A Solution for Curbing Teacher Turnover in Secondary Schools, Whilst Strengthening the Profession and Making Tenure More Defensible – Part I

On July 9, 2016, The Oklahoman published one of my letters to the editor, entitling it “A Proposal to Help New Teachers.” I’ve included additional research below to add more perspective to the issue of teacher turnover, and have broadened my proposed solution to touch upon tenure and the teaching profession at large.

Nearly half of all beginning teachers will leave their classrooms within five years, only to be replaced by another fresh-faced educator.

Teaching has become a fantastic career to go into…so long as your plan is to leave the profession within five years or less. Until very recently, most folks believed that upwards of 50% of teachers leave the profession within five years. However, according to a new longitudinal report by the National Center for Education Statistics, the rate of attrition is closer to 17%. The Washington Post’s Emma Brown explains how the real number could be somewhere in between, but regardless, teachers leave their profession at a rate that is staggeringly higher than that of others with professional degrees.

At a recent meeting of the Oklahoma City school board, members discussed with new superintendent, Aurora Lora, the national teacher shortage that has been especially felt by Oklahoma. According to the US Department of Education’s most recent report, Oklahoma has a dearth of teachers for Art, Early Childhood Education, Elementary Education, English, Family/Consumer Science, Foreign Languages, Mathematics, Music Physical Education/Health, Science, Social Studies, and Special Education.

As a third-year teacher, I see a problem in secondary schools that I think exacerbates the issue. Simply put, teachers with little or no experience are often given the most difficult assignments. It’s commonplace for new teachers to receive the dregs of an institution’s schedule. Rather than receiving one “plan” (meaning one course to prepare for), first-year teachers are often given three to four courses for which to prepare. That means inexperienced teachers must prepare three to four different tests each week, create three to four sets of PowerPoints each day, grade three to four homework assignments for 120-plus students, and set three to four learning goals for their differing courses. Conversely, some of the most experienced teachers are given one to two courses to prepare for, despite their accumulated knowledge and rapport.

 I propose that first-year teachers receive one teaching assignment for their first year in the classroom. If they do well, they should have the opportunity to add a second course during their second year of teaching. This policy would not violate the tenure rights 0f veteran teachers in any way, although some might become upset that seniority no longer factors into teachers’ schedules.

 

Disgruntlement aside, wouldn’t it make more sense to give the most experienced teachers the most challenging assignments? In my next post I will explore why this change might be a way to make tenure more effective for school districts, whilst building prestige for the teaching profession at large.

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