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Shawn Cornally:

Hence, the argument for higher teacher pay: we’ll stay in the classroom longer, rather than jumping ship when our salary schedule is incremented less than inflation (i.e. making less the older I get, like my second year of teaching). In other words, it’s not student achievement you’re directly paying for, it’s avoiding turnover.

“Maybe that’s not a bad thing?” you say. “Some of my best teachers were young and excitable.” you opine.

So here’s the rock: there are certain teachers who thrill a great deal more to the challenge of good teaching than to any missional obligation to care for children. (See: McMatherson, Mathy; Nowak, Kate; Pershan, Michael.) As teaching gets easier, these teachers are forced to impose tougher and tougher challenges on themselves (because teaching itself doesn’t offer that kind of differentiation) just so they can stay interested in the field.

And then there’s the hard place: the demands of good teaching, particularly in charter systems, are often unmanageable for anybody but the young, single, and childless — long hours, comparatively low pay, and only a thin veil of separation between you and your work.

Without even glancing at a census table, it’s possible for us to see that the rock and the hard place close in on good novice teachers at almost exactly the same time. The job becomes untenable at about the same time that it becomes unchallenging.

Kate got out. Vegas oddsmakers have Pershan out of the classroom in another six years. I don’t know McMatherson all that well but his writing has me scared. I don’t know the solution either. (Shawn’s post offers a few.) I barely understand the problem. I’m happy we’re all still here, at least, still buzzing somewhere around the periphery of math education in various service roles if not actually inside the math classroom itself. (Blogging is so a service role, okay?) I’m just worried more and more that classroom teaching is shaping up to be an entry-level job.

2013 Feb 12. Jason Buell reminds me that Kilian Betlach coined “The Ledge” years ago.

2013 Feb 12. Riley Lark and Ben Chun both say this post describes their situation fairly well. Kate Nowak dissents.

Featured Comments

Tom Hoffman:

This is the kind of issue that seems increasingly insolvable because the solution is so straightforward. Everyone needs lighter teaching loads, less time in front of students, and budgets that have a bit of slack so that it is possible to pursue interesting ideas, go to conferences, etc.

Lighter teaching loads, more free time, and a little extra money don’t improve things on their own, but they are a prerequisite for just about anything interesting happening.

Tom Woodward:

I’m not sure enough people care about keeping teachers of that quality. My bet is that the powers that be will opt for consistency and repeatability over powerful teachers they can’t easily replicate.

I fear many pieces are already lined up for the (further?) McDonaldization of education- increased focus on scripting, rigid pacing guides with standardized lessons plans, adaptive path LMSs etc. Not too far a stretch to record the “best” Disney approved edutainers and then pay low skill workers to manage the bodies. It’s not far from what I saw at the School of 1 in NY a few years ago. They’re franchising.

I’d like to be very wrong.

P.J. Karafiol:

I’m not sure I agree with this analysis. For me, a teaching certification program I did about five years in–one that required a lot of reflection–woke me up to the fact that I had a LOT of room to grow; I spent the next five years trying to do the stuff I realized I wasn’t doing yet. Maybe what we need to do is take these not-quite-novice teachers who have mastered the basic skills of getting stuff done and help them see how much more they have to learn.

Andrew Shauver:

What strikes me about my profession is that if I, with my newly-acquired master’s degree, want to advance my career, it REQUIRES me to leave the profession. There isn’t a structure in which I stay in the classroom, but advance my career in the traditional sense of that term.

There are lots of moral victories and self-actualized achievements, and I’m certainly welcome to take on more responsibilities, but it doesn’t do a whole lot more than add to an already-heavy workload.

That’s the main motivator for me going forward. If I decide that I want to engage in policy-making, observation and evaluation, work strongly on curriculum matters or assessment, I really have to strongly consider leaving the classroom because those advancement opportunities don’t exist in my current assignment.

There aren’t offers for half-time teacher/half-time teacher evaluator or half-time curriculum support person or half-time data-analyzer. If I have interests in those things, I have to pick one or the other.

2013 Mar 12. By “unchallenging” I should have said something to the effect that “the challenge of the job transmutes into something less satisfying than it was, while the costs of the job remain constant.” Maybe that’ll still spin up the Internet indignation machine, but it’s more accurate anyway.

45 Responses to “Twin Pressures On Good Novice Teachers”

  1. on 11 Feb 2013 at 11:54 amTom Hoffman

    Funny, I’ve always thought of those things as complimentary. Just about the time you think you need a new challenge and teaching isn’t sucking up your entire life, have children! You’ll be happy you’re able to work a little less hard and make a little more money as you move up the steps. Then after your kids become a little less high maintenance, you’re ready for your third act in teaching.

  2. on 11 Feb 2013 at 12:48 pmRiley

    Yeah, I don’t know. Happened to me this way too.

    You run out of autonomy first, I think. It wasn’t about money for me – more about something exciting that I couldn’t do if I kept teaching.

