Lack of Stability in the Teaching Force Harmful to Children

In 2007, the Maryland State Education Association added the following language to its Resolutions, “MSEA believes all children possess a fundamental civil right to have access to a high-quality system of public education, grounded on the principles of adequacy and equity.”  To this very day, newcomers to the teaching profession are far more likely to avail themselves of the proverbial “revolving door” than to achieve mastery of the art and science of instruction.

While our schools have improved dramatically in the last decade, this community still faces some critical decisions every budget year about recognizing the importance of retaining effective educators. As Linda Darling-Hammond opined a few years ago, “You cannot fire your way to Finland.” Retention and making a viable career choice of teaching   need to become our priorities.

What kind of teachers do we want to deliver instruction in our Public Schools? Do we prefer education “journeymen“, possessing marginal pedagogical preparation, who see a couple years in the classroom as a steppingstone to some other line of work? Or, do we want highly-qualified professional educators, well-steeped in pedagogical principles, and committed to a career in the classroom?

Since 2008, the Prince George’s County Public Schools have hired 8,100 teachers in a workforce of 9,600. The cost of on-boarding new employees can reach, according to some estimates, nearly $50,000 per employee. 

Teachers depart for a host of reasons. Chief among those reasons, of late: the inability of the employer to honor the terms of the Negotiated Agreement. Teachers who have remained loyal to the school system remain three years in arrears on the pay scale. 

Lack of appropriate logistical supports for those new to the profession, and an excessive workload that intrudes upon every waking hour, follow closely behind. Far too many teachers are so soured by the experience, here, that they abandon their teaching license and/or the profession entirely.

It takes time and persistence to become an effective teacher and to develop an expansive instructional repertoire. The learning curve is long, and most educators really hit their stride somewhere between their sixth and tenth year. Ironically, less than half of our new-hires will arrive at a sixth year in the classroom. It is the children of Prince George’s who suffer the consequences when the next new-hire begins the process of acquiring an instructional repertoire mostly through trial-and-error. “Sink-or-swim” is not even an appropriate way to teach someone to swim…

A half-dozen neighboring jurisdictions are quite content to improve their teaching force by enticing teachers away from a financially-strapped school system that, out of sheer necessity, invests so heavily in professional development. Lured away by significant increases in compensation and a lower caseload, is there any doubt in your mind that those departing teachers are among our most highly-effective educators? To achieve the vision of the Thornton Commission and the Bridge to Excellence Act, Prince Georgians need to shift that paradigm and fund the schools so that younger siblings have a decent shot at having the same great teacher their older brothers and sisters experienced. 

[This much revised version of “Commentary” appeared in the Prince George’s Gazette on April 30,2015.]

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