If you’re a teacher in a high-poverty school, and you’re fed up and thinking of leaving, you’re not alone.
While public school teachers leave the field at a rate of 12.4 percent per year, the rate for teachers in public schools with high concentrations of poor students is 15.2 percent. That’s according to Richard M. Ingersoll, associate professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, after an analysis of federal survey data on more than 50,000 teachers nationwide.
But a recent report by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future contends that the trend could be reversed if federal, state, and local policymakers worked to ensure that educators are well trained and supported. It’s not just low pay that pushes teachers out the door, the report says. Frustrations over poor working conditions often make the challenges of teaching insurmountable.
Enter the San Francisco-based nonprofit Resources for Indispensable Schools and Educators—RISE, a group that’s trying to slow the rate of teachers heading for the hills—or more likely the suburbs—or leaving the profession altogether.
“I’m a hypocrite, but for a good reason,” jokes Temp Keller, founder and president of RISE. Keller himself left teaching after only two years to found RISE. The organization— apparently unique in its approach—works to match high-quality teachers with supportive schools serving low- income communities, and then tries to ensure that they stay.
“No one is working on retention” in schools serving low-income communities, Keller says. “It’s like a swimming pool rapidly losing water. The answer is not dumping in more water, it’s fixing the leaks.” RISE identifies supportive schools through a painstaking application and vetting process.
Only experienced—and certified—teachers need apply to join the RISE network, which gets them access to financial discounts at places like Target and Marshall Fields, and to a database of jobs from RISE-approved schools. But certification is just the beginning of RISE’s stamp of approval. RISE also interviews and checks each applicant’s references, and requires evidence of a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom. There’s no charge to teachers. Keller estimates he currently has about 160 teachers in the pipeline for jobs in RISE schools.
But it’s not just teachers who have to apply to join. RISE also puts schools through a rigorous process before they’re offered the chance to pay $750 to become part of the RISE network. Before a school is accepted, RISE wants to know how well are teachers supported, and whether teachers are involved in decision-making. “We’re looking for schools and leaders that truly value people,” says Keller. RISE visits each school, talks with employees, and checks the school’s overall ambience, including such things as how clean the school grounds are. Once a school is accepted, it can post job openings, and search through the databank of RISE teachers. “We’re fixated on the fact that principals don’t have enough time. They recognize that access to pre-screened teachers is of great value,” Keller says. Teachers searching RISE’s database of job openings can have some confidence that these workplaces have been deemed supportive places to work.
The program is small but growing. Keller estimates that between 20-30 teachers have found matches through its network of 28 schools, most in the Bay area. RISE has just expanded to Los Angeles and Chicago, but Keller says, he’s dedicated to “growing right,” so is growing slowly.