  3. on 11 Feb 2013 at 12:58 pmBrendan

    The RESPECT document at the DoE touches on this a bit. Their solution is a master teacher role, where one choice would be less classroom work and more mentoring.
    http://www.ed.gov/teaching/national-conversation
    Certainly I think we need to find a way to keep these teachers, in the classroom, and/or mentoring new teachers in some fashion.

  4. on 11 Feb 2013 at 1:06 pmTom Hoffman

    I don’t understand why mentoring adults is supposed to be the appealing alternative to teaching children. It just seems to internalize the low status of working with children.

    This is the kind of issue that seems increasingly insolvable because the solution is so straightforward. Everyone needs lighter teaching loads, less time in front of students, and budgets that have a bit of slack so that it is possible to pursue interesting ideas, go to conferences, etc.

    Lighter teaching loads, more free time, and a little extra money don’t improve things on their own, but they are a prerequisite for just about anything interesting happening.

  5. on 11 Feb 2013 at 1:55 pmChuck

    I agree, it isn’t about compensation, and it is inspiring of you to spin the debate in that light.

    And, the other thing that, I think, needs to be addressed, is that the ‘system’ needs to acknowledge teachers better for what they do. It’s not about money, that’s a fool’s gold.

    It’s also not about a nice pat on the back or a compliment about how teachers change the world, we’ve heard enough about that. Teachers learn how to value student input and validate their ideas to make every one feel included, and I think, at least, IMHO, our political system needs to learn how to do that from classroom teachers, because we are in some strange state where everyone seems to be pointing the finger at someone else for education system’s shortcomings, and it makes it difficult to even turn on the news.

  6. on 11 Feb 2013 at 2:04 pmKristen

    I admit that I’m at the point in my teaching career (currently in year 16) where I’m thinking of making a change. I’m tired of lugging papers around with me wherever I go; tired of trying to find the time every day to do the fun imaginative stuff that my students (and I) deserve; tired of having a one-day weekend because I spend all day Sunday grading papers and re-doing my plans for the next week. It’s a scary move to get out of education (at least as a teacher) but it may be that time for me.

  7. on 11 Feb 2013 at 2:26 pmChris Robinson

    I think a lot of the creativity, freedom, and autonomy of being a teacher has been stifled by the ever-occurring mandates that are imposed on school systems. Things like NCLB and it’s accompanying standardized tests. I feel sort of guilty talking a week to explore the area of a triangle with my students because I wouldn’t give them the formula when they struggled deriving it from a rectangle. But it’s those sort of learning experiences that I enjoy being part of. As more and more expectations are placed on our time (without an accompanying increase in the time to meet them), I can see myself in the near future looking for avenues out of the classroom. I definitely want to remain in education, and I’ll surely miss the classroom, but what we have today in public education just isn’t satisfying much of the time.

  8. on 11 Feb 2013 at 2:48 pmDavid Wees

    So far my solution to the lack of challenge problem has been to move country; so far I’ve lived in four different countries. I’ve also changed up what I’ve actually taught. The past two years have seen me only teach one class, and spend the rest of my time supporting my colleagues’ work. Starting in July, I won’t even be attached to a school, let alone teach children.

    The difference is that I will almost certainly spend the rest of my career in education trying to elevate other people’s teaching. I think what Shawn is concerned about is good people who leave education completely, not just leaving the classroom for a support/consultation role.

  9. on 11 Feb 2013 at 2:49 pml hodge

    I am confused. It sounds like you are saying that people that need a challenge leave teaching because it is too challenging to do “good” teaching.

    Isn’t working steadily and patiently to improve your teaching over a number of years a third option to going on permanent cruise control or working yourself ragged to “meet the demands of good” teaching”?

    Is the issue really about whether you would prefer to hone your craft, or to take on mentoring & managerial roles, or a little of both?

  10. on 11 Feb 2013 at 3:46 pmTom

    This is an aptly timed topic for me. I’m in an independent school (2nd year) – which is great other than the fact that we are at about 87% salary of our public counterparts.

    While I have no intention of leaving the classroom in the forseeable future, I am thinking of going into my contract discussions soon and asking for more work. It’s insane – I coach two sports now and am considering requesting to coach all three seasons next year. While I love coaching, the #1 reason I’m considering this is money. As someone living in a high cost of living area and someone with 2 degrees worth of student loans, the road to home ownership is pretty non-existant for me right now.

    Of course, coaching 3 sports in one year is a work load that could lead to a fast burnout. I’m growing awfully tired of working with some of my student-athletes several hours a day, 6-7 days a week and I’m only halfway through the year. Another 4 months would be tough. But that’s the position I’m in and I’m sure I’m not alone and not the worst case scenario out there.

  11. on 11 Feb 2013 at 6:03 pmKate Nowak

    I don’t mean to rain on your theory, but I might not be the best exemplar, as I actually took a pay cut in this last transition, and I don’t have anyone to support besides one lazy cat. …I was all rock and no hard place. Some of these comments seem to bear out that the rock is more compelling than the hard place.

