Paying Teachers to Play

One of the more indelible characters from my childhood was a bear of a woman we knew only as Mrs. Selby. Mrs. Selby existed in one place only, on the school playground. To my eight-year-old mind, she simply appeared on the blacktop, as if emerging from an underground lair at the sound of happy children. Mrs. Selby was tall and broad-shouldered. Although her spring attire must have differed, I can only recall her wearing a long maroon coat and black boots. I never saw her without sunglasses; they were as much a part of her as her scolding voice and shrill whistle. Large and dark, those glasses totally obscured her eyes and half her face. A turn of her head and half of the playground had the feeling that they were being watched like a bug under a microscope. She seemingly saw every infraction. My brother and his friends nicknamed those sunglasses “Selby Sensors.”

Mrs. Selby never ran. She strolled, wearing out a path of about 50 yards on the blacktop that divided the equipment from the elevated field where the more athletic boys played kickball and football. I played on that field and never was a game commenced without first naming a lookout, invariably a less popular boy whom we had allowed in our presence in return for the thankless but vital task of providing a warning should Mrs. Selby stray from her route and threaten to derail our obscenity-laced game of two-hand touch shove.

Like all villains, Mrs. Selby had minions. They were always girls, usually three or four of them, who, without friends of their own, mistook Mrs. Selby’s tolerance of their presence as something more than it was. They were her Crabbe and Goyle, willing to do anything, including rat out their classmates, to remain in her good favor. This retinue turned Mrs. Selby into an ant, giving her a compound eye that could scan the entire playground at once.

As a child, we feared Mrs. Selby. As a teacher, I’m wondering where the Mrs. Selbys of the world went.

I don’t remember anyone else monitoring the playgrounds of my youth. Certainly, I never saw any of the school’s teachers out there. Maybe they were lucky, but I think it’s more likely that my experience was typical. Teachers didn’t do recess duty back then, but I know of very schools where they don’t do it now. I’m not sure when the transition occurred, but I’ve been teaching for 19 years and I’ve had recess duty every year. Early in my career, it was one day a week. Then it became two. Eventually, we traded days and covered every other Friday. Now, an afternoon recess doesn’t go by when I’m not expected to share the playground with the kids.

It’s not the worst thing in the world. Breaks are important, and this short video by Daniel Pink shows that an outdoor recess might be just what a teacher needs to recharge. Recess can also give teachers a chance to connect with students we might not have had a chance to visit with in class. We have the opportunity to witness our students in a different environment. Many students who struggle in the classroom thrive on the playground. We can learn about their talents and interests. We can also meet students from other classrooms and build relationships with those who might be in our rooms in coming years. We can swing, shoot hoops, or impress nine-year-olds with prodigious punts of soccer balls (not that I would ever do such a thing).

There’s a lot to recommend about recess for teachers, and teachers should take the opportunity for a break when they need it.  But it doesn’t make sense for districts to require teachers to be on the playground. It’s dumb to pay teachers to play. Consider:

  • Teachers are the number one in-school factor for student achievement.
  • The job of a teacher is overwhelming. There is never enough time to do everything we must do, and certainly not enough time to do those things well.
  • Relative to other developed nations, the United States provides little paid planning time to its teachers.
  • It’s generally believed that more planning leads to better execution. For teachers, more planning means better lessons.
  • Teachers are expensive.
  • Watching kids play is unskilled labor that can be done by almost anyone (no offense, Mrs. Selby).

It just doesn’t make sense for school districts to require their teachers to stand around on a playground every day, especially when the solution is simple and cheap. That they do is yet another indication that schools care more about money than they do about achievement. If we agree that better-prepared teachers do a more effective job of teaching, then why are we forcing them to waste 15-30 minutes standing around? That’s time that would be used to plan more engaging lessons,  provide quicker feedback to students, and communicate more promptly with parents. It’s time that would allow teachers to recapture some of their after-school hours, which would help them detach each day and come to school more refreshed the following morning. It might even help lengthen their careers in the classroom.

