Teacher-School Match: Education Needs Long Relationships, Not ‘One-Night Stands’

Teacher preparation programs should see themselves as matchmakers.

We match professionals with schools and students who’ll hopefully consider their arranged partnership happy, healthy and productive. Communities benefit when new teachers share their fates with their surroundings.

Matriculation and graduation are the few separation rates teacher prep programs should celebrate; in the very least, the public should expect students, schools and districts to get their dowries back. In order to meet this expectation, teacher-prep programs should be measured by quality time served.

File photo. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

File photo. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

New teachers, however, aren’t staying in the classroom very long. If teachers aren’t among the 10 percent who leave after the first year, they may leave before reaching their potential. Richard Ingersol among others has estimated that 40 percent to 50 percent of new teachers leave within the first five years of entry.

The causes for premature exits are multifold. Preparation, a sense of feeling overwhelmed, work conditions and student behavior all are at play. An uncounted number of teachers leave the profession within a few years simply because they had no intention on staying. When becoming a teacher is treated like joining the Foreign Legion, people will simply serve their tours of duty.

“It’s hard to develop feelings for anyone who’s expecting the educational equivalent of a one-night stand.”

High teacher turnover creates educational, economic, political, and social costs that hamper schooling and learning. Losing experience and expertise is like leaving your house windows open: you pay a high price to be too hot or too cold. School buildings become so much more effective and efficient when good teachers stay.

Political climates are more sustainable. The turnover rates of Teach for America are a political as well as an educational liability. Also, schools that have high teacher turnover are forced to have static, prescriptive curricula (boring) that must account for anybody filling role of teacher.

It’s hard to develop feelings for anyone who’s expecting the educational equivalent of a one-night stand. Ask any sworn bachelor or bachelorette who ended up wonderfully hitched. There are benefits to relationships that only come out of commitment.

The late, great Rita F. Piersonsaidit best, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”

We can break down the Pierson adage even further. Kids can’t learn from people who are detached. This is not a poorly veiled argument against virtual learning, the Match.com of the educational world. Whether online or in the schoolhouse, a relationship is both process and product of learning. Some schools even use data-driven selection tools such as Paragon K12 that deploy predictive analysis to select top teachers.

The quality of the learning relationship is factored in learning outcomes. In her TED talk, Pierson quotedJames Comerwho said, “No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.”

Induction programs are the presumed marriage-counseling that address teacher turnover problems due to feelings of being overwhelmed and/or a lack of preparation. As an aside, if you’re burned-out teacher, then leave; studies have shown that burned out teachers who leave have less negative impact on students and schools than those who stay.

Induction programs provide support for beginning teachers through structured mentoring, coaching and administrator engagement. Think moving into a residence with someone for the first time. You invariably talk with experienced people to cope with the transition. Induction programs come closer to creating an authentic apprenticeship experience that a traditional 12-week student-teaching term doesn’t quite provide.

However, the theories behind induction can occur earlier in teacher education programs so children aren’t exposed to supposed professionals just trying to figure things out.

Teacher education programs must move toward required yearlong residencies that give candidates the needed figuring out period. In addition, teacher education programs should give candidates an adequate number of what the Relay Graduate School of Education regard as “at bats,” instructional and management opportunities. These opportunities for skill development should occur under supervision with feedback but before the candidate signs her or his first contract. Most importantly, skill development should happen in the context of building a relationship.

I’m not the biggest fan of undergraduate degree programs in education in general because they inherently diffuse content and pedagogy. In addition most programs don’t maximize students time studying while neighboring a school district. After spending four years in a place, a candidate has generally become a member of a local community. Undergraduate teacher candidates just need to become members of a school community. Why not spend time training in the schools adjacent to the university? Taking a new job in a new place is like moving in with someone you just met — stressful. Eliminate one of those stressors.

Finally, the effectiveness of teacher training programs must be measured on teachers’ abilities to positively impact student learning and to create longstanding members of the school and local communities. However, tuition incentivizes colleges of education to stockpile teachers without accountability on how well and long they serve as a graduate. Students and neighborhoods need quality time. Districts can’t shoulder the costs of teacher prep programs’ promiscuity.

Teacher prep programs can do better to improve turnover and attrition. But we must first recognize that we’re part of the problem. Teacher prep programs can show students, schools and community love by including longevity as one of our key performance indicators.

[Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

Andre Perry

Andre Perry is the founding dean of urban education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich. and the author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City (2011).