    I think Shawn’s question was “should we worry about retention?” and the answer is yes. Experienced teachers are better teachers. Full stop. His question was also “what do we do about it?” and that is not so easy.

    I’m not sure what your question is. :) But I would like more people to be asking something like, “how can we make the teaching profession more attractive, satisfying, and sustainable to the kind of creative, dynamic, problem-solving individuals who make good teachers.” And the answer is at least in part, 1. give them the time (both individually and collaboratively with colleagues) to design, implement, test, and refine what they do in class and 2. empower them to evaluate their own students and 3. trust their evaluation.

    Paying them what they’re worth is important, but at a certain point won’t make up for other dissatisfying aspects of the work.

  12. on 11 Feb 2013 at 6:33 pmcheesemonkeysf

    I would agree with what’s been pointed out in terms of teaching’s insanely broken career model, and add a few additional points that bear mentioning.

    Some other things to consider in context: the pattern of good young teachers cycling out of teaching to do other things for a while and then cycling back into teaching after some time away is not totally uncommon in many other careers. In fact, in the world outside of teaching (speaking as someone who spent most of my own post-doctoral adulthood in Silicon Valley), this is an extremely common pattern.

    Younger adults tend to need about 3-5 years to really master their first entry-level assignment. Then they tend to rise more quickly than they have previously, but usually through a variety of lateral moves within and between companies. This is how individuals negotiate for better pay, for one thing, as well as broader responsibility. Almost nobody entering the corporate world over the past 25 years expects to work for the same company for their whole career, much less to do exactly the same type of assignments.

    Teaching is one of the very few career paths that still hold to the model of starting at the bottom of a straight ladder, then rising step by step (and column by column) to some predefined retirement age at the top.

    I can’t think of any such careers that still exist in the private sector. Maybe someone else can fill in my gaps here.

    Another pattern I notice that needs addressing is that many (most?) terrific young teachers tend to need to supplement their insufficient entry-level paychecks somehow with tutoring jobs and/or other part-time gigs — a situation that gets old very quickly. Living “rent-free” on campus as a teacher at a boarding independent school is another form of uncompensated part-time work that boosts net take-home pay, but at a price. Three to five years of this grind gets old fast.

    I remember the day I had the realization that I could continue to teach my current load plus do my four other part-time gigs along the way every year, *OR* I could get myself ONE better-paying job and not feel so exhausted and overstretched all the time.

    There are a lot of other things broken with the current career model for teaching, but I think it is useful to consider that the first ten years of a person’s career in our current society tend to be a time of enormous transition, growth, and upheaval. So maybe these realities need to be factored into a more sustainable path toward keeping good teachers in the classroom.

    – Elizabeth (aka @cheesemonkeysf on Twitter)

  13. on 11 Feb 2013 at 6:34 pmcheesemonkeysf

    @Kate Nowak – Face it, that cat has been mooching off of you for YEARS.

    – E. :)

  14. on 11 Feb 2013 at 7:49 pmTom

    I’m not sure enough people care about keeping teachers of that quality. My bet is that the powers that be will opt for consistency and repeatability over powerful teachers they can’t easily replicate.

    I fear many pieces are already lined up for the (further?) McDonaldization of education- increased focus on scripting, rigid pacing guides with standardized lessons plans, adaptive path LMSs etc. Not too far a stretch to record the “best” Disney approved edutainers and then pay low skill workers to manage the bodies. It’s not far from what I saw at the School of 1 in NY a few years ago. They’re franchising.

    I’d like to be very wrong.

  15. on 11 Feb 2013 at 8:15 pmAmy Zimmer

    This my 27 th year. I am 49 years old. For many, many reasons I am teaching at my neighborhood high school for the first time. I took a $12,000 pay cut. I got the most credit allowed, 8 years. I am probationary. If anything has amped up my game it is this assignment. I could go on and on teaching at my former school, getting lazy and BORED. And it is freakin’ humiliating too. I am having a blast teaching 4 sections of Algebra…at this current school, I will retire before I “move up” to honors Algebra 2. That being said, I am wondering when/ if I should move over for the new teachers. I will never be digitally as astute as the 27 yr. old hired with me. We are a great team, me with deep buckets of stuff for every topic, her, ENERGY, all the computer gizmos, CCSS knowledge.
    How would a teacher’s career look if we were more of a business model? The first years are grueling… How to balance all those papers with taking care of oneself. My 23 yr. cousin at Deloitte has been being paid crazy sums of money while he is studying for his CPA. How can we move over to make room when we tire without humiliation and defeat?

  16. on 12 Feb 2013 at 2:19 amDan Meyer

    Tom Hoffman:

    I don’t understand why mentoring adults is supposed to be the appealing alternative to teaching children.

    I’ll take this one. It’s easier and more lucrative than classroom teaching.

    Less fun in a lot of ways, too, but we can’t seem to have everything.

    @Kate, you dragged that poor cat to Brazil and back in less than a year?

