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Charlotte Observer columnist sheds more light on high teacher turnover

Charlotte Observer columnist Fannie Flono adds some important details to the discussion of North Carolina’s soaring teacher turnover rate in this new column [1]. After citing an article in The Atlantic magazine, Flono says this:

“The Atlantic article, though, put the issue of teacher retention into the broader perspective it needs. Quoting Richard Ingersoll, a former high school teacher who is now a University of Pennsylvania professor whose research focuses on teacher turnover, the article pinpoints workplace issues as the crux of the problem. Quite a few of those workplace issues are often the result of lawmakers’ policies.

Ingersoll said one big reason teachers quit the profession is the ‘lack of respect’ the job engenders – and he wasn’t talking about lack of respect from students. ‘Teachers in schools do not call the shots. They have very little say. They’re told what to do; it’s a very disempowered line of work,’ Ingersoll said.

He and others cited a number of problems that hurt teacher retention efforts. Some are no surprise. Insufficient pay and student discipline issues were on the list. But there was also the huge workload teachers endure – an issue the public doesn’t adequately grasp and too often belittles by saying teachers have the summers off – which most usually don’t. ‘[I was] coming home with 65 hours of grading over two weeks,’ said one teacher.

Ingersoll also pointed to teacher supports, parental involvement, and opportunities for career enhancement as key to keeping teachers on the job. And there’s this: ‘[Schools and school systems] in which teachers have more say – their voice counts – have distinctly better teacher retention,’ Ingersoll said.

The article takes note of the particularly daunting task for teachers in low-performing schools and the toll it takes. ‘What people are asked to do [at challenging schools] … you couldn’t sustain that level of intensity throughout a career,’ Thomas Smith, a professor at Vanderbilt University’s education school told the Atlantic.”

In other words, this is not a situation amenable to a quick fix, whether it’s dispensing a one or two percent pay raise or, for heaven’s sake, providing more “competition” for the public schools by providing state funding to private and religious schools. It’s a situation that requires a large and sustained societal commitment — both financial and psychological — to lift up public schools and the people that work there to the point at which no other profession is valued or respected more.

Sadly, however, North Carolina continues to move in the opposite direction on this most central of issues.