everyone else seems to be, so why not?
The first point, which I want to get out of the way quickly because it's so obvious
, is that if housing incentives are necessary to recruit new teachers, doesn't that kind of beg the question whether it wouldn't be easier to pay us enough to live on? Then again, a conversation with friends last night reminded me that no one
I know is paid enough to afford to live in NYC, and I'm not even doing the worst, by a long shot (though none of them have stayed in the same profession nearly as long as I have). New York has a serious problem with affordable housing that goes beyond any one profession. Ms. Dennis points out that even this new housing incentive is a drop in the bucket
. And the offer for the rest of us - mortgage counseling, preference in housing lotteries, etc. - might help but is not impressive, frankly.
I was a beneficiary of recruitment incentives - I got a nearly free master's degree (paid for with my Americorps stipend and by the DOE and Teachers' College) during a short time period when this was offered to TFA teachers willing to stay an extra year. I remember thinking at the time that they were making it too easy; they ought to have asked us for at least another two years, or maybe three to bring us to a five-year commitment. I completely understand people's issues with TFA and the Fellows, and share many of your concerns, but at the same time, some of us DO stay, and I don't think it does anyone any good to allow the existence of these programs to be divisive. The bottom line is that more than 40% of new teachers leave by the end of five years, and that includes a lot of teachers who entered the profession the traditional way. We're in a field that eats its young.
I'm not against recruitment incentives, per se. Teaching certainly wouldn't be the first profession offering lures to bright young things - I found it a bit rich that an ex-boyfriend, who worked in the financial industry and made three times what I did (at least), had his moving expenses and master's degree paid for, not to mention an on-site gym, subsidized Starbucks, etc., etc. But as nearly everyone pointed out in the comments, retention is the neglected side of the coin. Jonathan
asks, What would we want? Pay us more? Improve our working conditions? 4 classes instead of 5? Supplies? Reduced class size? Curricular control?This document from the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future
contains some interesting statistics about who stays, who leaves, and why. High poverty public schools have nearly 20% annual turnover, with slightly more than half of that teachers leaving the profession altogether (as opposed to changing schools). Contrast that with low poverty public schools, which have about 13% annual turnover, which is close to the average for all professions (11%). Teachers leaving high poverty schools cite working conditions, such as poor administrative support, as their reasons for leaving, while teachers leaving low poverty schools cite low salary and poor student motivation as their primary reasons for leaving. This suggests that a key to retention is improving working conditions. Specifically, poor administrative support, lack of faculty influence, classroom intrusions, and inadequate time are the top four reasons for leaving high poverty schools, followed closely by salary and student behavior problems.
So, if I were trying to improve retention in the city's schools, I'd start by looking more closely at these figures. Why not start by replicating this survey here in the city, to identify the specific factors driving people out of schools here? Does the DOE do exit interviews? Maybe they should, for a randomly-selected sample of those leaving. And maybe they should look for clusters of leavers and do more exit interviews within those clusters, to see if certain schools, regions, subject areas, grade levels, etc. are pushing people out faster than others. Gather data, then address the problems.
In her post about this, Ms. Dennis points out that the city neglects really basic improvements to physical plant, yet invests millions in recruitment.
The city is going to be paying about $1.5 million for this. But they can't fix the ghetto floor in my classroom (as my students call it)?
I'm with her on this one; I'll bet there are investments in improving working conditions that could directly benefit students while simultaneously improving retention. It's hard to explain to someone who works in a comfortable downtown office all day long, the subtle wearying effect of working in ugly, broken-down classrooms, always and unpredictably the wrong temperature, with unreliable access to internet and other technology, unreliable plumbing, cockroaches and mice, and so on... and this wearying effect is on both teachers and students, sending us a message of neglect. Spend a few days in schools where the atmosphere is always tense, voices raised, curses flying, and see what it does for your blood pressure and ability to sleep well at night, and your desire to return the next morning.
I've written before about the need to improve the middle levels of this bureaucracy, to find or create good principals and regional administrators who are smart and flexible, able to see and reward good instruction, able to empower good teachers to be better and to help others improve, able to balance standards and equity and caring... I won't beat a dead horse. Just look at those top concerns cited by teachers who leave, contrast the experiences of teachers like TMAO
(I can't find the post I'm thinking of) with those of Ms. Dennis
, and you'll see how much difference a good principal can make.
The UFT claims that this new incentive program came about in response to a concern that the state would force experienced teachers to involuntarily transfer to the hardest-to-staff schools. It makes me wonder, what would it take to convince experienced teachers to voluntarily
make this transfer, so that programs like the Teaching Fellows would not need to place their vulnerable new teachers in the lowest-performing schools, which might help improve retention?
I don't have a problem with being called to account for how I voted, though I don't see the logic in taking me to task for having a problem with something that wasn't part of the contract, because I should have sensed the poor intentions of my union leadership. If you think the union leadership is out to get you, that's all you're going to see, everywhere you look. I prefer - and I readily concede that I might be naive - to believe that our union leadership is legitimately trying to do well by us, although not always succeeding. For the record, I also believe that members of opposition parties legitimately believe that they have better strategies for getting us what we need. Let's debate policies and strategies rather than arguing about other people's intentions.