Why are teachers leaving? Concerns over school safety and consistent enforcement of discipline.

In its attempt to learn why teachers are leaving Georgia schools, is the state Department of Education asking the wrong questions?

Recently, the DOE asked Georgia teachers to respond to a survey hoping to better understand why 47 percent leave the profession within five years. (The survey is now closed.)

The DOE survey asked teachers to rank the reasons why teachers flee. The list of reasons included level of benefits/compensation, level of preparation when entering the profession, level of teacher participation in decisions related to profession, level/quality of ongoing support, resources and professional learning, non-teaching school responsibilities/duties, number and emphasis of mandated tests, school level/district level leadership and teacher evaluation method.

After reading the list here on the blog, education researcher Gary Henry sent me a note. A nationally recognized expert in teacher quality, Henry said the DOE list overlooks two key reasons teachers leave. “School safety and consistent enforcement of discipline are at the top of the list in our research and some previous research, but not included in the Georgia survey,” he wrote.

Henry, who evaluated the HOPE Scholarship and pre-k while on the faculty at Georgia State University, is a Patricia and Rodes Hart Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Education in the Department of Leadership, Policy and Organization, Peabody College at Vanderbilt University. He formerly held the Duncan MacRae ’09 and Rebecca Kyle MacRae Professorship of Public Policy in the Department of Public Policy and directed the Carolina Institute for Public Policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

His email prompted me to call him in Nashville to talk about his latest research examining turnover of teachers in some of the lowest achieving schools in Tennessee, the schools chosen for takeover by the Achievement School District. (The Tennessee ASD is one of the models for Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District proposal that goes before voters next year.)

Henry’s research identified five influential factors in teachers leaving — administrative support, discipline, school safety, class size and professional development.

Why are teachers leaving? You may be surprised at the top reasons.

Why are teachers leaving? You may be surprised at the top reasons.

“If I had to pick two or three, I would list administrative support of faculty and consistent enforcement of discipline and safety.  They appear to be non-negotiable and must-haves on the list to keep teachers. There are a lot more concerns about safety among teachers than we have acknowledged in the past,” Henry said.

So what does school safety mean exactly?

“I think it is setting a tone,” said Henry. “What appears in the school turnaround work that we have been doing is that community approaches – restorative justice programs — seem to make a difference.”

Schools that have improved safety recast school resource officers as part of the community, said Henry. “They are more integrated with students. They have them coming to football games and after-school activities. They promote relationships with students for the officers rather than kinds of policing functions. The whole school decides discipline is everybody’s issue and students have a voice in it, too, “

There are other small steps to promote an academic focus within these schools, said Henry, such as limiting announcements to once a day to minimize distractions during class.

The research on what influences teachers to quit is important, said Henry, because the tide of teachers leaving can be reversed by fixing what he describes as “malleable” factors — things that can be changed within the school building. “If we are talking about retaining existing teachers, we need to think inside the box,” he said.

Many people assume teachers flee because of school characteristics such as income levels or racial composition, but Henry said those factors are not as critical. As Henry and his co-authors write in their new study, “Dynamics of the Teacher Labor Market in the 21st Century: Theoretical Underpinnings and an Empirical Investigation”:

Generally, short-term unchangeable school characteristics such as income levels or racial composition are less important to teachers who have worked in high poverty and low achieving schools.  Also, structural conditions, such as salary and, to a lesser extent, performance-based pay are important to teachers.  Eligibility for tenure appears to be less important overall but is more important to experienced teachers than novice teachers.

The findings suggest that malleable school processes are likely to have the greatest influence on the decisions of teachers to move from one school to the other.  These processes include, starting with the most important, consistent administrative support, consistent enforcement of discipline, school safety, small class sizes, and availability of high quality PD.  On the bright side, these may be more directly under the control of school administrators and therefore, these findings could help these schools to attract a larger pool of teachers into high poverty, high minority schools.  However, without all of these processes in place, it seems that teachers who are willing to teach in high poverty, low achieving schools, such as in our study sample, are unlikely to choose to move to these schools.  If these are the list of five “must haves” to attract these teachers to move to these schools, the least important of the five appears to be availability of high quality PD.

Perhaps surprising in this analysis is the relatively low importance or pull of structural features or even more of school characteristics.  The responses of individuals when asked about preferred school characteristics might be biased by social desirability, but we are less concerned about this threat with this sample and the ACA survey design. Teachers who work at high poverty, minority, low achieving schools might feel pressure to select a preference for those school characteristic attributes but when the ACA software uses paired tradeoff comparisons the teachers showed less of a preference for any of the school attributes levels. The survey design forces teachers to go beyond their initial responses on the desirability of working in certain settings to ascertain the rank order of what is really important in school selection.