It’s hard to imagine such a thing happening in other fields. No industry takes its most highly skilled employees and requires them to waste 20 minutes every day.

There is a simple way school districts can provide elementary and middle school teachers (and yes, middle school kids need recess, too) more time to do their jobs — which is something everyone in education recognizes as a need — and that is to find their own Mrs. Selbys.

If teachers want to use recess time as a break, then they should be allowed to do so. But districts ought to stop wasting their teachers’ most precious commodity. They should end mandatory recess duty for teachers.

5 Productivity Tips For Every Busy Teacher

Guest post by Emily Watts

Teaching is a demanding and at times downright exhausting job. It is certainly one of the most important occupations as teachers shape young minds and open them to the exciting world of knowledge, science, and arts. However, in order to stay inspired, energetic and avoid professional burnout, teachers have to maintain a healthy balance and stay productive. So in this article, I will share some useful techniques that will help teachers to stay active and keep enjoying their much-appreciated work.

Embrace your creativity

To escape the mundane routine in your teachings try to diversify your lesson plans and implement creative and interactive elements. Of course, the specifics of these novelties would depend on the subject you are teaching. But nevertheless, try using various video materials and creative assignments. Use worksheets from the Internet, implement homework based on popular culture materials like music and viral videos. Also, survey students to find what would be interesting to them. It is nice to find out what they actually want and get some useful tips for the improvement of the learning process and your personal productivity

Managing your work time

The key to productive work is managing your spare time. With all the homework and extracurricular activities, it is hard to take a break sometimes. But eventually, keeping your work life and rest time in balance is essential to increase productivity. Do not pressure yourself too much, for instance, if you need to do any kind of written assignment, use this essay writing service. The time spent on rest will serve to reboot your systems and allow to work with a fresh and enthusiastic feeling.

Expand your professional environment   

Who else will be able to give you the best advice but another fellow teacher? The network expansion is one of the main things you can do to achieve productivity improvement. Share your experiences and find out some new information from your colleagues. In addition, it is good to search for new sources of help from the Internet. There are numerous courses and podcasts dedicated solely to the art of teaching, and you will surely find a lot of practical tips and tricks there. Teaching is not only about counting on your own experience and resources; it is also very much about sharing and getting to know new ideas and techniques from other specialists. And the Internet made this sharing into a very convenient tool that you can use from your own house.

Use online tools   

With the development of Internet technologies, the arts and crafts assignments turned into a rather easy task. Search for the websites that offer you numerous printable materials for teaching, ideas for gaming that you can easily download, print, and assemble. Spice up the learning process with bright colors and smart riddles. There are numerous websites dedicated specifically to cater to this issue, you will have no trouble finding dozens of them. And trust us, they are able to boost teacher’s productivity significantly.

Use smartphones and gaming

While these things might be perceived as the bitter enemies of the modern education system, you can definitely win them over and use for the student’s benefit. There are numerous apps that are aimed at learning some particular topic; you can also find apps for creating customized flashcards and interactive tests. The new generation of learners are very accustomed to the digital world, so it might even be more productive and usual for them. You can even start playing some particular educational games; they are really thought after and usually produced by such giants as BBC, National Geographic, and other similar companies.

 

The main message we want to send about teaching in the contemporary reality and staying sane and productive is all about experiments and flexibility. Do not be afraid of using unconventional way to reach students, changing the discourse of the formal educational process. Use digital technologies that usually distract students for your own teaching purposes. Play around with creativity and make the process of learning fun and enjoyable not only for the schoolers but also for yourself.   

 

Tie Yourself To a Tree

Every year, I read the Shiloh series to my third graders. It’s the story of a boy and his dog. Marty Preston, an eleven-year-old living in rural West Virginia finds a mistreated beagle, discovers the owner is an abusive lout of a man named Judd Travers, and makes it his mission to make the dog his own. By the third book of the series, Shiloh belongs to Marty and Judd has made some steps toward becoming a better human being.

