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Why New Teachers Quit, The Sequel

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Bells will be ringing the sad, sad news once again this school year. Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools are expending roughly the same amount of energy and funding to fill classrooms as last year, but it's clear that teachers are still quitting.It's also clear that community apathy isn't the problem, especially judging from readers' passionate reactions to last year's CL cover story, "Why New Teachers Quit." Radio shows picked up the story of teacher attrition, a South Carolina senator and superintendent requested copies, and many readers were still sending in letters six weeks after the story ran.

If there's an apathy problem, it's at CMS. Out of a list of recommendations from actual teachers -- made in an attempt to help CMS retain quality teachers, and featured in last year's story -- exactly none were acted upon by the school system. One has to conclude that Dr. Pughsley and his staff aren't interested in input from the real kids in the hall -- the new teachers themselves.

Much has been made of the 2002-2003 Annual Teacher Turnover Report issued by the NC State Board of Education, which noted that the CMS teacher turnover rate dropped from 19.31 percent in 2001-02 to 16.73 percent in 02-03; Pughsley has achieved the lowest turnover percentage CMS has seen in five years.

But with a 15.95 percent turnover rate reported for last school year, Pughsley is far from achieving his goal of 10 percent turnover by the end of this new school year. Even so, it remains to be seen whether he or his staff will listen to the folks in the trenches -- the teachers. Until then, more reductions in turnover could be hard to come by.

When asked which initiatives were effective in lowering the attrition rate for 2002-2003, CMS Public Information Officer Jerry Haigler told us, "A number of programs and initiatives have had a tremendous impact on teacher turnover. Our HR department has developed a project charter that specifically addresses recruitment and retention of teachers. Efforts such as mentors (full-time) for new teachers, lateral entry teacher camp which provides specific attention and support for lateral entry teachers, incentives to attract teachers to schools, assistance for teachers taking the PRAXIS test, support from the HR department for new teachers with questions regarding certification, etc., have all made a difference."

As a former CMS teacher who has researched this subject ad infinitum, I take issue with this response for two reasons. First, as explained by teachers in last year's article, plans such as mentors, classroom preparation boot camp, heavy recruiting, and financial incentives are hardly effective or enticing enough to keep teachers in the classroom. Secondly, to repeat my main point, the "etc." Haigler refers to does not include any initiatives suggested by teachers as outlined in last year's "Why New Teachers Quit" article. By the way, those suggestions are significantly less costly than the ones CMS chose to enact.

Stop, Look, and ListenDaniel Smith, a Marie G. Davis Middle School teacher and former East Mecklenburg High School teacher, has a graduate level education and entered the profession because of his appreciation of what students have to offer -- not to mention a love for his subject matter, History.

When asked which steps CMS takes to keep new teachers like himself in the classroom, Daniel said, "None that I know of."

So I pointed out different parts of CMS's retention plan and asked how critical some have been for him. Daniel replied:

"Mentors? My mentor was great even though she was a math teacher. She actually observed me and gave positive feedback. She was great."

New teacher induction programs? "There were none that I remember going through. During my first year I learned from trial and error and from my wonderful colleagues."

In-service sessions? "A waste of time. The least they could do, if they are going to force us to go to them, is give us some choices and let us choose the ones we want to go to. Instead, they force all of us to go to the same thing and that doesn't help anyone."

One full planning period a day? "It's great. I get a ton done as long as it's not a half period, which it is for some teachers (not me yet)."

Promises of a pay increase? "Bring it on!"

Kristen Ohaver, an 11th grade Advanced Placement English and Film and Literature teacher at Myers Park High School, also entered the profession out of a strong desire to educate our country's youth. This year, she has begun her sixth year of teaching.

"Since I was in first grade, the only thing I ever wanted to do was teach," she explained.

She felt similarly to Daniel when asked how vital certain CMS initiatives have been in her decision to keep teaching.

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