The Sobering Spector of Teacher Turnover

Get ready for a downer everyone…Sarah Fine

After all of these amazing Teacher Blog posts, maybe it’s time for a serious reality check. Read through Sarah Fine’s recent Op-Ed from the Washington Post. Sarah is a Teacher at Cesar Chavez Capitol Hill School in Washington D.C. She’s also a Breakthrough Teacher Alumni with both Cambridge and San Francisco. She’s leaving the teaching profession after four years; the sad but true path of most highly talented young teachers. As main causes of her departure, she mentions bureaucracy, incredible student need and family support, increasing responsibilities without increasing pay, but most of all a societal lack of respect for teachers and teaching.

When people ask me about teaching, however, what they really seem to mean is that it’s unfathomable that anyone with real talent would want to stay in the classroom for long. Teaching is an admirable and, well, necessary profession, they say, but it’s not for the ambitious…Teaching is a grueling job, and without the kind of social recognition that accompanies professions such as medicine and law, it is even harder for ambitious young people like me to stick with it.

But high teacher turnover, in my millennial opinion, still matters, even with eager rookies waiting in the wings.

Having a base of teachers who teach for more than a token few years is critical to school reform. It helps principals and school leaders develop trusting relationships with teachers. It helps teachers collaborate with one another. Most of all, it helps students. A teacher with experience is not always a good teacher, but a good teacher is always better after a few years of experience. As my former principal not-so-subtly put it: “The kids don’t need one-year wonders. There is no such thing as a one-year wonder.”

While I challenge us all to stay close to the classroom, should we leave, we must all take part in the larger and still yet to be realized project to bring teaching and teachers the respect, admiration, compensation and celebration they deserve.


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