  17. on 12 Feb 2013 at 3:23 amcrazedmummy

    May as well add my 2 cents, as an older person who has teaching as an nth career.
    New teachers in our district have had no pay raise for the last 3 years. They are “encouraged” to take extra classes and after school activities, hence have no prep time. They are told they will be fired if they complain about their class size, lack of materials. They have no idea how to manage grading or compliance with the ever-increasing stream of orders from the office.
    And they gradually listen to what they are telling the kids. An education should get you a better job. If they have a family, they have to leave teaching. Nobody can do this, especially in schools of poverty, and have their own kids. It’s not possible to care about needy kids all day and then continue to input what your own kids need. You find that you can’t go to your own kids school events, and you suddenly realize that maybe those “bad parents” include you.
    I am more paranoid than you: I think the whole effort to oust teachers with skill is park of the separation of classes. the rich will continue to have an education, but we have to keep the poor ignorant. The lip service paid to improving all children and providing equal access is belied by the action of removing experienced educators by persuading them to go.

  18. on 12 Feb 2013 at 5:05 amgrace

    I’m wholeheartedly in the school-context-matters camp. The experience that many of my friends and I had is that being a good novice led to additional responsibility– more preps, “leadership” roles chairing this or that, mentoring new teachers, curriculum-writing, coaching, clubs, etc.– in part because we had so much turnover that our staff was nearly 50% first-year teachers. I was indeed young, single, and childless, so I could handle the punishing schedule, but it frustrated me that I didn’t have the mental space and energy to improve, because while I was good for a novice teacher (or so I was told), I certainly wasn’t good period, and I desperately wanted to be. So I contributed to the turnover, because like Dan said, working with adults (some of whom are not far removed in age or maturity from the children I taught) is easier and more lucrative than classroom teaching, which gives me back my evenings, some weekends, and the opportunity to continually learn and grow.

  19. on 12 Feb 2013 at 5:43 amP.J. Karafiol

    I’m not sure I agree with this analysis. For me, a teaching certification program I did about five years in–one that required a lot of reflection–woke me up to the fact that I had a LOT of room to grow; I spent the next five years trying to do the stuff I realized I wasn’t doing yet. Maybe what we need to do is take these not-quite-novice teachers who have mastered the basic skills of getting stuff done and help them see how much more they have to learn.

    There’s another issue that you don’t raise, and that’s time. For a 23- or 24-year-old starting teacher, working 50-60 hours weeks at a job about which you’re passionate is not so bad. You miss out some on hanging out with friends, but you get so much out of your job…. But then comes 28, 29, or 30, and you’re in a committed relationship, maybe having kids, and suddenly there are real-life consequences to spending way too much time at and thinking about school. You have other things that you care about just as much. And there’s no real way to throttle back without feeling like someone’s getting shorted.

    I think the Chinese may have figured out something that we haven’t. In China, middle and high school classes are typically 50 or so students; a teacher has two classes per day, with the rest of the day devoted to prep and planning. The student load, in other words, is a little less, but the main difference is that the US teacher is only allotted 1 hour of prep for every 2.5 hours of teaching; the Chinese teacher gets the inverse. The Chinese teachers I know work very hard, but they collect and correct work from every student every day without coming home to hours of grading at night. And they get a chance to reflect. Given that it’s hard to individualize instruction in the standard U.S. 30-student classroom much anyway, I wonder frequently whether the Chinese haven’t found a much better place on the optimization curve–especially for developing better teachers.

  20. on 12 Feb 2013 at 5:50 amteachertofer

    I think there’s a third rock/hard-place hinted at by several of the commenters in administrative interference in teaching practice.

    For teachers for whom the thrill of the challenge of planning and executing interesting and incrementally better lessons, there certainly is a point of diminishing returns brought about by getting comfortable with the lessons you’re teaching (content and pedagogy), pay scale caps, and administrative requirements that frequently don’t make sense for the benefit of the students’ learning.

    Teaching for me isn’t about the kids, or making the world a better or more just place (although those are nice added benefits), it’s about the challenge of self-improvement and creating new and exciting curriculum for my classroom. I never want to be at the point where I pull out my collected binder of activities for days 1 through 180, and make a few copies, review a few notes and go. That isn’t me. I long for feeling unsettled, and fear complacency–because for me, as soon as I stop feeling the need for self-improvement, I feel as though I’m not doing enough to improve my practice.

    I’m in my second teaching job–after six years in an urban system, teaching mostly freshman (Algebra I and Geometry, later Algebra II and Precalculus), I’ve jumped ship to a suburban high school with its own set of unique challenges (and teaching Calculus, Algebra II and Precalculus). Each time I’ve shifted courses, it’s given me a chance to re-excite my passion for content creation–but I’m worried about what happens when I reach that point here?

    After a few years of teaching calculus and remastering the material, will I begin to grow dissatisfied with the amount of improvement I can make each year? Will it be enough to shift back to Algebra I and Geometry and rediscover the cool math that I find distasteful now? Or is that the point I head off into the sunset and find something new–use my engineering degree for engineering, or take the actuarial exams and play with math without the kids in front or me, or head into college teaching where there’s more math for me to play with and a little more freedom in what and how I teach? In any of those vocations, I would make more money, work fewer hours than I currently do, and have more time to pursue my non-teaching passions, but would that be enough for the challenge I’d lost? I’m not sure.

