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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Advice to New Teachers: Please, If You're Good, Stick with It

I have been a teacher in one capacity or another--tutor, workshop leader, classroom instructor--for over twenty years now.  I have been a good teacher for maybe seven or eight years.  That's not false modesty--merely an honest assessment.  And I don't mean to give the impression that prior to, say, 2005 or so I posed a threat to the intellectual development of any students who had the misfortune to find themselves under my charge.  I do mean, however, that only after teaching for a good long time did I consider myself fully qualified to call myself a teacher; only then did I feel confident in my abilities to plan effective lessons and manage the day-to-day workings of a classroom environment.  Because, frankly, it takes some time to learn this stuff.

Now, charter schools have their share of supporters and detractors, but one sign of their questionable overall quality must surely be the fact--detailed in an article in The New York Times--that the average length of a charter-school teacher's tenure ranges from two to five years.  This means, as far as I'm concerned, that at the moment that a qualified (one hopes!) instructor is just beginning to grasp the ins and outs of the teaching profession--at that very moment, the teacher is preparing to move on.  What's even more disturbing is the fact that charter-school administrators tend to encourage such turnover:
“We have this highly motivated, highly driven work force who are now wondering, ‘O.K., I’ve got this, what’s the next thing?’ ” said Jennifer Hines, senior vice president of people and programs at YES Prep. “There is a certain comfort level that we have with people who are perhaps going to come into YES Prep and not stay forever.”
To begin with, Jennifer--and anyone else who shares her viewpoint--if your attitude towards "highly motivated" and "highly driven" teachers is that they are essentially replaceable, perhaps interchangeable parts, please do us all a favor and get out of the education business.  It is precisely such "highly driven" people you should be desperate to retain; it is just such people who should be teaching the next generation.  Moreover, when that two-year veteran teacher says to herself, "O.K., I've got this," the response should be, not to put too fine a point on it, "Bullshit!"

Of course, part of the reason a highly-motivated teacher may flee a charter school for the "next thing" after two brief years is the very nature of charter schools, which more often than not stress rote memorization over creativity:

Novice teachers receive constant feedback from principals and other campus administrators. . . .       
Observing two first-year math teachers, [Ms. Singleton, an administrator] noticed that both were reviewing place values with sixth graders. . . .And when one teacher exhorted her students to give themselves a celebratory chant, Ms. Singleton corrected the teacher’s instructions. 'I have to interrupt,' Ms. Singleton said. 'It’s two claps and then a sizzle.'
I have no idea what that even means, and I'm insulted on behalf of the teacher! 

People lament the state of public education, but the only true way to improve education is to improve teaching.  We can all debate what will or will not strengthen classroom teaching, but it's just common sense to note that de-professionalizing the profession--sending the message that teaching is not a career to aspire to but a temporary way-station en route to "the next thing"--will not improve anything.

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