Many of the Best Teachers Leave the Profession

Once again I find myself thinking about why teachers leave the profession.  This week I am in Waterville, Maine, attending an institute on Maine School Law. I am deeply impressed with the caliber of the teachers I am with, which is often the case when I spend time pursuing further training, especially during vacation periods, when such training is usually optional, and undertaken at the initiative of the teachers.

What saddens me is that this is a course required for those who intend to move out of the classroom and into the administration end of education. In other words, the very smart teachers I am with will soon not be teachers any longer. This is a shame, and it is a symptom of our nation’s education problem.

Many of our most ambitious educators leave the classroom – many in the early years of their careers – to become administrators. Why do they do this? For many it is because they are tired of the lack of prestige generally accorded their profession , exhausted by the demands on teachers, discouraged by the lack of support for teachers, frustrated at the poor management of their school districts, upset by the dismal conditions and poor pay provided teachers.

Marc Tucker, in the July 18 issue of Education Week, suggests how we can turn this situation around and keep more teachers in the profession for the long haul: The drivers are clear: create a first rate pool from which to select teachers by making teaching a very attractive professional career choice, provide future teachers the kind and quality of education and training we provide our high status professionals, provide teachers a workplace that looks a lot more like a professional practice than the old-style Ford factory, reward our teachers for engaging in the disciplined improvement of their practice for their entire professional careers, and provide the support and trust they will then deserve every step of the way.

We need top teachers to choose to stay in the profession until they eventually retire. Marc Tucker’s list of drivers provides a roadmap for accomplishing this goal. We should follow such roadmaps. We should not allow ourselves to be distracted by plans for change that will have a minimal impact on schools – the evaluation system for teachers being one such minimally effective plan that is now occupying an untoward amount of reformer attention. We need to focus in on the change that will produce results. Let’s get more top candidates to choose teaching and then let’s make sure they are so satisfied by their profession that they would never want to leave it behind. We can leave less meaningful reforms for later, once we have implemented the changes that will produce the most significant results.

Kathreen Harrison

About Kathreen Harrison

Kathreen Harrison is a public school teacher in Maine. She has a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. She has worked in a variety of schools in New York and Maine in a number of capacities – French teacher, gifted and talented teacher, elementary school teacher, and curriculum coordinator for island schools. She has lived in Maine for 20 years and has a particular interest in school reform.