Recruitment & Retention Opinion

To Keep Teachers, Avoid Constant School Change

By Jane Ching Fung — December 18, 2012 2 min read
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Jane Fung

Education policymakers are asking why so many good teachers leave the profession, but I think the more pressing question is why do so many good teachers leave the schools that serve students who most need the best teachers.

If you want to talk about teacher turnover, you’ve come to the right place. My urban public, school opened nine years ago with 28 excited and eager teachers on staff. Since that time, over 70 teachers have come and gone, and only three of us remain from the original staff. Some teachers left the profession altogether, others transferred to different schools or districts, and a few moved on to administrative roles. Hard-to- staff schools often have more newer educators, and since our district policy is last- ones-in, first-ones-out, they are also the schools that lose the most teachers when there are lay-offs.

I know these numbers may sound astronomical, but they are my reality and the reality of other schools similar to mine. I could focus on the fact that most of our students come from low socioeconomic backgrounds, speak a home language other than English, and have special needs, but I won’t. I don’t believe those factors influence how long teachers stay in the profession as much as where they end up teaching.

But here’s Along with teacher turnover, our school has had four different principals, a new assistant principal every year, seven district directors, and four district superintendents.

Change can be good, but constant change is not, and is often frustrating. It is easier to teach at a school where the staff is stable, procedures and policies are in place, and there’s a strong sense of community. It is more challenging to teach in a place where there are always new faces, rules change, and expectations vary.

I entered teaching 26 years ago to make a positive impact on the lives of students. Here are key factors that have kept me in the classroom:

• Working with an effective, fair, and respected instructional leader.

• Ongoing, meaningful collaboration with other great teachers.

• Opportunities to lead from within and beyond the classroom.

• Being compensated for going above and beyond the school day.

• Flexibility and the freedom to be creative in order to meet the needs of your students.

• A school environment that is respectful, fair, and safe.

• A culture of collaboration, with a focus on student learning.

• Feeling supported and valued for the job I am doing.

• Job security and school stability.

We lost 10 teachers last year alone and currently have two classrooms without permanent teachers assigned. If we don’t look for ways to create schools where teachers can thrive, feel validated, and be allowed to grow professionally, they will leave, and are leaving.

Jane Fung is a National Board-certified teacher in urban Los Angeles, where she currently teaches 1st grade. She serves on the board of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, and she is an active member of Accomplished California Teachers, Teachers Leaders Network, and Milken Educator Network.

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