Losing good educators

The New York State School boards recently published a report on how New York State can address the teaching shortage that people have become fearful about lately. SUNY and NYSED held a summit with the Chancellor and the Chancellor discussing ways to improve the teacher pipeline. NYSUT, the teachers union representing teachers is surveying the field on what to do to improve teacher pipelines. Schools, both SUNY and private are reporting a precipitous decline in teacher ed applications.

I have a better thought: Why are we ignoring candidates on the market? When I was in high school, we had a substitute teacher who was always there, year after year. Granted, my school was suburban, and wealthy. An easy place to teach once you entered. One day I asked him (as a senior would) why keep subbing. He told me that the school administration and all the career centers at the college recommended that it was in his best interest to substitute teach.  Fast forward when I became an administrator and today. Now, administrators in some places won’t hire good substitute teachers because they are so hard to find.  In some places, the schools won’t hire substitutes after a year or two because, and I heard this from an administrator with a masters degree and an additional certification, that “something must be wrong with them. If they were good, they would have gotten hired already.”

Let us dwell on that for a second- in teaching, we have a goldilocks problem- We want our teacher candidates young, but experienced. We want teachers who have done stuff- but not too much stuff. We want teachers to prove their worth by subbing- but we want to have our options open. In a relationship this would be abusive!

There is something so seriously wrong with a system when some of the best, most dedicated people I know about are kicked to the curb because they “don’t fit the culture of a building.” Are you kidding me!?! What if the culture is wrong and the person is the fix. One of my jobs at State Ed was going into failing schools. They were failing because people did not do their jobs- and yet good teachers were tossed to the side because of a seniority bump, or an administrator screwed up paperwork. I have friends who have led professional development being told “you weren’t creative enough” in the classroom. Seriously? I had a friend of mine leave a tenure job to go work in a high needs district and they let him go because of budget cuts. Now he can’t find work in the classroom because “he has been out of the classroom for too long.” Wait- he was an administrator in classrooms every day! How could this be? I have another friend who was told “your teaching philosophy doesn’t fit our building.” She created interactive and hands on lessons that helped kids enjoy science. How does that deviate from a child centered philosophy?

I have had friends move out of teaching and into administration where the politics sweep them up and dump them on a trash heap. If you are an administrator in one of the lowest preforming schools in the State and you work every day for 12 hours to help make sure students get mandatory (aka by the law) required service, and provide professional coaching a supervision that makes a difference, how can you be told you were “ineffective?”

It angers me that we claim there is a teacher shortage, and yet so many people willing to serve as teachers are told they are not wanted. How can a guy who is an internationally known trainer be told “your teaching style was not right for our population” in math no less! We can’t find math teachers! We need math teachers. It not like my friend was a Ben Stein in the classroom!

For the first four years of a teacher and administrator’s career, they are on a probationary appointment.  This means the school- based upon one administrator’s say so can fire them. Usually the school will ask politely for a teacher to “resign” so they can be covered by health care through the summer, or get unemployment benefits. Its not an equal situation, and usually the teacher’s union, which will take 10% of your salary can’t do anything at all. If you are in an at will state like Florida, or any of the old confederacy (yes I did say that) you have NO rights what so ever. Your contract can be terminated for no reason what so ever for your career.  This makes no sense in a profession where it takes according to the New Teacher Project, and every research article I have seen, at least five to seven years to get good.

Lets face it folks- we have all the teachers we need. The system doesn’t allow for an effective distribution of labor, and the quality control sucks- too many bad teachers receive tenure and too many are let go because of some political or personality reason. I hate to day this- every single one of you probably knows someone who was let go and a dud that stayed.

In law there is a saying “I would rather let 10 guilty people go free than to jail 1 innocent person.” In Education we have reversed the idea that “We would rather let 10 good teachers go so that we don’t accidentally keep 1 bad teacher.” Except we do- and kids suffer.

As you are making decisions about a teacher at any point of the process, keep in mind this: “When in doubt, there is no doubt, get em out.” This phrase I heard in a supervision class. For some administrators, they won’t give a chance to someone who may need it. In the United States, we built our nation on the idea of going someplace to get a fresh start. In American schools, there is no fresh start. As I look for job postings for my unemployed friends, I see this phrase: “Please provide your latest evaluation scores.” What in Gods Good Green Earth? How can you have a second chance if the past continues to haunt you! In the HR classes and Leadership readings I do for my job, I see the idea that we must work to ensure the person is in the “right fit” and we “maximize human capitol.” I think education, in trying to be like business, has adopted the 1980s model of slash and burn, not the 2010s model of leadership and inspiration.

Casey Jakubowski is an internationally published author and speaker. His research includes teaching social studies, rural school policy and reality, as well as state policy implementation. You can follow Casey here, on this blog, or on Linkedin, or twitter:  @CaseyJ_edu

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