  21. on 12 Feb 2013 at 5:53 amDavid Didau (@LearningSpy)

    This seems to sum up the UK position fairly accurately too. Apparently over 50% of teachers quit within the first 5 years here.

    Partly this is to do with stress caused by poor behaviour and the machine that is the current education climate. Partly it’s to do wit the way teachers are recruited: we have a scheme called Teach First that encourages high flying graduates to do a year or 2 of teaching before cracking on with the rest of their career.

    But maybe partly it’s the boredom/challenge differential also. Certain I’ve carved out my own alternative career to complement my need for great challenge. Writing, speaking & supporting other teachers now forms an important part of my work life and I couldn’t go back to being purely in the classroom.

    Thanks for the though provoking post, David

  22. on 12 Feb 2013 at 6:22 amJames Key

    @Tom #4: “I don’t understand why mentoring adults is supposed to be the appealing alternative to teaching children. It just seems to internalize the low status of working with children.”

    Consider the work that physicians do. Physicians are supposed to be all about working with *patients,* right? True, but that does not mean that they get to skip the part where they undergo intensive training with a highly skilled, experienced adult who knows how to treat patients.

  23. on 12 Feb 2013 at 6:35 amAndrew

    I am in my 7th year teaching and finishing my master’s degree in administration this spring.

    What strikes me about my profession is that if I, with my newly-acquired master’s degree, want to advance my career, it REQUIRES me to leave the profession. There isn’t a structure in which I stay in the classroom, but advance my career in the traditional sense of that term.

    There are lots of moral victories and self-actualized achievements, and I’m certainly welcome to take on more responsibilities, but it doesn’t do a whole lot more than add to an already-heavy workload.

    That’s the main motivator for me going forward. If I decide that I want to engage in policy-making, observation and evaluation, work strongly on curriculum matters or assessment, I really have to strongly consider leaving the classroom because those advancement opportunities don’t exist in my current assignment.

    There aren’t offers for half-time teacher/half-time teacher evaluator or half-time curriculum support person or half-time data-analyzer. If I have interests in those things, I have to pick one or the other.

  24. on 12 Feb 2013 at 6:51 amPam Hall

    Novice teachers take heart! There is light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not a train. Talk to teachers that are still on fire for teaching and have taught a long time. People stay in teaching because they love kids and love the subject they teach. I am not saying there are not things that are wrong with the system. And I think we need to fight, vote, and blog about things that need to be changed to give kids the best math classrooms in all schools. I am disheartened as I see many new teachers start in a blaze of fire and then smolder under long hours of paperwork, administrative demands and unsatisfactory pay. I wish I knew all the answers, but I do know that I love my job where each year is fresh start, new challenges, new students, and if I get bored I ask for new preps and new subject matter. Oh I wish I had more planning time to make the videos, plan with colleagues, research new teaching methods, but I have to do the best I can. And I will continue, until we can fight for more time and money. I guess I just wanted to let you all know that you can survive and stay in the classroom. I spent long hour at school for years. Then I raised a son and spent less time at school. Now as he heads to college, I find myself spending more time again at school. I have never held another full time job other than as a high school math teacher, but I know all jobs have their drawbacks. We will always struggle with time at work versus time with family no matter where we work. I think of all the clichés, but you do make a difference teaching! Isn’t that what we are here for, to make a difference? No, the pay is not good and the demands are ridiculous. But we don’t do it because we have to; we do it because we get to. Every day I get to teach I know I make a difference and you do too. Please don’t forget that.

  25. on 12 Feb 2013 at 7:01 amSteve

    Well written and to the point! A good teacher is worth his or her weight in gold, so let’s honor and incentivize the system to retain our finest teachers.

  26. on 12 Feb 2013 at 7:50 amWendy

    I’m not sure where I fit into this discussion, I am a 7th year teacher, and was a career-changer. I began teaching in my mid-40s, married with 2 school-age children. I do work too many hours, even though many of my colleagues in this large well-established school do not, and managed not to sacrifice attention to my own children while attending to the educational needs of some very high-need students in my first 5 years. (I even managed somehow – with a lot of support from family and colleagues – to survive a serious illness without negatively impacting my career or performance.) I am absolutely floored by the energy of some of my younger colleagues, some of whom give 100% in the classroom and then come home and share their creativity with the rest of us in blogs. But I also know that even though I am teaching some of the same courses for the 5th or 6th year in a row, I am still revising, still looking for new ideas, still trying to implement new technologies – still trying to be a better teacher. One of the things I love about this job – besides the math, and the kids – is that is ever-challenging; you are never the best you can be.

