Recruitment & Retention

Mass. Urban Teachers Being Groomed to Help Sway Policy

By Bess Keller — April 29, 2008 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Michelle LaMarca might well have been working in a traditional public school this year if the state of Massachusetts had been able to say her credentials could be processed in less than five months.

Neema Avashia has a teaching job much like the one Ms. LaMarca was seeking in Boston, but she is disturbed that many of the younger teachers at her school are weighing whether they will stay for the coming school year.

Ms. LaMarca, 28, and Ms. Avashia, 29, know firsthand that their profession is not living up to its potential. And they know, too, that the shortcomings are making it hard to keep talented Generations X and Y teachers in the classrooms where they are needed most.

As of December, the two women have been given a chance to do something about it.

They are among the first 16 Teaching Policy Fellows named by the Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy in Cambridge, Mass., a nonprofit organization that brings together educators and policymakers to improve public education in Massachusetts.

Under the center’s guidance, the fellows—all from urban schools in Boston and adjacent districts—are prepping for advocacy while they remain in the classroom. The eventual aim of their work is to promote ways to retain teachers like themselves, who have made it successfully through the first years of teaching but may not stay a lifetime.

“When I found out about the fellowship, I was instantly grabbed by the goals,” said Ms. LaMarca, who took a job teaching 8th grade English at the Excel Academy Charter School in Boston after learning that her license wouldn’t come through in time for a position in a district school. “Teacher retention is a huge issue, and something has to change.”

According to the center’s statistics, 47 percent of Boston teachers leave the district after three years or less in the classroom. The loss is expensive, both in terms of expertise walking out the school doors and the cost of replacements. In the 2004-05 school year, for example, the district spent $3.3 million on hiring and training teachers to take the places of early leavers, the center says.

In the last decade or so, with alarms sounding about the retirement of Baby Boom-generation teachers, recruitment and entry into the profession have significantly changed for the better, said Celine Coggins, who directs the center’s teaching-quality initiatives and leads the fellows’ program. Retention, though, “has been a tougher nut to crack.”

“Modernizing the teaching profession is not happening at a quick-enough pace,” said the 34-year-old Ms. Coggins, “and we are losing tons and tons of people for that reason.”

Network of Advocates

High-achieving teachers in the target range of two to nine years of experience leaped at the chance to influence policy through the fellows’ program, which is being underwritten by the Boston Foundation, a civic group, Ms. Coggins said. Five candidates applied for every one picked.

The final choices, who are paid just $1,200 for each of the two school years of the program, work in both traditional public and charter schools. About half entered the profession through either Teach For America, which places recent college graduates in struggling schools for two years, or the Boston Teacher Residency, which gives aspiring teachers hands-on training and a stipend in exchange for a commitment to teach in the district. By design, seven are teachers of color.

In monthly, four-hour seminars supplemented by online discussions, the fellows are exploring policy and research on topics such as teacher pay and evaluation, leadership roles for teachers, and teacher pensions. By next school year, they will move on to projects aimed at having an impact on public thinking and action in Massachusetts and in their districts.

Ms. LaMarca is helping flesh out a plan for coupling a cadre of experienced teachers with a skilled administrator to turn around low-performing schools. Ms. Avashia’s group is sketching “hybrid” jobs that would allow teachers to contribute in the classroom and beyond.

A big bonus for the teachers is becoming part of a network with like-minded peers.

Engaging in the big-picture conversation—that was really lacking for me until this year in this program."

“It’s nice to be having this conversation with other people who ‘get it,’ too,” said Ms. Avashia, who earned a master’s degree in education policy before beginning work as a social studies teacher at John W. McCormack Middle School in Boston. “Engaging in the big-picture conversation—that was really lacking for me until this year in this program.”

Betty Achinstein, a researcher at the New Teacher Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who studies teacher socialization, praised the project for its intent to create “agents of change” among early- to mid-career teachers. She also lauded a design that includes the built-in supports of a cohort and the Rennie Center, which already has standing among policymakers.

The researcher highlighted the tension, though, between the time and energy needed for effective advocacy and improved classroom practice. “They still need to develop their own practice,” she said. “They aren’t done there.”

She also advised an advanced step in the grooming of the advocates. “They’ll need mentoring or an apprenticeship,” she said.

Tom Carroll, the president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, said the Teaching Policy Fellows project is badly needed because the rate of attrition from the profession has been rising.

“This is a serious problem,” he said. “We need to listen to these young teachers and to what they are saying about why they leave.”

See Also

For advice from teacher leaders, go to Teacher Leaders Network

A version of this article appeared in the April 30, 2008 edition of Education Week as Mass. Urban Teachers Being Groomed to Help Sway Policy

Events

Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Personalized Learning Webinar
No Time to Waste: Individualized Instruction Will Drive Change
Targeted support and intervention can boost student achievement. Join us to explore tutoring’s role in accelerating the turnaround. 
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools
Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Social-Emotional Learning: Making It Meaningful
Join us for this event with educators and experts on the damage the pandemic did to academic and social and emotional well-being.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Recruitment & Retention Whitepaper
Elevate K-12 Will Fill Your 2nd Semester Teacher Vacancies
We provide information about the Elevate school experience, the Elevate team, classroom success, and key benefits of using Elevate k-12.
Content provided by Elevate K-12
Recruitment & Retention Foreign Language Teachers Are in Short Supply. How to Find, Attract, and Retain Them
Start with competitive pay and respect for their unique skills, an expert says.
4 min read
language blue
Getty
Recruitment & Retention Letter to the Editor Schools Are Choosing Money Over Experience. Educators Are Fed Up
A special education instructional aide shares her frustration with the lack of appreciation for and low pay of her position.
1 min read
Education Week opinion letters submissions
Gwen Keraval for Education Week
Recruitment & Retention Opinion How My District Overcame Our Dire Bus Driver Shortage
Now, the district is applying the lessons to support staff in classrooms and cafeterias, writes Superintendent Mervin B. Daugherty
Mervin B. Daugherty
5 min read
Photo of school bus with help wanted sign.
<b>F. Sheehan/Education Week and iStock/Getty</b>