An Under-researched Reason for Teacher Attrition

6886478111_8bd0381e95By Nick McDaniels – Hey, education researchers! I’ve got a challenge for you. Prove to me that one of the main reasons teachers leave teaching is not because the company they work for is a terribly dysfunctional employer.

I’ve read about teacher attrition over the years because, as I see it, teacher attrition is one of the largest problems facing public education. However, I’ve seen very few, if any, solid pieces of research quantifying the effect of working for a dysfunctional employer as a reason for teacher attrition. I think the systemic, structural dysfunction of many school systems with high teacher attrition rates exacerbates or causes many of the oft-cited problems for teacher attrition. Many teachers, often more than half, who leave the profession, cite “workload” as a primary reason.

I am suggesting, however, that workload along with many other reasons teachers may leave, are amplified by general school system dysfunction as an employer, not as an implementer of large-scale education programming. There are things that schools systems with high attrition rates do that many people could not imagine other similarly-sized employers doing.

These systems fail to pay people, misapply or mis-implement benefits packages, inappropriately adjust retirement plans, fail to process certifications, and routinely violate federally guaranteed working protections. Just recently, in my school district, many people did not receive their first pay check of the year, others, including me, did not receive a cost of living adjustment that had been planned three years in advance, and still everyone is waiting on evaluations and commensurate pay raises from 2014-2015 to be processed. Not to mention that while all these problems were and are being sorted out, very few current, new, and pressing problems are being addressed.

And as I have seen and heard, many teachers are updating their resumes. It is everything else – the workload, the thankless nature of the job, the powerlessness against standardized testing and nationalized curriculum – that makes teachers leave. But it is also that large struggling school systems fail to provide the basic structures necessary for education workers to live their lives, let alone do their jobs. They fail to meet the needs of their workers and, as a result, they fail to meet the needs of their students.

Maybe my hypothesis is wrong, but until I see research proving me wrong, I’m going to keep calling it like I see it. And as I see it, people, including the most selfless teachers, eventually get fed up when they don’t have a pay check to cash.

Small Talk = Big Connections

chat-23713_640By Parker Lawson – As I have begun to familiarize myself with the people and places around me here at Marquette, I am constantly reminded of how happy I am that I chose to come here. I chose the most beautiful campus, in the middle of a great city, surrounded by some of the most genuine people I’ve ever met in my life.

Now that the awkward icebreaker games have come to an end, and the orientation madness has settled down, I am starting to develop true, genuine friendships. A Marquette alum once told me, “You have no idea the amount of wonderful people you are soon to interact with there.” You were so right, Mom!

I have already connected with amazing, beautiful people here. The Marquette community is different from any other I’ve ever been in, and although the majority of the people here are truly interesting, smart and kind, I have noticed that there are still some who are holding back. Understandably, it is still pretty early in the school year, adjustments are difficult, and meeting people isn’t everyone’s forte. But in my humble, extroverted opinion, there are still too many people I’ve run into both on campus and off, who simply make no effort.

Why are people so scared to talk to one another?

Now, I’m not asking you to spill your entire life story in our two-second elevator ride, but small talk seems to be SO uncomfortable for so many people. What in today’s society has made a simple, “Happy Tuesday! How’s your day going?” so miserable? I understand that I’m a little bubbly for a Tuesday 8 a.m. class, but there are so many people that seem like they have absolutely no desire to test the waters and eek out beyond their comfort zone, even just a little bit.

Whether it’s the technology that has destroyed us, or the fear of judgment, I wish people knew how important it is to reach out to people and TALK. A quick hello or simple compliment can mean SO much to someone who maybe hasn’t received that sense of compassion in weeks. As cliché as that may seem, rich relationships are just waiting to form, and although small talk might be a bit of an awkward risk in the moment, the payoff can be immeasurable and long lasting.

These little connections we make in our mini conversations can help us find our very best friends. Isn’t something that wonderful worth the risk?  There are so many people who are anxious to meet people like you, all you have to do is put yourself out there!

I challenge you to start small talk today and become genuinely interested in learning more about the people around you! You have the power to create the most beautiful connections, and today is the perfect day to do just that.

