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?