Teacher attrition is a topic that’s constantly on my mind. The primary reason I maintain my website and write books is because I’m passionate about helping teachers overcome energy-draining setbacks and actually enjoy the profession. So, when I read this post, I was immediately intrigued by the book’s title and asked the representatives at Corwin Press for two copies: one for me and one for a blog reader. I rarely do that because there’s no guarantee the book will be any good, and I don’t want to give away something I wouldn’t recommend. However, I could tell from the online reviews that this book was going to be a worthwhile read…and I wasn’t disappointed.
Why Great Teachers Quit And How We Might Stop the Exodus is written by Katy Farber, a classroom teacher currently grappling with this subject on a daily basis. She interviewed dozens of teachers and includes their experiences as she explains the various issues faced in the classroom. I found it simultaneously comforting and distressing to know that teachers all across the country are dealing with the same problems. In nearly every quote from classroom teachers (and there are hundreds), I found myself nodding along and thinking, Yes! Thank you! Yes! That’s it, exactly! The problems described in this book will undoubtedly ring true.
Farber organizes the book into eight primary reasons why great teachers quit:
- Standardized Testing (including effects on students and the school climate)
- Working Conditions in Today’s Schools (i.e. violence and small problems that add up, like not being able to use the bathroom)
- Ever-Higher Expectations (including useless professional development on new mandates)
- Bureaucracy (committees, closed budgets, and scheduling constraints)
- Respect and Compensation (the martyr system and paying for supplies)
- Parents (unrealistic demands and no limits)
- Administrators (the pressure cooker of principalship)
- School Boards (uses and abuses of power)
There was one reason I expected to see and did not: there is no section on students. As much as I’d like to assert that children are the reason why we teach, they’re also frequently the reason why we quit. Is Farber pretending that “it’s all about the kids” and that our little darlings are never a source of stress? Nope. Instead, she accurately assesses the root problem: teachers quit over their powerlessness to place students in an appropriate academic setting and enforce appropriate consequences. These problems fall under the categories of Respect and Compensation and Working Conditions (as well as Parents, to an extent.) The underlying assumption is that it’s NOT the students, it’s the system that has given teachers too little power to meet the needs of the students and maintain order in the learning environment.
After explaining each overarching reason why teachers quit, Farber includes Recommendations for Teacher Leaders and Administrators (practical, proven suggestions), Words of Wisdom From Veteran Teachers (advice from teachers to teachers), Success Stories and/or a Silver Lining (which keep the problems from seeming hopeless) and Additional Resources you can read online and in print to address the issues of that section.
I wish this was required reading for school board members and legislators…parents would benefit, too. Often educators complain that no one really knows what’s it’s really like to be a teacher, and this book does an excellent job summarizing the main challenges of the job and the type of solutions that are needed. Katy Farber has written a powerful resource for everyone who cares about education. It’s my hope, as well as hers, that this book will make a difference in teacher retention and help great teachers maintain their efficacy and enthusiasm.
WIN A FREE COPY OF THIS BOOK! Simply leave a comment to this post that briefly shares your experience: why do you think great teachers quit, and/or what can be done to encourage them to stay in the classroom? On Sunday, March 20th, I’ll choose a comment randomly to win a free copy of the book, courtesy of Corwin Press.
3/20/11 Edited to add: CONTEST CLOSED.