To the Editor:
Every professional journal I have read recently seems to have an article bemoaning the fact that many young teachers leave the profession after just a few years—and this at a time when many older teachers are retiring.
Enthusiastic young teachers complete undergraduate or graduate licensing programs and are hired by districts that gave teachers pink slips the previous spring, when they couldn’t create their annual budgets because they were waiting for state budget decisions. Now they must fill positions left by their previous staff members, who applied to other schools and districts, or, after being the “last hired, first fired” for several years, have given up and looked for work in professions that will not leave them constantly worrying about the future of their families.
Teaching has never been a highly paid profession, but now cash-strapped districts save money by offering expensive health-insurance programs with limited coverage. One district health plan covers well-child doctor visits only for teachers’ children under 6 years of age—a shortsighted plan, since teachers then must stay home to care for their sick kids (to say nothing of the goal of keeping children healthy).
New teachers need continuing support. Development in many districts consists of once-per-month meetings with a speaker and little time for discussion. New secondary teachers are often assigned several different subjects. New elementary teachers may be assigned the last class formed—usually the most difficult to teach. Other teachers will support them with ideas and materials, but if administrators aren’t also supportive, they feel frustrated and discouraged.
Recently, one district in my area announced that it would have to cut $1 million from its budget, another (larger) district said it would lose $1.5 million, and a third (small) district faced the prospect of cutting $4 million from its budget—including the salaries of 50 to 60 district employees.
We need a better method of financing our education system, so that it isn’t a victim of every economic downturn, and we need better monitoring of district spending as well. Otherwise, we will continue to lose teachers and the crisis will remain.
A version of this article appeared in the March 05, 2008 edition of Education Week as To Keep Young Teachers, Tend to School Budgets