The Reciprocity for Success

US_states1970x1340By Bill Waychunas – My apologies in advance for being the bearer of bad news, but this post is directed towards the teachers-in-training who have big dreams of graduating and jet-setting across the country to find their dream teaching job. There are schools everywhere in the country, so you should be able to find a teaching position in New York, or Los Angeles, or Austin, or Seattle, right? Sadly, it’s not as easy as you would think because of the complicated and ever changing teacher certification process that is different in every state.

This summer, I wrapped up the final college coursework that I needed to obtain my Illinois teacher’s certification. It has been an arduous (and expensive) process that has spanned over a two year period. I’ve now ventured through the bureaucratic jungle that is the licensure process in three different states: Wisconsin, Nevada, and Illinois. Will I need to go through all the frustration and confusion again if I move to another state or when it comes time to renew my license? With interstate reciprocity, I am hopeful that the answer is no.

Getting licensed in Wisconsin was simple as my teacher prep program was a state approved program. The process wasn’t so simple in other states. How is it that the requirements to teach students is so different across different states? Can kids and schools in Milwaukee really be that different from those in Chicago or Las Vegas or New York?

With each new state I’ve been given an initial “provisional” license which includes a laundry list of tasks that must be completed within a given time frame, otherwise you don’t get the standard teaching license and with it, goes your employment. These requirements have ranged from submitting fingerprint cards, additional coursework, to taking standardized teacher tests which have frequently been redundant and less-than-helpful, not to mention expensive.

To date, I have taken three “Basic Skills” tests to show that I can read, write, and perform basic arithmetic. Each test was, at a minimum, $100 and required that I either take a day off of work or give up a significant portion of my weekend, which is no small-ask in the life of a teacher. Twice, I’ve taken social studies content tests and exams that determine foundational knowledge of teaching methods and theory. These tests are money and time wasted in a profession that is notorious for overworking and underpaying its employees.

In both Nevada and Illinois, I’ve had to take college courses in subject areas that I was currently teaching (government, geography, and reading). In total, I’ve had to take an additional 5 courses, costing over $4,000 in tuition, not to mention the mental and physical costs of completing coursework while teaching full-time, like the Friday night class I had to take at Chicago State University. I did learn some useful skills, methods, and information in these courses, but the costs certainly outweighed the benefits.

A standardized, national teacher’s certification would alleviate this problem. No, I’m not talking about “National Board Certification,” I’m talking about a teacher license that would be accepted in all states. It would give teachers the freedom to move and be employed wherever they would like, whether because there is an excellent school they’d like to be a part of, teacher shortages in a certain region, or simply because their significant other is taking a job outside of their current state. In a profession that is known for burnout and career-changes, why are we making it harder for teachers to do what they love where ever there is a need?

Sure, I know that “standardized” and “national” are taboo words in the world of education lately. Many states like to do their own thing, but in this case, they would be putting themselves and their students at a disadvantage because they are limiting their talent pool. We know that putting an effective teacher in every classroom is the most important variable in student achievement which we can control. This is why teacher recruiting is becoming more and more important. Any state that isn’t interested in reciprocity is severely limiting their candidate pools and hurting their chances of finding excellent teachers for their classrooms.

What is there to lose?

Creativity in the Classroom: What’s It Good For?

colored-pencils-374146_640By Amanda Szramik – In a previous post, I talked about standardized tests and the ways in which they can absolutely destroy a student’s view of education.

Ken Robinson discusses ways that schools fail to test, acknowledge, and nurture creativity. Robinson express, “My contingent is that creativity, now, is as important in education as literacy.” Although an incredibly bold statement, Robinson recognizes the ways in which education simply does not appreciate and/or foster a student’s creative outlets. Later on in the talk, Robinson explains, “Picasso once said this, he said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out of it.”

I think of myself being a pretty creative person. However, I don’t remember any of my creativeness coming from school. My mom would take me to Michael’s, and she would let me get paint, yarn, and anything to foster my creative self. She would let me decorate the cupcakes we made any way I wanted to.

It makes me sad to think that none of my creative tendencies came from school. I will say I was able to express my learning in one class in college for my writing center manifesto project. Other than that single class, I have never been able to express my knowledge in a creative, outside-of-the-textbook way.

