That’s the big statistic: According to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 50 percent of new teachers in the United States will leave the teaching profession within their first five years.
People like to quote such numbers, I’ve found, and you’ve probably heard it before too. Mostly people who aren’t teachers themselves. Usually people without a solution: complainers, finger-pointers, fire-and-brimstone-invokers who aren’t big fans of our public education system. Or media outlets who like to fan the flames.
But today I quoted that statistic to my principal, when I handed in my intent form for next year. Fifty percent of new teachers leave the profession within five years.
I don’t want to be one of them.
The federal government has invested in my efforts to stay the course; the scholarship that paid for my master’s degree required me to teach students with low-incidence disabilities for two years in exchange for every year that I received funding.
The thought of leaving my students forms an immediate lump in my throat. Not only because I’d miss them, because of course I will, but because there are kids of all ages in need everywhere and I’ve found love in every school I’ve worked. No one kid can replace another student in your heart, but the voids caused by their absence in your life don’t stay empty for long. Kids also come and go in ways over which you have no control: They age up or their family moves away . . . we go in and out of each others’ lives.
I think the lump I have when I think of leaving my students is actually about a less endearing thought of mine—that is, can the next teacher meet their needs like I do?
That isn’t the nicest thought, I know. There are many great teachers out there. You guys are everywhere; I meet you all over my county and on the street and through this blog. But there isn’t a line curling around the block of people who want to do my job, and the scarcity of competition combined with the urgency of the demand can create situations in which quality and accountability are undervalued.
I’ve discovered things about myself, though, that play into my recent decision as well. I’ve discovered the importance of having a team to work with, colleagues who support you and from whom you can learn and grow. I want that. I’ve discovered that schools have atmospheres and moods and tones, and that they can change. I want one that is positive, dynamic, and inclusive for both students and staff. I’ve discovered that your entire classroom can be outfitted by the trendiest educational superstore . . . and there can still be something missing.
I want to be among the other 50 percent, or the even smaller percentage of special education teachers, for whom classroom teaching is more than a career pit-stop.
That is why I won’t return to my school next year. Because I’ve learned that if I’m going to make it another year as a teacher, I need to find a place where I can teach kids with cognitive disabilities and be fed and supported and nurtured as an educator at the same time. I’m ready and I was very grateful for my principal’s earnest support when I told him I’m looking for a change.
What direction do I take next? You tell me! What have you discovered about the schools where you can defy the statistics?
Ingersoll, R.M., Teacher Turnover and Teacher Shortages: An Organizational Analysis, American Educational Research Journal 38, no. 3, 499-534, 2001.