I asked Henry whether the teacher shortage is approaching a critical point. Absolutely, he said, citing the falling enrollment in teacher preparation programs.

Henry said states have not done a good job keeping teachers, citing Georgia’s reversal of the bonus promised to teachers who achieved National Board Certification. With current salary schedules, little incentive exists to enter the teaching profession and stay, he said.

The bonus was “really key, not only in reducing teacher turnover, but in keeping the best teachers. It is not that the process of board certification makes them better teachers,” said Henry, “but better teachers go through the process. I just don’t think we are very smart on the ways we are spending money on teachers.”

 

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69 comments
davenitup
davenitup

Part 4


We can stop the madness, but we have to work together and agree that we want a world where people work reasonably hard, produce reasonable results, and still have a happy and fulfilling life. Stop making it so hard for yourself and for others. You can steer a car by constantly making a bunch of small corrections or you can steer it with a very few gradual timely adjustments. Either way the car goes straight, but the first way is harder, makes everyone riding with you sick, and gives you a false sense of self-importance. Say no to coercion and yes to guidance.


If you can truly do it all - great teacher, great spouse, great parent, plenty of personal time and personally fulfilled then you are the bomb. There are some people that can do it all, but they are few. If you are the bomb and accept that others are not then you have some humility and would make a great leader (not boss - nobody wants a boss). The rest of us are struggling to find the right mix that makes sense for us individually. You can help me by recognizing that your agenda is not necessarily my agenda and I will do the same for you.

davenitup
davenitup

Part 3


Administration support is critical. One of the current county big wigs used to be principal at my wife's school. He was a terrible communicator with zero leadership skills, but loved metrics. The teachers had a terrible year with discipline problems. At the end of the year the principal proudly announced that the school had been recognized as the best in the county at reducing the number of disciplinary referrals. In pushing his staff to get the metric he wanted, the principal ignored how it undermined the entire disciplinary structure of the school - especially the authority of the teacher in the classroom. This is what happens when Jack Welch\No Child Left Behind style metrics are used instead of general common sense.


Metrics can be beneficial, but should usually only be used as a general guideline because they're so difficult to get right. Many times they're used improperly and the resultant actions have unintended consequences. Nowadays, people think no valid work is being done unless it's measured and analyzed. In fact, it seems the job of education now is to measure and analyze instead of actually providing the students the education they desire.


It's crushing to work 60 hours a week at a job that's not properly structured for you to succeed and then get constantly observed and graded by administrators that nitpick your every action so they can fulfill some metric guidelines set out by their bosses. It's demoralizing and dehumanizing to give so much and be made to feel so inadequate.

davenitup
davenitup

Part 2


Recently, some teachers went to an administrator to talk about what can be done about the relentless pace and they were told to "work harder". My wife was working on Sunday, as usual, to get ready for Monday and mentioned how we wouldn't want our kids teachers to be unprepared on a Monday. I told her, if it meant the teacher didn't have to work on the weekend, I would be fine if the teacher popped in a good movie like "October Sky" (like you could in the good old days), while she got her plans together. Most people don't care if their kids get "bell to bell" instruction. Most people don't care if their kids know the minutiae of a milestone test that was more than likely poorly prepared and certainly not prepared in cooperation with the classroom teacher. Most kids generally know what's expected of them and most are generally headed in the right direction. Most of us would rather have our kids and teachers be happy and personally fulfilled people doing a reasonably good job.


I tell my wife that there should be a grid that shows teacher workable hours. I guess it could be marked with 40 hours, but 32 would be even better (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2015/02/09/ceo-ryan-carson-works-a-four-day-work-week-heres-how/). Administrators can then allocate teacher working hours however they choose, but if they're putting teachers in the classroom for most of those hours there's not going to be any time for planning, grading, and all those BS meetings. Almost all meetings should be optional or the information documented for later consumption, allowing the person receiving the information to decide if they find it a valuable use of their time. Don't assume your agenda is more important than anyone else's. Most teachers are drowning. They don't care about all the education mumbo jumbo bantering back and forth. They're just trying to breathe. Grab a stack of papers and grade them if you want to help.

davenitup
davenitup

Part 1


My wife is a 25 year HS physics\chemistry teacher. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out why teaching is such a terrible job now and where it went wrong. There are so many reasons, but teachers are mostly unhappy because they're being worked to death and they feel the resulting product is worse than before all the madness started. The pace is relentless so that teachers feel like they're never doing an adequate job in any part of their life (work, marriage, parenting, etc). I would have added hobbies\personal interests, but there's no time for that.