    I am fortunate to currently be working in a school that supports rather than undermines its teachers. But even in schools that presented greater personal stress and challenge, I have been in the private sector – spent 20 successful years there – and I know that I never was as proud to introduce myself professionally as I am now. Whether the entire public respects us or not, saying “I am a teacher” means a lot to me. Do I seem overly simplistic and starry-eyed? Hardly; I have sacrificed personal things to devote this much energy to work. But I’m not sure you can thrive (and survive) as a teacher without loving what you do.

  27. on 12 Feb 2013 at 8:22 amTom Hoffman

    To throw in one more thing, there is a two-way relationship between simple overwork and the loss of autonomy and professional discretion. If all the teachers in a school are at the end of their rope, have no common planning time, really no free time in their schedule at all, how are they going to organize to resist changes imposed upon them?

  28. on 12 Feb 2013 at 8:26 amMichael Pershan

    I think more wisdom could be gathered from the stories of people who have figured out how to stay in the classroom than the stories of folks who felt that they had to leave. (That would be a fun interview series, actually.)

    From my viewpoint in 2013, the thing that excites me most about teaching is having the chance to attack interesting problems and share my results with others. Right now, the blog world is more than sufficient for the sort of feedback and satisfaction that I seek. If for whatever reason that became frustrating (or if I needed to get my hands on some cold hard cash) I’d probably be looking for a way out.

    And, again, from my viewpoint in 2013, the place where I’d probably head off to is a Phd. I’d be worried about losing touch from the profession, though, so I’d be especially eager for compromises that allow me to stay sharp by spending time around students learning math. Preferably in a classroom. I assume that’s impossible, but that’s what I’d look for in 6+ years.

  29. on 12 Feb 2013 at 8:54 amlisa

    The problem of teacher compensation is further exacerbated by the fact that teaching is like (intellectually demanding) factory work (and by this I don’t mean the part about how you don’t get to go the bathroom until 3pm). There is no economic difference in terms of the *quantity* of output between a skilled, experienced teacher and a potentially skilled, inexperienced teacher. Whoever it is, they will be standing in front of a roomful of students.

    Principals don’t look of the pool of applicants and hire best person for the job. When budgets are tight, they can’t. Instead they look at filling the positions in their building in a way that is least bad. In my fairly affluent and growing suburban district virtually all new hires for elementary classroom teachers are people with zero to two years of experience.

    Maybe the new common core assessments will change this, but I am not optimistic. More and more, no matter the lip service, they want “data” and teachers who follow the script so kids and pass the state tests (and at least in my district make nice with parents).

  30. on 12 Feb 2013 at 12:29 pmAndy

    Totally love what you’ve written here as I find myself contemplating if I’m in fact burnt out.
    The pressures from the central office and holders of power are getting overwhelming as they have apparently forgotten just how much hard working teachers already try to do for their students in the classroom. The challenge of teaching has become trying to keep up with curriculum changes made by others that we have to actually pull off on the day to day level.
    I’m torn from wanting to implement more inquiry activities in class to being required to deliver more common assessments, make sure we cover all the material in time to deliver the common summative assessment within the week long window so the district data nerds can compare all of us. I used to be a pretty positive up-beat guy but I feel I’ve become more beat-up recently.
    PLC movement has some good aspects to it but way too much emphasis is placed on the assessment and not what was done prior to it. Maybe an alternative organization can be created that focuses on good instruction instead of frequent testing?

  31. [...] Also, apparently I made a whole lot of people depressed over at Dan Meyer’s blog. [...]

  32. on 12 Feb 2013 at 11:05 pmAndrew Stadel

    Going on 8-9 years in the classroom over here. I’ve had my ups, downs, times I thought I had it all figured out, and numerous times I realized I knew nothing. However, I made some conclusions early on that haven’t changed and are good to remind myself of every once in awhile.
    1) Don’t teach the way I was taught.
    2) Never teach a lesson the exact same way as you did previously (even in the same day).
    3) I’m a dork.
    Middle schoolers are the most predictable unpredictable people I’ve spent time with. You can predict that adolescents will be unpredictably goofy, loud, shy, smelly, funny, witty, moronic, gullible, foolish, kind, mean, and apathetic. Boy, do they keep it entertaining. Once, I thought I had to entertain my students. I was wrong. They entertain me. I love that human interaction. Who knows? Maybe if I stick to those three things and continue my intake of daily unpredictable adolescent entertainment delivered by my students, I’ll enjoy another couple of decades in the classroom. Beats sitting in a cubicle!

  33. on 13 Feb 2013 at 1:41 amS

    Its gotten better every year. I’ve gotten better every year.

    But non challenging? I still feel challenged every day, its the returns that are diminishing.

    The indiscriminate praise bugs me the most. Somehow that feels like a bigger indication that nobody is paying attention. Student test scores go up and I get a pat on the back, but what did I do that was so great?

  34. on 13 Feb 2013 at 3:40 amDave Major

    I think I’ve had a decent innings in education so far: I’ve taught everything from secondary through to postgrad across multiple subject areas, and accordingly I’ve also done quite well in moving through salary scales and promotions. But I’ve also made a lot of stupid mistakes. In the past I’ve taken on more work rather than more challenging work: there was a time I had five job titles but without the cumulative time off – more work in less time is a challenge granted, but not the right sort of challenge. This is the danger in ‘developing’ young teachers. I also think that often (certainly in my case) you are giving challenges which are frankly unwinnable.

