Friday, October 18, 2013

Going the Distance

I just read an article about teacher turnover.  Latest statistics show that about 50% that go into the profession quit after 5 years.  Not too surprising especially given all the public perceptions and the low wages combined with the work load.  In my work with beginning teachers, I've research the attrition rate now and then and what I've found is no surprise.  The reality eventually overcomes the romantic notion that so many carry in their heads.  Add to that the ongoing corporate attack for privatization, the testing frenzy, and how those interests interpret test scores, the general lack of respect for authority figures, and there you have it.

There are those, on the contrary, who will stay no matter how difficult the conditions or how low the pay.  For a change, I'd like to consider why they stay.  I suspect that many who qualify here feel the same as I do.  My full-time tenure lasted 33 years.  I had intended to take a break about the 10 year mark but that never happened.  In fact, there were times during those three decades that going to the classroom proved to be a lifesaver.  When personal tragedies and pitfalls come calling, I found my work with students helped me escape the difficulties with relationships, family, the inconsistencies of friendships, and the general irrationality of life as an adult.
Again, I can only speak for myself, but I'd like to offer some insight into the mystery of what it takes to go the distance in the classroom.
I have always been into my subject area.  Whether it be history, psychology, literature, writing, international affairs, or journalism, much of my free time, my reading, my chosen education has to do with those topics.  I believe that students can see that.  When a teacher loves his/her subject it shows.  It also motivates.
Another factor has to do with truly liking people.  Particularly young people.  Being around teen-agers, despite their developing brains, is a heady experience.  They may be innocent but they are not jaded.  They have energy and they are idealistic and they truly believe they can do the things they want to do.  And then there is the no small matter of colleagues.  Some of mine were my best friends, for years.  Even now, when I return to my former home I see them.  I seek them out.  That kind of learning community is key to what is wrong today.
Despite the current malaise, the profession and those who enter and exit continue to remain complex issues.  Perhaps if some of the decision making power about curriculum, working conditions, and compensation were left to those who have endured despite all the difficulties, so many would not flee the profession.  See, I'm still idealistic.

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