It's not a sustainable system. Expecting teachers to be heroes like in the movies (Stand and Deliver, Mr Holland's Opus, Freedom Writers, etc) is wrong. Some may choose to rise to that level like in the movies, but like in the movies that usually means giving up your marriage\personal life. Expecting all teachers to do this is morally wrong and just plain bad management. Only a small percentage of the population are relentless overachievers, the bulk are not. The education system is huge and composed of teachers and students that are more like the general population than some selective college or Silicon Valley startup. Most people just want to live a comfortable life. They want to give a reasonable effort and feel like they're doing a reasonably good job, especially in the areas of their life that are most important to them like their career and their family. The educational system as it's currently structured makes that almost impossible.

MathTeacher123
MathTeacher123

 They ought to ask us why we choose to stay.  I guarantee you that the vast majority of current public school teachers choose to stay for a similar reason:  they are financially strapped (bills, mortgage, etc.) and can't switch to a different career because an education degree does not allow for such flexibility.  In addition, I've heard that a lot of physicians will tell you that there are two main professions that they prescribe blood pressure and anti-depression medications to - teachers and social workers.  So many people make decisions that directly impact teachers' lives and work, yet these decisions are detrimental in a plethora of ways.  I could not even begin to describe all of them!  There are only 24 hours in a day!  Jump through this hoop, try this out, quit doing that - this new way is the stairway to heaven!  It's inefficient and embarrassing.  Plus, "teacher bashing" has always been a public sport.  Who wants to work in a field where you go home feeling defeated, like you have no control over sooo many different aspects, and like you are never good enough?  I don't think teachers will ever be made to feel good enough.  We can never do enough.  It's absurd.  And only an idiot would not see the morale of teachers going drastically south.  It's sad, it is disheartening, and many teachers who really enjoy our nation's youth and might be awesome influences on them are leaving the field to stay at home with their own kids as soon as they can (if financially able).  It's just a terrible and discouraging situation.

jerryeads
jerryeads

Ah, should have read a few earlier responses. Jmand, what I did was collect the survey and then, using the state's annual staffing report, match what teachers said with who actually moved schools or left over the next five years. Very telling.

jerryeads
jerryeads

Glad to see Gary still doing well - I trust Vandy was a good move for him from UNC-CH. His data seem to closely match my survey of about 20,000 teachers across Georgia a few years back. My data suggest that the #1 reason teachers get out is, to put it bluntly, lousy leadership. That includes discipline support, but in general I'd interpret what teachers said as that they're treated like dirt. Witness that the governor's commission apparently had no teachers. In general, #'s 2 and 3 were paperwork and testing - primarily as those burdens takes so much in so many ways away from actual teaching. Hope you're having a great life, Gary!

Jmand65
Jmand65

It is not just that the right questions were not asked on the questionnaire, but they asked current employees - not the ones who actually left.

gg74
gg74

Discipline is not happening because most metro area school districts here and nationwide are under EEOC and Federal DOE mandates to get their numbers down.  At least one county in this area,maybe more,is currently losing millions of federal money for "disproportionality" of discipline infractions.  Translation - can't discipline students of color or receiving special services until the white kids' discipline catches up. This is all public information - just need to know who and how to ask.  Therefore, no need to blame any building administrators - they are merely pawns in a bigger game.

Common Man
Common Man

I am so sick of teachers complaining. They are no the only ones that work hard. Police officers, DFCS workers,juvenile probation officers etc all work just as hard as teachers do. You all know the salary before you take the job. I respect what you all do but don't come with that woe us me crap when the rest of us work just as hard. We do not get summers off. You are no more deserving of a raise than the rest of us.



AllyanaZiolko
AllyanaZiolko

We leave teaching because: 

1)Tthe amount of administrative paperwork overwhelms and leave a minimum amount of time for lesson planning; it's two jobs, not one. 2) Parents who turn their kids over to the schools to be RAISED rather than taught

3) Standardized testing,  

4) Having to raise money for school supplies or dip into our own pockets

5) Salary - which has always been the LAST  concern. 

6)The embarrassment of working for one of the lowest ranked school systems in the country is just plain frustrating. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

Discipline has always been number 1 in my "trinity". But no one wants to do the hard work to address it! Not PC!

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@class80olddog Actually, I don't think it would be hard.  Here it is: When you come in the doors of the school (or get on the bus) you are required to...  and you are required to refrain from.....


