Education Letter to the Editor

Are Students, Not NCLB, Behind New-Teacher Flight?

September 10, 2007 2 min read

To the Editor:

Jonathan Kozol’s latest screed, “Letters to a Young Teacher” (Commentary, Aug. 29, 2007), is a good example of why educational writers ought to actually spend some time teaching in a classroom today.

Mr. Kozol correctly identifies the problem: Novice teachers working in high-poverty urban schools leave the field at much higher rates than their contemporaries working in suburban schools. From that mundane observation, he then goes on to blame everyone but the real culprits: the students, families, and culture that devalue education.

Everyone’s favorite whipping boy, the No Child Left Behind Act, which is primarily the bad-news messenger, has, according to Mr. Kozol, cemented in place poor performance and teacher flight. The problem with that analysis is that it assumes there was a priori an Oz from which we have strayed.

Looking objectively at the different socioeconomic characteristics of the urban teachers’ charge vs. that of suburban teachers, it’s hard to understand how Mr. Kozol concludes that the problem lies with the assessment framework common to both.

Pursuing his dream will enable us to continue a quixotic quest and ensure theoreticians ammunition for many years to come as our nation’s city schools continue to turn out largely uneducated products.

Patrick Mattimore

San Francisco, Calif.

To the Editor:

Jonathan Kozol’s belief that allowing creativity in classrooms and getting rid of mechanistic mandates is the key to keeping young teachers in inner-city schools has a lot of merit. But he leaves out one of the main reasons new recruits leave: insurgent students.

These kids are totally out of teachers’ control and in effect make the school revolve around them. Beginning teachers devote most of their time and creativity to managing these students, who run around, talk, bully, steal, and vandalize whenever they choose to. Very often the administration responds by making the school the anti-Kozol type in an attempt to contain these kids. The truth is, however, that these kids are never contained, and the school becomes a monstrosity.

If Mr. Kozol and I were sitting in his living room and discussing how a school should be operated (I taught for 41 years in inner-city classrooms), and a child came into the room and started screaming and throwing things, we probably would have him removed and dealt with later. We have to do the same in our inner-city schools if we want to keep young teachers. When a new teacher goes home at the end of the school day, he or she should be thinking of how to reach each student, having the liberty to use techniques such as those Mr. Kozol advocates, and not about the kid who might throw an eraser when the teacher is working with another student.

Elliot Kotler

Ossining, N.Y.

A version of this article appeared in the September 12, 2007 edition of Education Week