Monday, August 22, 2005

Making movies, talking retention

I've been driving in to work the past few days to make an introductory/ propaganda film for our school. Rounded up some kids with not much to do and shot film of them walking into school in the appropriate uniform, walking into school without the uniform and being sent home, coming to school late and cleaning on Saturday detention, participating in sports, utilizing our reading program, etc. The plan is to edit and narrate in two languages and send out a welcome DVD instead of a welcome letter. The software is easy to use, but the principal and I kept running into problems with our District-provided laptops lacking the RAM necessary to run it without crashing as well as the passwords that prohibit us from downloading and installing new programs.

At one point the POY says, "Is this your last year?"

And he's thinking of turnover at the end of this year, 2005-2006. Half of last year's TFA crop will probably move on, some retirements are looming, and maybe some of those who feel they've paid their dues in one of "those" schools will seek greener pastors.

"Not unless something pretty unexpected happens," I said.

I have no interest in leaving. I say that as literally as possible. Unlike many of my TFA brethren, I do not feel the clarion call of Policy School, or Law School, or entering the world of KIPP and the other privatizers of public space. There's nothing calling me away.

And of course, that's a shitty reason to keep doing this job, but also, I really like it. I love talking teaching -- the real nuts and bolts part of it that deals with instructional strategies and systems and data. I think I'm just getting good at this -- it would be ridiculous to leave. I've done more planning and solidification of ideas in the last two weeks than I can remember doing in a long time. Hell, ever. I've remade and reworked dozens of homework assignments, rethought my long term grammar plans to fit the learning level of the kids I got coming in (7th graders who function like 3rd graders), created new grading and management strategies, actually wrote out what I'm doing the first week, and so forth.

And yeah, that puts in the minority among my peers. I'm reaching that point where people leave the profession and that's a continually referenced statistic, the one about how many teachers quit and leave after three years, or four years, or five years. Pundits and deep thinkers decry this grim reality and wring their hands, and I'm left wondering what the big deal is about. Who says those who quit were really any good to begin with? Thinking only of my former colleagues who left our school, or our District, or teaching in general -- they were terrible, awful, miserable people and the education community is better off without them. I miss not one. Now that's about as unscientific as it gets, but I've never seen any data that compares the effectiveness of the teachers who leave (and how do you rate that anyway?) with the general level of effectiveness of those who stay. This job is ridiculously hard, and not for everyone. Where is the comparison with other high-stress, long learning curve careers: medicine, law, military, stunt double?

Regardless, three realistic steps to improve teacher retention:

1) Pay us better. I make enough to support myself in one of the most expensive areas in the country. But only myself -- not a family. Divert some of the money that goes into subsidizing oil producers, high-tech naval armament research, and pork barrel bullshit our way.

2) Acknowledge the great ones. On paper, with salaries, across schools and Districts, the worst teacher is equal to the best. The most ineffective screamer on par with the great motivator. You don't see this condition, where effectiveness and achievement go largely unrewarded in any other sector. It's not just about money; it's about recognition. Maybe teachers need ranks and insignias, I don't know.

3) I don't know what else. This job is hard, part science, part art. If you aren't called, you're not going to stick around. And that's fine -- sell me some good insurance.

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Blogger EVY said...

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