Then back it up with action!

class80olddog
class80olddog

No one backs it up with action. Though! Too scared of parents and students

BurntGrassroot
BurntGrassroot

Why didn't the survey ask teachers why they came to teaching? Does Georgia DOE have data on the number of teachers or percentage of those in the profession who are teaching to fulfill the conditions of loan forgiveness programs? When those conditions are satisfied, how many teachers stay in the profession? Why are voters allowing elected officials to continue to serve when their effectiveness is demonstrably poor?

BurntGrassroot
BurntGrassroot

@Wascatlady @BurntGrassroot Congratulations for your perseverance, and I regret that I wasn't clear. I was referring to some college student loan programs that encourage college graduates to teach for a certain number of years to forgive their loans. Here's a link that may help some:  https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation . I read recently that because much of federal loan programs are privatized, combat veterans were having to repay student loans while serving, in violation of federal law. So the link may not help you, but it's worth looking into. Cheers!

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@BurntGrassroot Let me know where  I can get some of that loan forgiveness!  I've been in a Title 1 school for 31 years!

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@BurntGrassroot @Wascatlady It would be about the toughest way to get a loan forgiven, other than selling your organs, unless you really love to teach, and get to experience actually getting to.

50Concept
50Concept

They need to raise salaries and benefits way up to keep top teachers in the profession, including bigger pensions! Teachers are tired of working for this chump change for clueless administrators.

irishmafia1457
irishmafia1457

The average teacher in Georgia makes $53,010 per year, which is 144% of the state average income. Teachers work on average 60 days less than the average worker making their salary equivalent to  around $61,000 a year. Yes they have to work after school and night/weekends, just like salesman,accountants, doctors, nurses, and almost anyone with a job.To hear the whining about pay is constantly annoying. Oh BTW I am a former teacher, and yes discipline is the reason I left. Much worse now than it was then.

p8
p8

@irishmafiahigs Another anti-teacher troll. And no, you weren't a teacher. Does anyone actually take this kind of propaganda seriously anymore?

dg417s
dg417s

@irishmafiahigs However, since the average teacher works 60 hours a week for 38 weeks (not counting professional development), they are working an average of 200 hours more a year than most American workers (2280 vs 2080). That works out to about $48,360 if we adjusted to 2080.

AprilMae
AprilMae

Dg417s, 2080 represents 52 40-hour weeks that you say "most Americans" work per year. I'm sure some full-time workers only do 40-hour weeks. Accountants work crazy year-end and tax season hours, hospital staffs work long hours (including weekends and holidays), retail workers... restaurant workers... plumbers... A whole lot of people working hard. Teachers do, too, but they hardly have exclusive bragging rights.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@AprilMae Do those you named, such as restaurant workers, or retail,or plumbers take their work home after hours to do it?  Do they sit on committees meeting during their "vacation" or have in-service during their"time off?"


No, teachers are not the only ones,but they do it off the clock, not by being paid by the hour.

Larry1234567890
Larry1234567890

Henry’s research identified five influential factors in teachers leaving — administrative support, discipline, school safety, class size and professional development. 


Anyone who thinks money doesnt have anything to do with teachers leaving is out of their mind. Three out of the five factors have to do with money and how its being spent at the state level. 


Take 8.5 billion dollars out of the equation since 2003 and see how far it takes you. School safety , reducing class sizes, and professional development cost money. 

Ralph-43
Ralph-43

Good article Maureen.  Why would the administrators leave discipline off of the questionnaire?  Maybe because this concern is a given and they do not want to deal with it? Georgia is confronted with a large number of students (mostly poor but some hyperprivileged) who have never been disciplined, have no respect for poorly paid teachers, and can tell that the teacher is both frightened and without any back-up.  The anti-cop movement is a spill-over from this observation that attempted authority is easily dismissed at school.  Clean this whole mess up and double the salaries.  We will finally see an educated class in Georgia that can move this state ahead.  Until then, it is 'Guns Everywhere', daily killings, distant corporate office distain, and silly local mumbled arguments over flag waving and rapid transit.

Carlos_Castillo
Carlos_Castillo

I'm told that teachers in at least one elementary school in Cobb are handed lesson plans with timed items.  During classes, administrators roam the halls checking to see if teachers are keeping to their schedules.  That the class is not understanding the material is no excuse. I don't know whether offending teachers have their knuckles rapped, but I suspect that may happen in some cases.


Who in their right mind would want to teach in this environment?   That's management from 1915.


Public school teaching is one of the few where the professionals are treated like dirt and the students as "customers" and complaining parents as demi-gods, no matter how off-the-wall their complaints.