Looking at my future classroom, I hope I can offer students different ways to express their knowledge about particular topics. While I know I will not be able to have my students draw a picture for every assessment, I hope to foster students’ creative spirits. I want to let students’ creative sides come out in their education because not all students have my mom to let them decorate cupcakes.

Third Friday: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

8966134244_14f5792f4a_bBy Shannon Bentley – Do you love basketball, kickball and jump rope with a hint of dancing? The students surely enjoyed themselves in one of these activities during the Third Friday event held at the middle school where I am spending my service year with City Year. Third Friday sounds like a festive event where students engage themselves in an activity of some sort during school. However, Third Friday is actually when schools have to count the number of students who attended school that day. The count determines how much funding the school will receive for the rest of the year. It is extremely important that students are present in school that day so that every students needs can be matched with the funding they receive.

On September 18th, my fellow corps members and I organized a field day for the students in all grade levels. The sixth grade students enjoyed the field to themselves, while the seventh and eighth graders shared the moment for the rest of the school day. It was awesome to see the students engaged in some form of activity after a tough three weeks of school. “Who knew school could be so fun?” A sixth grade female student stated after two energizing and competitive games of capture the flag.

The highlight of the day was when a sixth grade math teacher brought her speaker out on to the playground to create a dance. The dance livened the students who were not engaged in a sport/activity. A sixth grade history teacher and a few corps members, including myself, joined students in a round of dances such as “Watch Me Whip,” “Wobble,” “Cha-Cha Slide Casper Remix” and “Hit the Quan.” The dance on the playground was the best way to see the students have fun and relax outside of the educational setting.

Even though the students had a blast on Third Friday, the worst news was given to teachers a week after the event. Due to the absence of about 30 students, a sixth grade teacher was cut and more than 30 students were divided in to the remaining teachers’ homerooms. As the students were divided, class sizes increased from 20 students to a total of 35 students. I watched the class sizes increase, which made the classroom louder, more cramped, and more challenging to teach. The worst part about the situation is that teachers and students are affected by the change. However, teachers must adjust to the changes and help their students understand that they must adjust as well.

It is undeniable that it is not fair to the students to suffer through these budget cuts. Cuts should not happen based on attendance. Some students had forgotten to drop their enrollment, some had no transportation to school, and others were sick from constant weather changes. Another MPS middle school suffered worst by cutting five teachers after Third Friday.

At the end of the day, who knows how many other MPS schools were dramatically affected by the harsh realities of Third Friday? I am still happy to have been able to give the students a chance to see school as a place of fun outside of their work. However, it saddens me that there are still some issues in the world of education that are beyond anyone’s control.

The Summer Impact on Student Learning

picBy Nick Rocha – When we think about summers, we typically think about warm beaches, playing outdoors, attending summer camps or going to festivals. Our interactions and experiences during the summer months help to assist in the development of our views of the world around us. It is also a time where “summer melt” is the norm.

This is a popular phrase surrounding the transition from high school to the college level, but there is not a great deal of discussion surround the elementary and secondary levels of summer transition between grade levels. How might the summer months impact learning or the retention of previous material?

There is a significant body of research evidence that shows that students lose considerable ground academically over the summer break. Also known as the summer slide, a typical child loses a little more than 1 months’ worth of skill or knowledge in math, reading, and language arts combined during the summer break (Cooper 1996). The amount that is lost over the summer is impacted by the student’s grade level, skill or mastery in an academic subject, and their socioeconomic status.

Many social scientists and educators would argue that the accessibility of resources and cultural capital over the summer is drastically different between socioeconomic groups. According to research conducted by Alexander, Entwisle, and Olson, “The long term consequences of these income-based summer learning differences appear to be the primary cause of the widening achievement gaps that separate poor minority and white middle class students in the United States” (Borman 2012). Someone who is a part of the poor minority group may not have access to same activities and programs during the summer as compared to their middle class counterpart. In many cases low-income students fall behind their middle-income or higher income peers when the school months start back up.