    There is perhaps a certain fear in teachers who demand much of themselves. Not wanting to paraphrase from Batman but I think there is some truth in that you either quit a ‘good’ teacher or you teach long enough to see yourself become the bad one. The thing that worries (and motivates) me in my career is that eventually the surrounding peripheral in teaching will get to me, or it will make it impossible for me to teach in the way I want to. The day I rock up and teach the same lesson I taught last time, or take the easy way out of something will probably be the day I leave.

  35. on 13 Feb 2013 at 12:56 pmMarshall Thompson

    Somehow I’ve lasted 9 years or so. I try to find a reason every day to stick with it. It’s hard sometimes.

    This community has not only offered some great ideas and smart folks to bounce ideas off of, but it’s also been a great support group to pick me up when I’m down about what I do.

    The bottom line for me though is this:
    I’m a vote-with-your-dollar kind of guy and to be honest it royally pisses me off that such a critical profession garners such little respect. People pay lip service to it, but until the community decides to put their money where their mouth is, and chooses to invest in not only teachers but also TIME for teachers to do a good job, I’ll be one bad day away from joining the other 50% who already left.

  36. on 14 Feb 2013 at 11:39 amMsPoodry

    I agree with S’s first two statements. I love teaching more every year and I get better at it every year, and I certainly still feel challenged. But I have made the challenges myself. I challenged myself to switch to SBG, I challenged myself to get the money to get the lab equipment for the too-large AP Physics class, I challenge myself to work around non-functional and partially-functional technology to make meaningful and relevant lessons.

    I have been challenging myself for 20 years in the classroom. How did I make it past the first few years? DESPERATION. I had no other job prospects, I had no idea what else I could do, and I had student loans to pay off. But I am now considering the possibility of switching to an independent school, which would likely come with a pay cut. Why? These gosh darned testing mandates. Next month I will find out that all my juniors didn’t score “proficient” on the Biology Keystone exam. Even though I teach physics, it will be my job to prepare them to re-take the exam in May. My annual evaluation, as a teacher, must BY STATE LAW be partially based on my students’ scores. The politicians are trying to destroy public education. I might decide to save myself before that, or I might go down with the ship.

  37. on 16 Feb 2013 at 9:56 amDan Lemay

    How have I lasted 25 years (one school for the first 8 and this current one for 17)?

    I too enjoy developing what I think is good content delivery. I also am enjoying implementing the use of technology to help students learn. I am one of the Ed tech leaders in my school. The young teachers have nothing on me in that light. I put in a lot of time every week developing the week’s plans. Is every lesson a major success? Hardly and I’ll call any teacher that claims otherwise a liar.

    I’m concerned about the lack of success on NECAP tests by our students. We are alway just below the State average( sometimes a little too much below). One change over the years that must be a factor here is that today’s students seem to have shorter retention spans. They can’t remember things. At this point, my annual evaluation doesn’t have testing data as a component. I hope my State is wise enough not to mandate this by law.

    I am getting tired of managing a classroom. The retirement system says 6 more years. I’ll be honest that for many years now it has been the breaks and the shortening summer breaks that has held my interest in this career. The chance to recharge and plan is greatly appreciated.

    Financially, I work the two jobs (HS and teaching cc courses every semester) to support the family. I’ve been doing this since Fall’93. The work load is intense but it pays the bills.

  38. on 18 Feb 2013 at 9:17 amChett

    This is for an opinion poll. I’m a new teacher, 2 years in, and a lot of what had been said is true about the need for new challenges, and looking for something else soon. I am looking to startup an Ed-tech company designed to make teachers lives easier using tablets to streamline assessment and lesson planning. I’m wondering what people’s thoughts are on something like this? Would people be interested in software that makes assessment paperless?

  39. on 18 Feb 2013 at 10:07 amTom Hoffman

    If you don’t feel challenged after two years of teaching, you have not even begun to understand the profession.

  40. on 18 Feb 2013 at 10:39 amChett

    Tom, et all,

    My apologies, I didn’t mean I haven’t been, or am not still challenged, I only meant that I see a lot of truth in what was posted earlier.

    Truthfully, I am challenged everyday, but I also see my creative side being pushed to the background as I get more and more Worn down by the day to day side of what I do. My thoughts have been turning to ways to lessen the grinding part of teaching, if that is even possible, and open up more avenues for time to be creative and inventive with lessons and new types of assessment.

    I have just been playing with some ideas in the tech world and was wondering what people thought about a way to make math assessment paperless and social at the same time. Something that would organize a students work while allowing them to venture out to get help from the net and possible other teachers as well.

    Hopefully I didn’t offend anyone, I am just looking for some insight into whether real teachers would be interested in the concept.