There’s a scene near the end of that third book that holds a valuable lesson for teachers.

The Preston parents have been called away, and the kids — Marty, his best friend, and his two younger sisters — have been left home. After receiving what turns out to be a prank phone call about a body floating down Middle Island Creek, the kids rush to the bridge to see for themselves. Disappointed by the truth, Marty turns to leave. His sister Dara Lynn has, however, climbed atop the bridge’s railing and is leaning out over the water, watching it rush beneath her, the rapids wild from a recent flood. As Marty yells at her to get down, she falls in.

Panic ensues. Neighbors arrive, alerted by the kids’ shouting. Dara Lynn manages to grab a tree branch and pull herself to the bank, but in all the hubbub Marty hadn’t noticed that Shiloh, the dog he worked so hard to rescue from his abusive owner, has jumped into the water to save his sister. Marty steps into the water to go after his dog but is pulled back by a neighbor. He watches as the current carries Shiloh farther away. The dog is just too small to save himself.

That’s when Judd Travers arrives in his pickup. From the book:

“You want to get yourself killed?” he calls, right angry. And then, “What’s the matter, Marty?” Sees Mr. Ellison comin’ up the road behind me, thinks he’s chasin’ me maybe. He gets out of the truck.

I’m gasping. Point to the creek. “Shiloh! He’s in the water and we can’t reach him!”

“Marty, that dog will have to get himself out!” Mrs. Ellison calls from far behind us. “Don’t you try to go after him now.”

But Judd crashes through the trees and brush, half sliding down the muddy bank, and I point to the head of my beagle back upstream, out there bobbing around in the current. Once, it looks like he goes under. Judd don’t say a word. He’s scramblin’ up the bank again and grabs that rope in his pickup. Hobbles down the road, fast as his two bum legs will carry him, goin’ even farther downstream, me and David at his heels. Then he ties one end of that rope to a tree at the edge of the water, the other end around his waist, taking his time to make a proper square knot, and I’m thinkin’, Don’t worry about knots, Judd — just go!

Judd pulls Shiloh from the water, redeeming himself in the process.

As teachers, we have students in our class who are like Shiloh. They’re in danger, struggling to stay afloat as the rushing waters carry them away. Like Marty, we instinctively want to help. We want to throw ourselves into the current and pull those students to shore.

So we do everything we can. We build relationships with these students, investing extra time and energy on those we know need us most. We keep in close contact with their parents. We encourage and cajole, inspire and counsel. Some of us go so far as to attend their after-school events, even their birthday parties. Recognizing their need, we might buy them snacks, or books we hope they’ll love, or backpacks full of the school supplies their parents can’t afford. We give our all to help those unable to help themselves from getting carried away by the floodwaters of their lives.

And we exhaust ourselves in the process. We put ourselves in danger. We make it more likely that we too will be carried away.

Had Marty rushed into the water to save his dog, it’s likely they would have both drowned.

Shiloh was saved only because Judd took a minute to tie himself to a tree.

That is what teachers should do. Tie yourself to a tree. Protect yourself first. You can’t be any good to your students — and that includes the ones who need you the most — if you’re exhausted and in danger of burning out.

As the start of the year approaches (or has already started), put yourself in the best position possible to help others. Do these five things:

Undercommit

The beginning of any year is a heady time and the enthusiasm can be intoxicating. It’s easy to rush in without thinking. Signing up for five committees might not seem like a terrible idea now, but you can be sure you’ll regret it in November. Start by not signing up for any and only join once you can gauge how demanding your teaching job is going to be. Most committee work doesn’t make much of an impact on your students, and your main job is to impact your students.

Read more: Do Not Join That Unpaid Committee

Make a Plan

Decide now when you will commit extra hours to the job and stick to it right out of the gate. If you’re coming in an hour early, don’t also stay an hour late. Draw some lines in the sand for yourself and don’t cross them. Build in time now to detach. Pick at least one weekend day when you will nothing related to your job.

