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Turnover – The Biggest Problem We Face: Part 2

In my last post, I wrote about the biggest challenge my school, and others like it, face: teacher turnover. I discussed how of the 76 pedagogues who have worked at my school since it opened seven years ago, 36 have left. Not too long ago, that number hit 37. A tremendous amount of our school’s human resources are needed to help support and develop the new staff we bring in, thereby taking away resources from students. This begs the question, why are so many people leaving?

Common perceptions of urban teaching is that most people who leave go to teach in the suburbs or private schools. This has not been the case at my school; none have left for the suburbs, and only one for a private school. Last week I posted the individual reasons people leave, but this week, I aim to speculate on broader trends that cause people to leave. In many cases, these trends overlap for individual people:

Trend 1: Teaching is hard; teaching in the Bronx is really hard
Of the 37 who have now left, many were teachers who really struggled in their classrooms. Some of these teachers might have been more successful with suburban students who will do almost anything they’re asked, but they struggled with the challenges our Bronx classrooms present. This trend exists in all urban schools, though, and is much discussed, so I will stop there.

Trend 2: Starting a new school is a lot of work
Teaching is hard work, but creating a new school from scratch is even harder. When a school has only a small handful of teachers in its first years, no one is just a teacher. By my second year at my school, I was our tech guy and a grade team leader. With all the extra work, people burn out quick. Additionally, with so many people with limited experience in their jobs, things rarely work smoothly at first and teachers are required to constantly roll with the punches. It makes for an extremely stressful work environment.

Trend 3: New schools get lots of ambitious, young, teachers
Given all the extra work that goes into a new school, it should not be surprising that many of the teachers willing to work in these schools are young, ambitious people without families. New schools need “supermen” and “superwomen” and therefore seek them out. Many of these people are not native New Yorkers, but see NYC as a good place to spend their twenties. These teachers are likely to leave for four reasons:

  1. They move on to bigger and better opportunities within education.
  2. Teaching was always just something to do after college, and after their 2-4 years they move onto something else.
  3. They leave New York City to go back home.
  4. They start a family and no longer want to spend the amount of time teaching requires.

Let us consider the first three cohorts of teachers hired the pioneers of the school. Of the 34 pioneers, 16 were under the age of 30 when they started; only eight of us remain. Of those eight, only two were non-natives and unmarried. Both plan on leaving at the end of the year. We were the people who should have grown with and sustained the school when the initial group of leaders moved on, but this has not been the case.

In my next post, I’ll suggest some ideas for dealing with these problems.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.