Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Teachers eat their young

Teachers eat their young and education systems encourage them to do so.

Too often beginning teachers are assigned too many courses with too many students and provided too little support. As a first year teacher, I was assigned five language arts classes at three different grade levels. Each class had about 30 students which means I was responsible for teaching about 150 students every day. A teacher who is responsible for more than 100 students in a day isn't really teaching anymore -- they're doing crowd control. I also coached the junior boys volleyball team.

If teacher preparation colleges mentored and supported beginning teachers for their first year of teaching, beginning teachers would benefit from further support and the teacher colleges could remain relevant and connected with real classrooms and schools.

Local school boards, education departments, teachers' unions and teacher colleges need to collaborate in an effort to support and nurture beginning teachers.

Some people complain that we have a hard time getting rid of bad teachers. There's likely some truth to this, but it's a red herring. Getting rid of teachers is easy - we do a good job of ensuring that around half of all beginning teachers leave the teaching profession inside their first 5 years. Because there is a world-wide push to turn teachers into standardized testing technicians, it is likely that many of those who leave the teaching profession are very competent people who are unwilling to subject themselves to such soul killing drudgery.

Andy Hargreaves explains:
We know that one of the biggest impact factors on student learning achievement in the schools is the quality of teachers. However, at the moment we have too many demoralized teachers. The recent MetLife survey showed that there are clear levels of teacher dissatisfaction and that satisfaction is declining. We know that an inordinate amount of teachers are leaving teaching very, very early. The modal (most commonly occurring) number of years' experience in teaching, according to the National Staffing Survey is one. We have more teachers with one year of experience than with any number of years of experience, which is a new thing for American education. 
If we went into hospitals and the most commonly occurring number of years of experience for doctors and nurses was one there would be public outrage. Too many schools are looking for young, inexpensive and flexible teachers with little experience and keeping them for a few years and moving them on long before they have reached the peak of their performance. That's a wasted investment. 
We need to look at why teachers are not staying in the profession and one of the major reasons is too much testing. America is really the only country that tests all the children on almost everything, every year. It is the only country in the world that does this and it's not associated with high standards but it is associated with driving teachers out of the profession because their work is excessively prescribed, excessively standardized, constantly interfered with and lacking the judgment and discretion that all professions need.
If we focused on supporting teachers even half as much as we focus on sanctioning them, we might start to see some improvement.


  1. Call me a 2.5 year teacher!

    Student's work must be evaluated; call it testing or not. But I agree with you. Teaching needs to be an apprentice/master model. Still hasn't been surpassed in 6000 years. The apprenticeship should enable the teacher to master both the content and delivery.

    Public education in Canada is largely based on bankrupt philosophy. And the biggest problem with the 'system'... is that it's a system.

  2. I am convinced that most 'bad' teachers are really not bad; they are ineffective. If no one is supporting and helping them through the first years in the classroom, they don't know that they are ineffective and it becomes a permanent part of their teaching style. I know my first year felt like I was treading water, barely staying above the surface. Had it not been for the education department at my small university and two amazing veteran teachers, I would've walked away after that first year.