Researchers continue to say that schools pump a lot of time and energy into beginning teachers through mentoring, training, and supporting them. Others indicate that such strenuous efforts on the part of school districts are monumental wastes of both time and money–as the most current data show 17% to 46% of beginning teachers abandon the profession within the first five years (Mader, 2016) anyway. What a paradox! If federal and state governments and school districts themselves are not investing in new teachers, what will compel them to stay? What do new teachers need to sustain professional careers in education? Valerie Strauss’s 2015 article Why So Many Teachers Leave–and How to Get Them to Stay, published by The Washington Post, cites training, professional respect, less paperwork, and a supporting environment as key considerations for reforming teacher induction. Mader (2016) urges foregoing “fraternity hazing” type teacher inaugurations, and Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, urges schools of education to set up conditions that paint realistic portraits of teachers.
Recently we were privy to conversations amongst a host of new high school teachers (those educators with three or less years of professional teaching experience). The discourse took place during the course of a PLC. If you’ve ever attended a Professional Learning Community (PLC), you know the acronym could possibly represent Probabilities for Losing Control as conversations can quickly take disastrous turns away from data to the downfalls of teaching. The following question was the turning point in this conversation: “Why do I have no time to grade during the day?” Veteran teachers have probably accepted the fact of not having time in the day as the norm, bundling stacks of tests, essays, and daily work to the car and carting the pile home for nighttime reading. These bewildered teachers, however, with freshly printed licenses, were dismayed by a seemingly endless workload that could not be completed within the instructional day. Needless to say, the probabilities for losing control (PLC) grew increasing high, and these initially licensed teachers revealed a litany of grievances that plague their days. The top three things new teachers say they need is (1) time, (2) time, and (3) time.
There simply isn’t enough time—particularly during planning periods–to get it all done. Teachers detailed how their time is spent, and though some of their complaints may be viewed by the larger world as petty normalities, it is the small leaks that sink ships. As Jerome E Jerome explicates in Getting on in the World, “It is in the petty details, not in the great results, that the interest of existence lies.” Here are the petty details which exist for beginning teachers and suck up their time during a single 90-minute planning period:
- Looking for a working or available copier
- Tracking down staff members, students, materials, resources, and/or information
- Cleaning their classrooms and organizing materials for the next class
- Contacting parents
- Returning emails
- Planning for multiple teaching preparations
- Receiving lengthy feedback from a multitude of support people
- Covering other teachers’ classes when no substitute is available
- Fulfilling lunch and hall duties
- Attending meetings
- Participating in PLCs
- Entertaining grand ideas from others who have no concept of time.
Administrators could possibly prevent premature burnout and increase teacher retention by protecting teachers’ time. Some ideas for preserving teacher time include
- Providing common planning periods that give new teachers significant time to plan with colleagues and mentors
- Protecting uninterrupted time during the day that extends teachers independent opportunities to work in their classroom, grade papers, run copies, and plan their work, etc., without racing to a number of meetings
- Refraining from piling an onslaught of extracurricular duties on their shoulders
These three suggestions are critical and, we understand, difficult to achieve, considering teachers are required to attend PLCs, meet with IEP, RTI, and other such teams. We know that beginning teachers are welcomed as regular , full-fledged staff members and expected to do their fair share, and most of these whippersnappers are often eager to assume additional responsibilities like coaching sports, acting as prom advisor, or sponsoring Beta Club. We know that the irate parents show up at the most unexpected times. Understandably, when there is no available substitute, teachers must have their colleagues’ backs and cover the classes of others. However, if the real work of schools is focused on engaging students in authentic tasks that propel kind of lifelong learning that leads to college and career readiness, teachers will need time to plan, prepare, and reflect on instructional practices. Teachers–not just those who are beginning–but in the interest of growing and retaining an experienced and veteran teaching force as well–all teachers need more time. #NCTeacherVoices
Mader, J. (2016). The first year of teacher can feel like a fraternity hazing. Does it have to be that way? The Hechinger Report.
Strauss, V. (2015). Why so many teachers leave–and how to get them to stay. The Washington Post.