So what can be done? Educators have advocated for more opportunities and activities over the summer for low-income students. Summer schools or alternative school calendars have seen significant growth in the recent years to encourage students to expand on their math, reading, and science learning. Libraries have developed summer reading programs for youth in their neighborhoods. In addition, there has also been an increase in free or reduced cost summer camp programs that encourage students to get involved with outdoor activities that they might otherwise not experience elsewhere.

Addressing achievement gaps between students over the summer months may be a strong weapon to provide educational equity in our school system and allow students of low-income backgrounds to not fall behind over the summer months.

Who Changed the Color of My Collar?

education-is-a-right-not-a-privilege-blue-unisex-teeBy Peggy Wuenstel –  I am entering the last two years of my career as a Wisconsin teacher.

I have already started culling the accumulated store of worksheet files, teacher resource books, and half-finished projects and blogs like this one. It is happening at a time when the Wisconsin legislature is also trying to dismantle my profession, reframing it as a non-profession, with greatly reduced or non-existent certification, degree requirements, salaries and benefits. In what they describe as an attempt to help rural districts meet licensure requirements, they sought to lower Wisconsin standards for teachers to the lowest in the country. If these lawmakers had done their homework, they would have discovered the multiple paths to teacher licensure that would allow these districts to help educators obtain licensure.

The core problem is not that licensure is too difficult to obtain, it is that living and teaching in these rural communities is not well compensated enough to draw the qualified applicants. Those who espouse the capitalist way know the answer; raise the wages and benefits and you will attract workers, teachers, and professionals. Eliminating a licensure requirement will not draw teachers to these jobs, but it could turn people who live in these communities who have never had a desire to teach into someone willing to stand in front of a classroom because they can earn a paycheck. It also means that the legislators in Madison feel that these children are not entitled to the same level of education that kids in the more populated areas receive. It is a sad state of affairs when leveling the playing field means reducing the level of education for everyone instead of helping those who need help to rise.

In so many ways, this seems to be the vision of those directing educational policy today. When studies indicate that voucher schools do not perform as well as public schools they do three things: reduce the standards for public school teachers so that they are at a similarly low level to the competition, divert badly needed operating funds from public to voucher schools, and silence the voices that do the studies, report the results, and propose ways to make schools better. They strip public employees of their rights to bargain and shine a light on working conditions, inequities and areas where change is needed. They propose eliminating tenure for university professors and then seek removal of professors whose research does not meet a political litmus test. They systematically tear down a system by defunding, defaming, and defrauding, and then claim that it is failing.

Despite what you may hear from outside the educational community, teacher expertise matters, and that doesn’t change because politicians don’t want educators to question, dispute, or talk about what is happening in government. People who need a paycheck and can be fired for speaking out will quiet their rhetoric to feed their families. The American form of government depends on an educated electorate. It begs the question of what current power brokers want when they strip the people with the least access to education of their right to vote, undermine the systems that educate them, and silence the most educated among us.

We have to see this as a broader assault, not on us as individuals, but on a system that guarantees an education to all. It is what has made our system unique, what makes comparisons to outcomes from other nations less than accurate. Equal access to education, for the poor, the differently able, the non-native speaker, changes the overall pool of results. It also changes our country. Schools, despite how much they may want to, cannot change a poor child into a middle class one.

They can turn a hungry child into a tot ready to learn because they had breakfast and lunch. They can move a teen from isolation to knowing someone who connects and cares. They can transform an apathetic seat-filler into a motivated learner. They can turn a child with no knowledge of English into a bilingual speaker and thinker.

We have to stop focusing on what we are not doing as a society and start focusing on what we can do. We have to stop making sure no one is getting something they don’t deserve and make it our mission to create a place where  everyone has what they need. We need to rewrite our concept of fairness into one that seeks to make sure we are able to respond when there is something missing that we can collectively heal, whether that be in natural disasters, new business start-ups, keeping the heat on, or the streets safe for children to play on.

We are never going to move forward if what we are working for is for people to keep a stranglehold on what they have, and for those who have the most to put their treasures away under lock and key so they don’t get shared with the world. When you hold on to things too tightly, like cut flowers or hamsters, you crush the life right out of them. We are doing that to teachers, to schools, to American society. These collars, whether they are blue, white, or chains, strangle us and keep us from being and doing what we can to contribute, succeed, and value what we have.

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