Recruitment & Retention Opinion

Helping Teachers Thrive in the Classroom

By Meenoo Rami — December 17, 2012 2 min read
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Meenoo Rami

When I started writing this, I was sitting in the main office at my school, the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. The table in our main office is where many interesting conversations happen because both staff and students “hang out” there in between classes. When my student Kilah saw that I was working on something, she asked about it. I told her that I was trying to write about ways we can keep great teachers in the classroom, and she immediately offered her point of view. Policymakers should “pay teachers fairly for the work they do, raise the profile of teachers in society, and provide support for their work,” she said.

I think policymakers need to listen to Kilah. The problem of teacher attrition is evident. According to The 2011 Metlife Survey of The American Teacher from 2011, “teacher job satisfaction has dropped 15 points since 2009, from 59% who were very satisfied to 44%.” In addition, nearly 30 percent of surveyed teachers said that they were likely to leave the profession. Something is clearly not right.

In addition to Kilah’s excellent points, I have some additional points for policymakers and school leaders need to consider:

Treat teachers as the curriculum experts. Teachers are the experts of their curriculum and should be the lead decision-makers of what is taught and how it is taught in their classrooms. Most teachers know their students well and understand their individual learning needs. They can match their lessons to their students’ authentic need to understand not only the word(s) but also the world around them. When teachers feel agency in their own work, they will be able to truly engage students. This engagement for both the teacher and students provides teachers with the energy to continue the work.

Treat teachers as part of a school’s leadership team. Teachers feel drained when they work against the current in their schools. If teachers do not agree with the core essence of their school’s instructional values, they will constantly feel a disconnect between their classroom culture and the school’s culture. This divide can tire teachers out and deplete them of the energy necessary to continue to thrive as instructors, coaches, and guides of their students. Teachers need not only to feel connected to the school’s leadership team but to know that their input is valued within this team.

Give teachers opportunities to take part in professional networks. What teachers do is hard enough, they shouldn’t do it alone. New and experienced teachers need to connect eoyj local and national communities to find support, encouragement, and feedback on their practice. Whether teachers join their local National Writing Project site, take part in a Twitter chat such as #engchat, or meet with a group of teacher-friends to examine student work—in each instance, they are drawing energy from their colleagues to rejuvenate their own teaching spirit. Both new and experienced teachers have valuable insights to share with each other. This sense of belonging to a community can also help teachers surmount the feelings of isolation and disconnect in our profession.

I look forward to your ideas about the ways we can help teachers to not only stay in the profession but also thrive.

Meenoo Rami, founder of the #engchat weekly Twitter chat for English teachers, teaches her students English at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.

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