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Is There a Way to Get More Teachers to Stay?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013 -- Scott Sterling

In what has become an annual summer tradition for the local newspapers in Florida and other locales, each of them run a feature on a teacher who has decided to leave the district or, worse, the profession itself. These articles end up positing more questions than answers for why we lose so many talented, effective teachers every year.

For example, this article from the Orlando Sentinel about a band director named Jeremy Langford from a district not far from the one that educated me, deciding to move to Connecticut.

He states it’s not about the money (although he and his wife, a Montessori teacher, will be doubling their income in the move), and I believe him. No teacher ever enters the profession expecting to drive a Mercedes one day and therefore cannot be upset when that doesn’t happen.

Mr. Langford does acknowledge that stress, caused not by the students but by the administration and politicians, did contribute to the decision. He even tells a story about how reverentially he was treated when house-shopping in Connecticut. He wasn’t used to being respected by the community.

I recently reconnected with some family friends I hadn’t seen since I had left the classroom. Their first assumption of why I quit was about the kids (“Little buggers finally chased you out, huh?” was that way they put it). The truth is that I miss the kids every day, especially my smart and unsure middle schoolers. I still look at the athletic scores and academic awards mentioned in the paper, looking for names I recognize and feel just as proud when I find one.

Having worked under the same legislature as Mr. Langford, I can say that their meddling in affairs that they clearly have no understanding of did contribute to my decision as well. But because I was a good teacher, in any measure you could come up with, I welcomed some of their reforms, like merit pay and the Common Core. I wasn’t afraid of what’s on the horizon for the education system. No other truly professional educator should be, either.

I don’t know if there was anything that could have been done to keep me in the classroom. The process taught me that I’m just one of those kinds of people who need change, and moving schools or changing schedules wasn’t going to be enough. There were no easy answers in Mr. Langford’s case, either. I’m not sure, even if they found a way to double his salary, that he would have retired a Florida teacher.

That’s probably the case for the majority of teachers who leave. When you couple what is traditionally considered one of the most stressful professions in the country with a generation that is increasingly showing less and less professional loyalty, you are going to see more movement between jobs.