    Thanks

  41. [...] is slightly different than the discussion Dan hosted about the lack of feedback from the system of school that will push you to do your best work, or [...]

  42. on 09 Mar 2013 at 6:30 amBen Blum-Smith

    What I have to say echoes some themes that are getting airtime across the comment thread (P. J. Karafiol, Grace, Tom Hoffman, Chris Robinson, Pam Hall, …) but I want to make sure it gets highlighted.

    Dan, I was initially horrified by your characterization of “the rock”. I thought you were echoing something I sometimes hear from ambitious folks in their late 20s which always pisses me the f*ck off, along the lines of “I decided to move on because I wasn’t challenged any more.” If you are unchallenged after 5-6 years of teaching, then to paraphrase Ludacris, you just ain’t doin’ it right. Do you mean that your classroom now functions moderately smoothly and you have a couple years of experience with your curriculum? Fine, what thought have you given to experimenting with classroom structures? To exploring questioning techniques? Have you really mastered the collection and use of formative assessment? How about the question of how your curriculum responds to kiddies with different levels of understanding? Does every task you bring to the classroom admit multiple levels of entry? Have you thought about experimenting with your classroom community building? This list of questions is a 10-second brainstorm from somebody with only 1 decade in education. You have no idea how deep the rabbit hole goes, and you’re insulting both the profession, and all career educators in particular, with your ignorance.

    Then I calmed myself down. You, Dan, of all people, obviously know this. You’ve been writing for 6 years about fine points in curriculum and task design like you know you could keep doing it forever, and that’s just one little corner of the pedagogy universe.

    Given that, what could “unchallenging” be referring to? Well, I can’t know exactly what you meant, but numerous comments have pointed out the way that the structure of the profession makes it difficult for folks with serious professional ambitions to feel those ambitions continue to be expressed within the classroom. I think this is a flaw in the structure and that it is remediable, but the remedy is heading in a different direction from where the ship currently seems to be sailing. To wit, toward decreasing teachers’ classroom and administrative responsibilities to create room for reflection and serious growth initiatives (cf. Tom Hoffman), such as critical friends groups and lesson study, which would of course also help with the personal-unsustainability part of the issue (“the hard place”), increasing our creative autonomy, especially our collective autonomy, increasing the amount of interaction and visibility between individual classrooms and the communities that surround them (first, other teachers; second, parents; third, the whole community), and fourth, more and more varied opportunities for teachers to exercise leadership (I am a big fan of serious mentoring programs).

    The thing I want to drive home is to clearly distinguish two possibilities for where “unchallenging” is coming from, and make sure everybody’s clear on which one they’re talking about: is it the nuts and bolts of the job, or is it the structure of the profession?

    As an aside, my own leaving the full-time classroom was governed almost entirely by lifestyle considerations; however, after the fact I discovered that it also freed me up to explore my educational values much more deeply. The proximate motivator was that I was in a serious relationship on which my schedule was taking a toll, but more generally I was done with the too-thin, too-permeable membrane that you mentioned between my job and the rest of my mental and physical existence. After I left, though, I discovered that I was also tremendously relieved and rejuvenated to no longer be compromising what I cared about educationally because of the mismatch between the expected curriculum, the kids’ prior knowledge, and the calendar (cf. Chris Robinson’s comment). Being involved in education in other, less regimented ways has allowed me to bring my teaching practice into much deeper alignment with my educational values. (I’d love for the structure of the profession to make room for this kind of exploration of values, but again, things seem to be headed in the other direction.)

  43. on 12 Mar 2013 at 1:06 amDan Meyer

    Thanks for your thoughts here, Ben. The Internet indignation machine kind of spun itself up to 11 about “unchallenging,” which killed my interest in re-engaging or correcting the record.

    That said, if I had to write it again, I’d say “the challenge of the job transmutes into something less satisfying than it was, while the costs of the job remain constant.”

    Just like we should question anybody who says they’re done learning about how students learn after two years teaching, I also question if I’d learn as much about learning in year six through eight as I did in years one through three. Meanwhile the demands of the job remained the same. In six years, the hours spent planning and grading remained constant. That’s some pressure.

  44. on 12 Mar 2013 at 4:03 amBen Blum-Smith

    Word.

  45. [...] 2. Quality instruction focused on student engagement – Schools are driven by the educational experiences they are providing the students. Ideally, the students would be provided high-quality educational experience every time a teacher is standing in front of them. High-quality means 100% engagement with appropriately-challenging content. High-quality means diverse experiences in the traditionally-academic disciplines (arts, sciences, history, literature) as well as traditionally-non-academic disciplines (fine and performing arts, creative writing, physical education, culinary and hospitality, trade and industrial). High-quality means the students getting opportunities to create and solve problems… regularly. (Sir Ken Robinson (@SirKenRobinson) has fantastic things to say about this.) This requires teachers being provided time to collaborate and experiment around resources demonstrating the best practices for each field. Also, this requires better mentoring of young teachers. (Dan Meyer (@ddmeyer) has some interesting thoughts on this.) [...]