Read More: Make a Plan

Say No Early

Saying yes is habit-forming. The more you agree to take on extra work, the more likely you’ll be asked again in the future and the harder it will be for you to say no. Humans are remarkably consistent and salespeople regularly take advantage of it. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of the “yes ladder” sales technique, then you know how hard it can be to say no after you’ve said yes to five other questions. At the earliest opportunity, say no to your boss. Your future self will thank you.

Related: Why Teachers Should Object

Focus On What Matters

Your job is to teach the kids in front of you to the best of your ability. There are 100 things you can do as a teacher that have very little to do with student learning. The hour you spent on that pretty bulletin board just so parents would be impressed (maybe) for six seconds at open house could have been spent in better ways. Same goes for a number of tasks that could be done by students. Don’t peel the cellophane off 25 workbooks, neatly write student numbers on the covers with a Sharpie, and place the books into student desks when students of any age can do those things themselves. Think hard about how you use your time and save it for the things that matter the most.

Read more: Slash Your To-Do List

Learn

I write about all the above and much more in my books Exhausted (which will explain why you’re so tired after teaching and will offer the solutions you want) and Leave School At School (which could also be called “Optimizing Your Teaching”). I’d also recommend Dan Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness, which will help you understand why you keep doing things that you later regret, Greg McKeown’s Essentialism, which will get you thinking hard about what you’re focusing on and how you’re using your time, and Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, which will help you decide what to care about (and it’s funny).

 

Wanting to help others is noble. No one can question Marty’s intent to rush into the water to save his dog. But good intentions can lead to horrible outcomes if we don’t think through the likely consequences. You aren’t much use to someone who’s drowning if you are drowning right next to them. Protect yourself first. Time yourself to a tree.

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When Teachers Should Work For Free

Regular readers of this blog know that I believe professionals should be paid for their work. I believe it even more strongly for teachers because unlike their counterparts in business, teachers will never earn a promotion or a pay raise based on their willingness to donate their labor. While others may put in 60 hours of work each week, many of them do so with the belief that they will personally benefit from such a sacrifice at a later date. That’s why I bristle when people who aren’t teachers make the argument that everybody puts in extra hours, so teachers should quit whining. Teachers’ extra hours are different because those hours are almost always given selflessly, which is why asking teachers to donate them is exploitative.

That said, there are times when teachers should be willing to work for free.  Here are four.

To Set Up Their Classrooms

Let me be clear. Teachers should be paid to set up their classrooms. They aren’t doing it for fun, they’re doing it because their work, which is done on behalf of the school district, requires that it be done. The logistics are tricky for the district, though. Should teachers who spend 20 hours Pinterizing their rooms be paid more than minimalists who only spend 3? Might not some teachers, those without kids or who dislike their spouses, perhaps,  just spend eight hours a day for an entire week, tinkering around in their rooms, so they can pile up the dough? It’s easy to see why districts don’t offer an hourly rate to teachers for this work.

Districts could, however, and should, offer a flat-rate. Respectful employers should negotiate a dollar amount to give every teacher, knowing that every teacher will be spending some time setting up their classrooms. They never will because they don’t have to and they know it. They know that no self-respecting teacher is going to show up at the school open house or the first day of class without having most things in place. District leaders also know that they will not be blamed if teachers do exactly that and say, “Well, the district won’t pay me to come in, so I don’t.” That makes the teacher look bad, not the district. If it makes you look bad in front of kids and parents, you will work for free, and so you will continue to do so. It isn’t ideal, but it’s understandable, and there’s probably no fixing this particular practice.

To Make Your Job Easier

As much as I wish it were not true, there is no way to do this job without putting in some time outside of your contractual hours. Having done this for 18 years now, 15 of them at the same grade level and with the same district, I have a ton of advantages that many teachers don’t enjoy. I’m familiar with the curriculum. I have a library of lessons that can be counted on. I’ve found efficiencies through trial and error. I am able to leave school at school almost every night by focusing on what’s most important, constantly asking myself why I am doing what I am doing, utilizing technology, and taking practical steps like getting rid of homework and focusing on written feedback instead of grades in writing (I write about these strategies and others in my book, Leave School At School).