I'm a public school grad, but I see fewer and fewer reasons for the public school to be around, today.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Carlos_Castillo Actually, in 1915 (my grandfather was a teacher), teachers were NOT micromanaged and were held in esteem in school and the community.  They taught what the students needed to know, that they did not yet know. And the teachers were allowed to punish wayward students (and parents were mortified that their child did not behave) and hold back those who did not or could not measure up.

jezel
jezel

Too many trouble makers in the classrooms....from the self serving politicians and administrators...to the uncooperative parents and unruly students.


If you want to improve education...let the teachers run the classroom and run the schools....everyone else...GET OUT OF THE WAY.

WardinConyers
WardinConyers

The main reason too many teachers are unhappy and that some leave is they are often abused by students and administrators.  Too many parents are clueless on how to prepare their children for school.  So the kids come to school and they do not know how to behave.  Who wants to have to deal with that for 180 odd days of the year?  

rbajc
rbajc

I noticed "pay" was not one of the top five reasons teachers leave, contrary to what our legislators want you to believe about teachers.  Having just retired after teaching in three states for 25 years, I've seen school going from a place where students have order and consistency in their lives to the exact opposite.  School boards and administrators cater to the politics of the day when it comes to discipline.  One area administrator's way to deal with minority students being suspended too much was not to allow teachers to turn in any office referrals...at all, no matter how bad the behavior.  Those in charge look for quick fixes instead of real solutions to problems.  Allow teachers to come up with a real fix, that works.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

@rbajc good observation, I am not a teacher but what you said makes perfect sense, without discipline, there is no learning environment 

Falcaints
Falcaints

I guess it depends on where you teach, but school safety is not an issue for me.

Travelfish
Travelfish

There are many more applicants for teaching positions than there are vacancies, and long waiting lists of qualified people in most subject areas. And anyone with kids in a suburban Atlanta school knows that teacher turnover is quite low.

Yet Get Schooled regularly seems to imply otherwise.

redweather
redweather

@Travelfish As of today (11/30) there are 99 teaching vacancies in the DeKalb County School System. Haven't checked the other systems in the metro area.

Travelfish
Travelfish

With 6,000 teachers and 14,000 full-time employees in the district, 99 vacancies doesn't surprise.

Jackalope
Jackalope

@dg417s You know, I've seen that sort of thing before.  Tell me something..what exactly makes someone "qualified" to teach 3rd grade reading?  Do you need a PHD?  Do you need a Masters?  Do you even need a college degree?

While I can certainly understand the need for higher level education when teaching complex subjects at the high school level, I really question if the standards we require for lower levels is necessary.  Just how much education is needed to teach basic reading and arithmetic skills?

dg417s
dg417s

Oh, there are applications, just not necessarily from qualified candidates.

SteveReynolds
SteveReynolds

@Jackalope @dg417s The fact that you have no clue is not surprising. Many of those not in the field of education probably think somewhat along those lines. The best way to find out is to visit a school and observe a class for a few hours. Talk to the teacher and get a sense of what is expected of he/she on a given day. Or you can Google several web sites on the typical day of an elementary teacher... 

For the record I'm not a teacher, so there is more to it than the following, I'm sure....


Between getting the class focused and ready to learn; making sure the myriad of detailed, technical district standards are met for each lesson (you couldn't grasp just those); that every student grasps the lesson which varies with their learning styles; throw in special needs student(s) and kids with behavior problems who are now part of the push for "inclusion" (yes you're pretty much stuck with kids who will interrupt class and take up a lot of your time working around their misbehavior or personality quirks that will carry on despite intervention); add the large amount of administrative paperwork, lesson plans, test grading, assessments, meetings, surly parents who don't parent, etc., etc.; throw in the occasional emotional upheaval over what another kid did to someone, another dealing with a bad home life, another has allergies that could kill them if exposed to peanuts and that's just for starters....oh yeah, here comes a fire drill and you have a child who has a panic attack when something on the wall has changed or someone wore something different much less a loud fire alarm going off.....have a nice day..... 

cullen7282
cullen7282

@Travelfish No, there is not.  The recession is over.  Districts are hiring and there are not enough teachers to cover the openings.  We are entering a teacher shortage that is going to get worse.  Haven't you read the articles about how few recent high school grads are enrolling in education programs?

cullen7282
cullen7282

@redweather No, there is not.  The recession is over.  Districts are hiring and there are not enough teachers to cover the openings.  We are entering a teacher shortage that is going to get worse.  Haven't you read the articles about how few recent high school grads are enrolling in education programs?