I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say it takes 7-10 years before one truly becomes a great teacher. So it comes as no surprise that schools with high turnover and a lack of stability struggle. It also comes as no surprise students with little consistency in life and school under achieve. However, during the last two decades, the narrative played out in the media has focused on poor teachers, bureaucratic issues, and the need for so-called competition.
The reality is, schools under perform because of poverty. My school district, Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky, is no different from most in the country. High poverty schools struggle while more affluent schools excel. I didn’t need my master’s degree to figure that one out.
Despite the elephant in the room, our lawmakers and school reformers have done much finger pointing, and at no one more than teachers. The solutions they’ve offered have fallen on their face time and time again, and the so-called success stories have more holes than Swiss cheese.
So where have we gone wrong? We’ve ignored the elephant in the room, while attacking the one group of people researchers say has the greatest impact on student achievement – teachers.
Most research indicates 46 percent of teachers will leave the classroom within five years at an estimated cost of $4 to $7 billion in teacher recruitment and training. This lack of stability wreaks havoc on school systems. When combined with state mandates that shove a new method, program, test, curriculum, and more down the throats of educators every two to three years, consistency becomes unattainable.
During my first six years of teaching, I taught in two of the lowest performing schools in Kentucky. We turned over our staff by at least 50 percent each year. I implemented four different reading programs, had four different principals, taught four different subject areas on three different grade levels, and despite all of this inconsistency, helped increase student test scores every year, including one year in which test scores in my subject area nearly doubled. Imagine what we could have accomplished without the state overseers constantly getting in our way or if the focus was on creating stability and consistency.
Instead of dumping the three-year-old trend for the newest trend, or the 10-year-old trend that has a new acronym and new packaging, we should focus on solidifying our schools and programs. Our leaders need to get out of the way and let educators do what they do best, educate. Schools need a consistent and stable corps of teachers, curriculum, and other resources to increase student achievement. Schools need to address the elephant in the room – poverty. Schools need wrap-around services and those who serve high-poverty youth need to become extensions of the community.
Teachers need 7-10 years to develop into great teachers. We need to offer them the support they need, the resources they need, and a reason to remain in the classroom. The billions saved from retaining teachers can be reinvested back into the classrooms and wrap-around programs.
Here are some ideas for your consideration: