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Teachers still want “apples”

By January 31, 2012June 14th, 201615 Comments

An apple for a teacher is the education cliché, but do you know why? As far back as the 16th century, parents of students in Scandinavia, and eventually in the United States, gave fruit to their child’s teacher to show their appreciation. But it was also, in part, a form of payment to help low-salaried teachers feed their families. Today, the salary scale remains, but the appreciation seems lost, resulting in U.S. schools having a harder time than ever keeping good teachers. In fact, according to a McKinsey & Company study, 14 percent leave teaching after only one year, and 46 percent leave before their fifth.

Why teachers leave

When teachers enter the field, they have high expectations of making a difference. Too often, however, they quickly realize that they don’t have the professional support, feedback, resources, or modeling of what it takes to help their students succeed. Instead, teachers must teach to the tests, fight bureaucracies, and monitor cafeterias and hallways in addition to their daily lesson planning, classroom management, and administrative tasks.

But it’s not just the heavy workload. In a July 2011 speech, as reported in The Huffington Post, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that teachers should earn between $60,000 and $150,000 a year. In reality, however, teachers earn an average $39,000 a year. But because salary is often indicative of the value society places on the profession, the emphasis on compensation may point to another issue. According to the McKinsey & Company study, the top-ranked education countries in the world—Singapore, Finland, and South Korea—“bestow enormous social prestige on the profession” (p. 6). Based on the current state of the profession, can we say the United States does the same?

How to get them to stay

Give teachers time. Many schools are adjusting their school schedules to create more instructional and non-instructional time for teachers, such as extended school days or half days for students. Hiring paraprofessionals can also assist teachers with administrative tasks or small group activities. The U.S. Department of Education is offering states the ability to waive some NCLB requirements, which eases the stress of testing requirements.

Address the compensation gap. To raise the quality of the entire teaching workforce, the level of teacher compensation is critical. However, changing the composition of the salary scale (e.g., merit pay, pay-for-performance) isn’t a cure-all; all levels of compensation need to be initially raised to recruit and retain high-quality teachers, according to an Economic Policy Institute issue brief.

Establish supportive work environments. In a report from the Center for Comprehensive School Reform (2007), teachers commented that they derive greater satisfaction from their work when they are empowered by school leaders to make decisions about scheduling, selection of materials, and professional development. In addition, regularly scheduled observations that coach teachers to higher levels of performance promote better teaching and higher student achievement.

Teachers, have you stayed or left and why? If you decided to leave, what would have changed your mind?

Do you agree or disagree that these are appropriate “apples” to keep high-quality teachers? If not, what are?

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • A. Qualls says:

    I think your blog is very interesting and I love to knoe the history of why teachers use to get apples. I think teachers need to feel that they are appreciated and that they are doing a great job. I hope to always be a teacher, and I did not go into teaching for the money. I have been teaching for five years and only make 35,000.00 a year.

  • Ashley says:

    Teacher burn-out is common problem. Teachers are fed up with disruptive students who lack the readiness skills to succeed (or survivie). The world around us is changing quickly and we continue to leave behind low achieving students thus causing teacher to leave their profession. This is my 12th year teaching and i can honestly say that I could not see myself doing anything different. I am in control of my classroom and I want all my students to succeed. It makes me very angry when outsiders think that all kindergarteners do is play all day. I invite you to join us for one day and tell me how fast it takes you to fall asleep at the end of the day. Teachers are exhausted everyday and I, personally, love my job.

  • Sherice Alford says:

    Teaching is my calling and my ministry. I agree with the “apples” because it would be great to ahve more time and creatvity within my class instead of teaching to the test. Many teachers do leave the profession because of the stress and lack of appreciation. Of course, the lack of money plays a great deal. I know that I have stayed because I owe it to the teachers who made a difference in my life.

  • Mike C says:

    I completely agree with the idea of teacher burn-out being a growing problem. Students with ever-changing needs ceratinly keeps teachers busy searching for new ways to motivate and inspire. I love the challenge that you meet head on each day. It’s what made me want to teach.

