Today, with countless stories of teacher bashing, unreasonable mandates, and inequitable school funding it is not surprising that so many teachers are leaving the profession to maintain their sanity. There are great teachers nationwide that are passionate about what they do. They work very hard designing great lessons to make learning fun and engaging for their students, and they invest a lot of their own time and money to provide learning resources for their students. They do it because they are committed to helping all children learn, not because they are expected to. They have a clear vision for success and they do all they can to bring that vision to fruition despite all adversity. They are not deterred by all the noise surrounding them. These teachers are creative, innovative, and resourceful.
Recently, I read a post by one of those wonderful teachers who works at a Title I school in a big city. The teacher who posts anonymously on Love Teach blog indicates that she will be leaving the profession at the end of the school year with no more than five years in the system. The teacher lists many reasons for choosing to leave teaching, a profession that she has grown to love and succeed in. Most of the reasons revolve around lack of support from school and district administrators. About how the school blindly implements State mandates without discretion and consideration for the school culture and students served at the particular school.
After reading this post I felt disappointed and angry by the lack of compassion and support that can sometimes exist among education leaders. How can they let great teachers like this one teacher, who is probably representative of so many others out there, reach this point of distress where leaving the profession is the only way of getting back her life? The system has failed this teacher who, from what I gathered from the heart- touching post and from her strong online presence, is an influential educator who is continuing to make a difference in the lives of the children she teaches.
This teacher’s disheartening story made me think about the true role of educational leaders. A school leader, and in a bigger sense the district leader, is responsible for ultimately providing ongoing support for all teachers, especially the newer teachers that are in need of constant assurance and confidence building. They are responsible for providing new teachers with experienced mentors that can coach them and offer recommendations as needed. They are responsible for building teachers’ capacity as necessary by facilitating effective and targeted professional learning opportunities. School leaders are responsible for scheduling informal meetings with teachers on a regular basis to build trust and promote positive relationships among teachers. School leaders are ultimately responsible for ensuring the well-being of all teachers and staff. If teachers are hurting or stressed they cannot possibly provide the best instruction for their students. If the goal or mission of school leadership is student learning and achievement, then school and district leaders must ascertain that teachers, especially those new to the profession, are provided with ongoing support, adequate learning resources, sufficient supplies, the necessary technology to facilitate teaching, service providers to assist struggling learners, and above all respect for their time and their expertise.
Think for a moment how rewarding it would be if school leaders treated teachers as partners rather than subordinates… If school leaders included teachers in decisions impacting student learning and growth. How wonderful would it be if all school leaders took time to reflect about how they can solemnly materialize the written school mission? If we truly want to achieve success and excellence for all members of the school community, what do we have to do? What does success look like for our teachers and students? How do school leaders ensure commitment to the school mission?
School leaders must reflect about these critical questions. They must be willing to collaborate and partner with teachers rather than act as the authoritative figure. They must understand that teachers are the most influential people when it comes to student learning and growth. If we keep losing great teachers, where would we be…? It is time to support and empower teachers and help them remain in the profession, not abandon ship!