Even so, I still come in 45 minutes to an hour before school every day. There are just too many things to do. Not coming in early would add considerable stress and make the job all but impossible, which is why one of the dumbest things unions do when they are in the middle of contentious contract negotiations is tell their teachers to work to the contract. Teachers hate doing this because it makes their job even harder than it already is. Being unprepared makes everything more stressful.

Work for free when doing so makes your job easier.

To Have a Say

I have served on three interview teams and I wasn’t paid for any of them. These were full days, requiring me to drive 30 minutes each way without any reimbursement and listen to new teacher candidates earnestly share why they would be the best hire. This was time given to my district to help them select the best people to educate the kids in their community.

I have also served on a district committee to evaluate a new reading program, and I know a number of teachers who joined a team of fellow teachers, district leaders, and community members when the district went through restructuring. While all of this work was performed on behalf of their employer, it was all consequential to teachers. I want to have a say in who my colleagues will be, which reading program I’ll be forced to use, and how a transition to a new building will be handled.

Teachers should be willing to work for free to have a say in their work conditions.

To Personally Benefit

Money is not the only form of compensation. Teachers might choose to work for free if they personally benefit in other ways. If you are passionate about something, then working for free won’t bother you because you’re doing something you love and your “pay” is the joy you feel while doing it. I work with a teacher who is passionate about Make a Difference Day. Most years, she spends hours coming up with and implementing ideas to make this day special for the whole school.  She derives immense pleasure from it, more satisfaction than any amount of money would give her (well, maybe not any amount).

I am an unpaid member of the district’s technology team, but that doesn’t mean I’m working for free. First, I like technology and use it a lot in class. It’s made my teaching more efficient, relevant, and fun. So I benefit in those ways. Second, I like knowing and having some influence on what direction the district is heading in with respect to technology and I enjoy bringing staff concerns to the district. Third, I benefit because members of the tech team receive piloted devices and programs. I had one of the first Chromebooks in the district and I have one of a handful of SMART boards in my classroom. I’m being “paid” in other ways, so I’m willing to work for something other than money.

Be Careful

The danger comes when teachers see their entire job this way. When you claim that teaching is your passion, you’ll be willing to take on countless extra duties without pay. If teaching truly is your calling, you’ll feel no resentment over serving on every committee and attending every after-school event. Rather than exhaust and demoralize you, you’ll get a charge out of it.

The problem is this: While you may enjoy donating your time, many of your colleagues do not. And when enough teachers are willing to work for free, working for free becomes an expectation and those who don’t do it suffer unfair reputational harm.  No teacher should feel like they have to work for free. Years of selfless teachers giving away their time has led to a culture of exploitation. Districts don’t even think twice about asking teachers to work for nothing.

So be careful. Although your motives may be pure and you really want to do whatever it takes to help kids, the consequences of working for free can hurt your colleagues and it already has hurt the profession as a whole.

 

Related Articles:

Teachers’ Extra Hours Are Different

American Teachers Should Work Less

Dear Teachers, Please Go Home

 

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Firing Teachers Won’t Make Kids Smarter

If there’s one belief among education reformers that’s as stubbornly persistent as a two-year-old’s questions, it’s that if only schools would fire more teachers, kids would start getting better at reading and math. This enduring illusion seems so impervious to the contradictory evidence that one is forced to conclude that its adherents, for all their reasoned arguments, have more in common with religious zealots than sober academics.

In the course of  20 minutes of web surfing today, I ran across two articles that lazily suggest that the solution to our nation’s education problems is simply to fire more teachers.