  • Mike C says:

    …I certainly didn’t become of teacher for the money. I think many people are aware of the salary structure before joining the profession. Of course, everyone would like to get paid more, but their are also many additional opportunities to make money through extracurricular activities.

  • debbie says:

    I agree that teacher burnout is an issue given all of the challenges we face each and every day. It was interesting to learn the reason teachers have been given apples in the past!

  • I think it is critical that beginning teachers or teachers who are in a new assignment be given extra support. Even with 33 years of teaching, I have felt like a beginning teacher at least 3x in my teaching career. Teachers need time to familiarize themselves with the different curriculum, gain new ways to practice pedagogy with their different groups of students, and be paired with effective mentors who have had similar experiences.

  • Vanessa says:

    The most common reaction I get when I tell people who aren’t in ‘the profession’ that I’m a teacher is “oh yea – good holidays!” or “9 till 3 ain’t bad”. It is very disheartening for a teacher who not only values their job AND puts effort in to their lesson planning, assessment and the school environment to hear this from the general public. It also devalues the experiences of the students at school, which perhaps makes me the saddest of all. Of course the pay is an issue – but you know that when you go into education. If people respected the role of teachers that would be a good first step.

  • alan davis says:

    Finding time in the busyness of what teachers do, to reflect, work collegially abd experiment with instructional practices, is indeed an issue. Employing paraprofessionals is not the only answer. Any ideas out there.

  • Paul Taylor says:

    teaching is one of the most lonely jobs in the world. When the classroom door closes and it is you and the kids, when things go wrong or the lesson dose not flow you are on your own. With the shortage of proffesional development time teachers are often talked at with little time for sharing.
    Social workers who work with a handfull of clients have organised meeting time to discuss and share feelings to help consolidate thier feelings and actions. It is no wonder teachers burn out when they have no time or place to debrief on what they do. Money is important but positive feedback on a regular basis will keep us sane.

  • Adam Taylor says:

    In Australia there is a yearly debate about pay rises being linked to productivity gains. Teachers will work for the money but stop eroding preparation and consultation time and get rid of ‘hoop jumping’ so politicians can brag about what they have done for sducation.

  • shamrocks2000 says:

    I agree with your post. Teachers in general do deserve a higher pay with the demands and expectations that are put on them. My first teaching salary was 22,000 and had to put in at least 50 hours per week.I understand that teaching is not a glamorous job but there are other ways we teachers get paid. Former students who come back to see you and thank you for the role you played in their life is most definitely a supplemnetal income to keep you in the profession.

  • Angela Penny says:

    It is such a concidence that this topic was what I wrote about in my Master’s class last week. My findings after doing some research was the reason that most teachers left after the first year was because of the lack of administrative support. Most of us that are in the teacher profession are not here for the money but the love of teaching and helping to raise the children that we come in contact with daily. It would be great if we would get a yearly raise to help with the cost of living. It is unfortunate that we helping to shape the future of America but are not getting reimbursed for it. Professional athletes or actors get millions of dollars while teachers who are going to be paying off student loans forever barely get enough to support our families and classrooms. I love my job and couldn’t see myself doing anything else but it would be nice if we could at least get cost of living increases yearly to compensate for all of the work that we are putting into the future of America.

  • Dani says:

    Interesting post. I’ve often wondered how the high turnover rate of primary and secondary school teachers jibes with the perceived salary inflation of university professorships. I’ve heard a number of arguments, primarily from student groups but also from government watch think tanks, indicating that the cost of university tuition cannot continue to increase at the current rate without a considerable revision of the compensation packages that professorships command. My concern is simply: will that have a ripple effect on the compensation packages offered to teachers from other educational levels as well? How can primary and secondary educators make so little and university professors make so much when one is considered essential and the other a form of continuing education? Many even believe the student loan crisis over inflated tuition will bring about the next financial crisis. All the more reason to wonder where lesser-paid educators fit into the picture. The compensation gap must be addressed. Nice post.

  • Stella says:

    Teachers do have high responsibilities and I do think with the current trend, our teachers are mostly burned out.

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