Losing the best teachers impoverishes schools

By Kathreen Harrison | Jul 23, 2015

The effectiveness of schools rests on the shoulders of teachers, and when we lose the best teachers before retirement age, we diminish the experience of children.

I have been disheartened recently to run into two outstanding teachers who resigned their positions quite a few years before they reached retirement age.

One of these teachers left her position a full year ago. When I crossed paths with her in a local store the other day, she looked happy and rested, as though she is thriving, which she says she is. She reports she resigned her position because for her the joy had gone out of teaching. She felt she had become a company slave in the last decade, working to fulfill mandates she did not believe in, forced to neglect teaching in favor of testing. The special projects she used to enjoy doing with her classes, and which she was much loved for, had become impossible to pull off -- there was simply no time left for them.

The second teacher, who resigned recently, looks bereft to me, as though she has lost a friend. Like a true educator, she loved what she did, and believed in its importance. She resigned because she could no longer bear the ever-increasing  burdens she was asked to shoulder. She not only felt overworked and overwhelmed, but she felt she could no longer spend the time with the children she needed in order to help them. Bureaucratic obligations had mounted in recent years to a level that made the work unmanageable.

School districts save money when they replace outgoing veteran teachers with younger, cheaper teachers. At a time of very tight school budgets, this seems like a boon. However, while younger teachers may be cheaper for the taxpayer in the short run, in the long run schools and children suffer when the expertise of veteran teachers is lost.

Most good teachers will tell you it takes many years to become a successful teacher. We impoverish our schools and neglect the education of our children when we fail to retain the most seasoned, talented, dedicated teachers -- allowing them to leave the profession while in their prime is the surest way to reduce student outcomes.

Local superintendents and administrators should protect their teachers from unreasonable and ineffective state and federal mandates. They should make sure the student load on teachers is manageable, the bureaucracy minimal and the interruptions from testing very occasional.  What could then follow is experienced teachers doing their best work, helping the students in their personal care, and also mentoring younger teachers. By far the most important job of school administrators is preparing the conditions that allow teachers to create successful schools.

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