Zachary Wright, in an article on Education Post called When Students Aren’t Proficient in Reading or Math, It Isn’t a Shame, It’s Violence, calls teachers a bunch of whiners:

“Teachers, I am one of you, and I say this with all the love, honor, and respect I can muster: Stop moaning about accountability standards…Stop griping about the unfairness of performance metrics. When a teacher speaks out against accountability, the truth is, at their core, whether they admit it or not, they care more about themselves than their students. Full stop.”

This is, and I say this with all the love, honor, and respect I can muster, idiotic thinking. Let’s be clear about what accountability standards are at least supposed to mean. They mean judging and then either punishing or rewarding (but usually punishing) teachers. In the wettest of reformers’ dreams, they mean firing a few hundred thousand teachers every year (I don’t have a source for that number but a few hundred thousand would represent about 10% of teachers, a number that the most passionate reformers would likely still find too low.)

Arguing that teachers shouldn’t complain when those accountability systems rely on unfair metrics is like arguing doctors should just shut up when the government decides to set up a system of rewards and punishments based on how healthy their patients are. It’s like telling dentists to zip their lips when people who know zilch about dentistry decide that some of them need to be fired because too many of their patients don’t brush their teeth. It’s like asking prison wardens to pipe down when the state decides to evaluate them based on recidivism rates. Submissively accepting such illogical systems means being okay with people who are good at their jobs potentially losing them. That’s dumb.

As far as teachers who speak out against such unjust systems being only concerned about themselves, wrong again. Everyone with a child in today’s education system should be concerned about accountability systems that are based on unfair metrics for the simple reason that they will result in good teachers being fired or driven from the profession. Teachers, more than anyone else, are aware of this, which is why they have an obligation to fight back against such systems. We are supposed to be there for our students, and our students deserve teachers who are evaluated fairly so that the public can have some assurance that the right people are doing the job.

People who argue for greater teacher accountability always seem to do so from a belief that not having a strong evaluation system means that schools will be saddled with bad teachers, but they rarely seem as concerned that unfair systems will misidentify good teachers as weak ones and force them out of the profession. With many good teachers leaving on their own, that’s not something we can afford. It may, in fact, represent a larger threat to student learning, given that teacher shortages make it challenging for schools to replace “bad” teachers with better ones.

A second article, also on Education Post but written by Brandon Dutcher and titled, “It’s Not Real School Accountability If No One Is Held Accountable” positively drips with reformer frustration. It’s actually kind of fun to read. Dutcher writes:

“Despite years of ‘high stakes’ student testing, very few of the nation’s 3.14 million public-school teachers have ever lost a job, had their pay reduced, or otherwise faced meaningful consequences because of these test results.”

You see, we’ve been trying this for a while now. Accountability systems aren’t new. They just failed. Even Bill Gates admits it. Still, the reason for that failure can be interpreted one of two ways: Either teacher accountability failed because it’s a stupid idea with very little chance of succeeding or it never really had a prayer in the first place because despite reformers spending billions of dollars to treat educators like guinea pigs and to buy off legislators so they would adopt tougher evaluation systems and dismantle pesky tenure protections, the damn school districts didn’t take advantage of their new authority. They just kept rating teachers highly anyway!

Now I’d argue that either way, the idea is a proven dud. If you can’t get the people with the authority to implement your fancy evaluation system the way you want it implemented, then that’s just a different form of failure. But it’s worth it to ask, what if it did succeed?

Dutcher writes:

“Here in Oklahoma, the majority of students lack proficiency in math, science, and English language arts. So how many schools have been closed? How many grown-ups have lost their jobs or had their pay reduced? Who’s being held accountable for the damage?”

One can almost hear him stomping his feet. Dutcher, and many like him, envision a world where schools, almost all of them in low-income communities, would be closed if students had crappy test scores. He wants the adults in those schools kicked to the curb. He wants those effers held accountable.

Okay. Then what?

