- NC tracks and reports data through a yearly Teacher Attrition Report.
- Varied frustrations drive good teachers to leave the profession.
- State and local policy makers can take steps to retain good teachers.
By Rebecca Fagge – I’m reluctantly retired. I had planned to teach until my motorized scooter wouldn’t fit between the desks. I didn’t want to leave classroom teaching but I was drowning in data, meetings, and meaningless paperwork. I grew tired of ending many days feeling a mixture of suppressed rage and despair. One particular day’s challenges had been worse than usual. I attended a staff meeting first thing in the morning which lasted right up to the opening student bell; the staff was chided for not writing lesson plans with the mandated template nor submitting them a week in advance, with the reminder that these plans would be evaluated and scored. Later, a school aide showed up to take my class to lunch and recess while I hurried to a meeting with other teachers on my grade level to be led in a discussion of what we thought a particular curriculum standard meant; Once defined, we had to create a meaningless assessment we all agreed to give so that we could collect and share the data with each other —supposedly to support one another in becoming more proficient in teaching that same vague standard. After bus duty at the end of the day, I had another meeting: a committee appointed by the principal to discuss how we could make school more fun for our students. Frustrated with valuable time spent on such a useless endeavor, I thought, “Why can’t teachers be trusted to make day-to-day learning fun?”
With many of these frustrations in mind, I read the State of the Teaching Profession in North Carolina, or as it’s commonly known the teacher turnover report. The report was recently reviewed by the State Board of Education prior to submission to the General Assembly. As a retired teacher I was interested in the teacher comment section in the report which said, “Many teachers with tremendous impact on student achievement elect to leave employment” and “It is in the best interests of the state and LEAs to identify these teachers…and find ways to encourage them to remain employed…” These statements should make one question the reasons for the exodus of many accomplished teachers.
Unfortunately, the experience I described above is common to many in the teaching profession. Classroom teachers are overwhelmed with mandated meetings and data collection, most of which does not inform future teaching decisions. In an effort to force weaker teachers to reflect on their methods, many systems also require teachers to turn in and adhere to detailed lesson plans written sometimes weeks in advance of actual instruction. Such requirements hinder the ability of teachers to remain flexible to student instructional needs. How laborious is it? Kindergarten teachers spend time monitoring and documenting how students hold pencils; all grade levels are mandated to administer assessments that are often poorly constructed or developmentally inappropriate. If a child doesn’t perform well on some of these assessments, the teacher must develop a plan of intervention for that child based directly on cited research and tracked on a confusing digital template supplied by DPI. Often, time and resources are spent in this process that could better serve the few students who truly need them. Teachers are tired of the elevated focus on data. Teachers are not engaged in the mass production process. Children are not academic widgets. Ask any teacher and you will more than likely hear frustration with the real or perceived lack of respect for their professional judgment. Why aren’t the observations of an experienced teacher as valued as the research of an expert-du-jour?
So, what can we do to address these frustrations? The good thing is it doesn’t take significant resources or time to alleviate some of these frustrations. Three simple steps could help. First, we need to better monitor preservice programs in our UNC system to promote quality preparation of new teachers. Second, DPI should revise the certification process to allow for lateral entry teachers to staff high need subject areas like math, science and technology Lastly, on a local level, school systems need to give teachers a greater voice in how money is allocated and spent on instruction.
It has been said that teaching today is like being in a bad marriage; one only stays in it for the children. I have hope, though, that North Carolina policy makers can help make our teachers a recognizable professional force that propels personal academic growth and strengthens our communities.
Becky Fagge is a Civitas contributor and a former teacher with the Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools. She is now retired and lives with her husband, Larry, in High Point, North Carolina.