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C'est la Z

On Retaining Teachers

Back in February, I shared my thoughts on losing CS teachers to the tech industy. TL;DR - I don't think it will be a CS Ed problem.

That said, I do think that it will be hard to find good CS teachers but the reason is because it will get harder and harder to find good teachers in general.

There are plenty of reasons why it's harder to become a career teacher but I don't want to talk about those today. There are also plenty of powerful forces working to destroy public schools and teaching as a career but this post isn't about that either.

This post is my attempt to tell people what teachers are actually looking for. Some people assert that merit pay or similar "real world" incentives will keep good teachers teaching but teachers are a different breed.

Of course, I can't speak for all teachers but I can talk about myself and teachers I've known and worked with over the years.

I never thought I'd be a teacher, it was just something I tried when I was dissatisfied with Wall Street. I tried it, it stuck. I didn't feel at the time that teaching was my calling but somehow or other, I made a career of it.

To start, schools are not factories, companies, stores, or any other type of business. Teachers spend most of their days with students and little time with each other. Most of their time is allocated for them. A high school teacher in NY will likely teach 5 class of 34 kids each, have 1 period for lunch, 1 for preparation and 1 assigned to some school task. You probably won't see your supervisor much. Mostly at monthly meetings and when they observe you. Observations are ostensibly for teacher evaluation and improvement but the system is does neither well.

Teachers also don't have the same types of career paths as a other professionals do. If you want to remain a classroom teacher, there is no career path. You could become an assistant principal or principal but those opportunities take you away from the kids and from your subject area. They say teaching is a calling and for career classroom teachers it probably is. For those who spent a few years in a classroom and left for what they see as greener pastures, maybe not.

So instead teachers make a career by honing their craft, creating electives, working with clubs and teams, or doing something similar that doesn't remove them from the classroom.

In my case, I developed some electives and one thing led to another and I ended up where I am today.

The career situation of the teacher is why things like merit pay never work. As a teacher, I want, in fact need my colleagues to do well. I might have your kids next year and if you do a poor job I'll end up suffering with the results. Sure, I'd like to be recognized as one of the better teachers but it's not healthy for my students, my school, or my career if I'm pitted against my fellow teacher. We're all in this together.

Teachers do accept merit pay when it's forced on them though. As a friend of mine once said - it's like the teacher lottery - the way they assign the merit bonuses are based on those bogus state exams so the distribution is pretty random, one year I'll get it, another year someone else.

This is not to say that teachers couldn't use a higher salary but even then, teachers are not driven by the same motivations as business people. I don't know of any teacher who feels that they'd work harder for more pay or that they work any less hard if they're paid less.

Teachers work and fight for their kids because that's what we do. Right before I left Stuy for Hunter, the teachers and city agreed to a new contract. All of a sudden I got a pay raise. I can tell you that I was neither a better or worse of a teacher the day after the contract went into affect than the day before.

My mentor and friend Richard Rothenberg talked to me about the deal we make with society as teachers early in my career. He said, once you get a few years in and have some seniority you're pretty secure and you're only worry has to be teaching. We don't do great in the good times but we do OK. On the other hand, we still have jobs in the bad times although, again, we don't do great. We put in a lifetime of service knowing that we won't get any significant financial reward but at the end of the day between our contributions and the city/state's investments we'll get a pension and won't be out in the cold in our retirement.

The point is that those of us meant to be teachers were never looking for the fast track to the upper class. We work to make a difference and want society to enable us to make that difference. Teachers don't have to be paid like they are in "the real world" but they do need to put a roof over their heads, send their kids to college and have a vacation now and again.

It's not too much to ask but in this day and age it's apparently too much to give.

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