are prohibiting teacher innovation to help them.
Anecdotally, teachers reported leaving the profession because of inadequate supplies, frustration with the political climate surrounding education, excessive paperwork, an obsession with data collection and test-driven curricula and lack of voice in school policies. Many teachers discourage their educated children from going into the teaching profession.
Lack of a voice results from education policy created by political leaders, most of whom have had no experience teaching and many of whom have never read a book on education. Many political leaders believe that schools can run on a business model, but no business model can be successful with lack of quality control of raw materials, such as a child without family stability or food security, conditions that also negatively affect the teacher’s accountability.
Recent Gallup research shows that teachers who receive regular appreciation are more productive, more engaged and more likely to remain in their profession. Finland’s resurgence of education began with raising the esteem of the education profession, increasing standards for admittance into teacher colleges and raising the salaries of teachers, ranking them among the highest paid professionals in the country.
The Learning Policy Institute suggest policies to reduce the high rate of teacher exodus:
• Improve teacher preparation and teacher education costs by providing scholarships and implementing student loan forgiveness.
• Strengthen hiring practices by requiring candidates to teach model lessons.
• Provide new teacher mentoring and new teacher induction programs such as observing classes of successful teachers.
• Improve teachers’ working conditions.
• Increase teacher compensation compatible with sustaining a middle-class lifestyle.
A memorable student in my teaching career is one who personally thanked me after every one of her classes. Her “thank you” on the way out the door represented appreciation for my preparation and delivery of class content. That regular “thank you” also represented that students’ family background that values learning.
During this Christmas, Hanukkah and holiday time of the year, remind your child of the dedication and determination that teachers put into their work. Especially emphasize that the teacher who stands in front of your child’s class chooses to continue teaching rather than join the 200,000 who leave the profession annually. Teachers can’t be thanked enough.