Cultural Life

December 01, 2003 2 min read

A school’s professional culture is closely linked to teacher job satisfaction, experts on educational employment said in a live chat about teacher recruitment issues hosted by Education Week on the Web on Dec. 9, 2003.

The commentators stressed that new teachers should closely examine school climate, support programs, and staff relations when searching for positions.

The live chat—co-sponsored by Agent K-12, Education Week‘s new online job service—focused on the teacher employment market and what schools can do to attract and keep talented teachers. The expert guests for the discussion included: Richard Ingersoll, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania specializing in the teaching profession; Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers’ Association; and Victoria Van Cleef, vice president of The New Teacher Project, a non-profit group dedicated to helping districts and schools recruit, train, and retain the best teachers.

A central theme of the chat was the connection between school culture and teacher satisfaction. In response to a question on why so many teachers leave the field, Ingersoll said that a key factor “is how much control and influence teachers have over the key decisions that affect their daily jobs.” He suggested that teachers tend to thrive more in schools in which decisionmaking is “shared and collective” rather than top-down.

In later exchanges, Van Cleef stressed the importance of the “quality of school leadership and school climate” to teachers’ level of contentment. High-performing teachers need “strong leadership and collegial, professional faculty relations,” she said.

All three guests also emphasized the value of strong school mentorship or other support programs, particularly within a teacher’s first three years.

The guests advised teachers to investigate cultural factors when searching for positions. During interviews with administrators, Van Cleef said, teachers should ask about the school’s mentoring program and related opportunities to work with and learn from colleagues.

Added Ingersoll: “There are ‘bad schools’ that are often not great places to work. But, there are also many terrific places to work, run by able administrators. Look for these.”

The discussion also touched on what characteristics schools and administrators tend to associate with desirable, qualified teaching candidates. In addition to state qualifications, the guests highlighted content knowledge and experience with content-specific pedagogy.

Urbanski added several less tangible attributes, such as involvement with students’ parents and communities, high expectations for all students, and adjustment of teaching methods to suit student needs.

While several educators wrote in to express frustrations with aspects of the profession—particularly with conflicting certification requirements and burdensome paperwork duties—there were also signs of a growing interest in making teaching more attractive.

For example, an official from the San Jose mayor’s office chimed in to boast that the city offers now teachers $40,000 no-interest loans to help them buy homes.

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