Those kids are going to need new schools and those schools are going to need more teachers to teach those kids. Where does Dutcher think the schools will find them? Is Oklahoma, with its embarrassing teacher salaries and lack of job protections, holding scads of would-be-fabulous teachers in some type of strategic teacher reserve? Does Dutcher think such an accountability system would lure all those Oklahoma teachers who left for Texas back to the Sooner State?

No, but he does have a solution (prepare to be shocked, he wrote sarcastically):

“True accountability is accountability not to bureaucrats but rather to parents. Happily, we’re now seeing examples of this voting-with-their-feet accountability. The Oklahoman reported this year that “41 percent of students who attend a virtual charter school in Oklahoma left their previous school because they were victims of bullying.”

Virtual charter schools! The same virtual charter schools that, according to this Detroit News article, have been a “spectacular failure.”

“A study by the RAND Corp. and New York University released earlier this year showed that online-only schools tend to attract and harm our most vulnerable students. The study found that Ohio students with low test scores who attend cyber charter schools fell even further behind. High achieving students perform better, but still achieve lower results than they would have if they had enrolled in traditional schools.

In the “National Study of Online Charter Schools,” Stanford University found that cyber charter students received the equivalent of 180 fewer days of learning in math and 72 fewer days of instruction in reading than their peers in traditional schools.”

I wonder if Dutcher wants to hold the computers accountable.

The central problem with calling for a more punitive accountability system for teachers is that the job is already pretty damn unattractive in all of the places where that accountability system would bare its sharpest teeth. Click To TweetWhy would anyone teach in a district where it would be more likely they would be fired because of the test scores of their students, a metric over which they have only some influence?

Look, I wish it were as easy as reformers like to pretend it is, but teacher evaluation reform is this century’s Prohibition. It’s the cure that’s worse than the disease.

At the very least, a medicine ought to remedy the malady for which it was created, even if there are some nasty side-effects. But with teacher evaluation reform, America got a double-whammy. According to the Rand report, not only did students at schools within the Gates program’s purview not do any better than their peers at other schools in the same areas, but teacher accountability systems have wreaked havoc on the profession. Since accountability gained traction in 2009, teacher stress has increased, with 73% of teachers reporting that they are often under stress and 46% saying they experience high stress every day (the numbers are even higher for elementary teachers). In 2013, 55% of teachers reported low or very low morale and 69% said their morale had declined. (Source) Roughly 6 in 10 teachers in a 2017 survey said their mental health was “not good” for at least seven of the previous 30 days. (Source) Not surprisingly, we have teacher shortages in many of the very geographic areas where reformers would most like to see more teachers fired.

Those numbers can’t just be ignored. In schools where at least 75% of students qualify for free-and-reduced lunch, teacher turnover averages more than 22 percent annually. Recent data from the District of Columbia Public Schools reveal average teacher turnover rates of around 25 percent, but in those schools with free-and-reduced lunch rates higher than 80 percent, turnover was closer to 40 percent each year. In New York City middle schools, 66 percent of educators exit within their first five years. The typical Chicago public school loses over half of its teachers in their first five years. 

For those reformers who want more teachers working in these schools gone, you’re already getting your wish. They’re leaving on their own, in some cases because of the policy changes you wanted. To suggest that these teachers, the ones who knowingly (and largely altruistically) go into the most difficult schools and attempt to teach the hardest to reach kids, need to do so with the sword of Damocles resting precariously above their heads isn’t just stupid. It’s cruel.

And would-be teachers know it, as evidenced by teacher shortages not seen since the 1990s. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs declined by 35% from 2009, the year when the Gates accountability experiment started, to 2014. (Source)

Reformers’ plan to improve education only works if you can replace bad teachers with better ones. But the very system they would like to institute to make that happen is driving good teachers from the system and preventing young people from even signing up. If you’re going to propose a solution, that solution should have at least some chance at succeeding. But with a quarter-million teachers already leaving every year and not all of them being replaced, just where do reformers think they’re going to find people to teach our neediest kids?

Oh, that’s right. They’ll use computers.