I've read a few blog posts on the idea of the Irreplaceables- schools who lose teachers who are irreplaceable because there isn't anything in place to keep good teachers around. One post is from a New York City teacher who writes honestly about why she left teaching, citing a lack of a clear career path, feeling stuck and a lack of recognition of success.
Today someone showed me a Gallup poll from 2002- one I actually came across my first year teaching (it is what made me realize I needed to leave the school where I started teaching). The poll lists 10 indicators of a positive work environment. These include:
1. Know what is expected
2. Have materials and equipment to do job correctly
3. Receive recognition each week for good work
4. Have supervisor who cares and pays attention
5. Receive encouragement to contribute and improve
6. Can identify person at work who is "best friend"
7. Feel mission of organization makes them feel like their jobs are important
8. See people around them committed to doing good job
9. Feel like they are learning new things (getting better)
10. Have opportunity to do their job well
- Buckingham & Coffman, 2002, Gallup. Taken directly from power point on positive behavior supports.
The chart was shared with us to talk about what kids need to be ready to work hard in schools, but it got me thinking about the Irreplacable teachers and the problem of retention.
The general make up of the profession means that it can be difficult for these ten items to become true. Many times teachers do not have the materials or equipment to do their jobs correctly. More importantly, schools are set up with a few main administrators in charge of overseeing many, many teachers under them. It can be one principal and two assistant principals for over a hundred teachers. With that sort of management system of course teachers are not being recognized weekly for good work, and they cannot all feel they have a supervisor who pays attention. It's possible that it can happen, but administrators have a lot on their plates. Would structuring schools differently so that the administrators are not the only ones supervising staff make a difference? Should someone besides from the administrators be in charge of giving recognition for good work and giving encouragement to contribute and improve?
Then there is the whole perception of the lazy and incompetent public school teachers- with a general public view of teachers as cogs in the system it can be hard to feel that the job is important (of course I'd argue that it is the most important job out there, but that's just me...).
I think #7 and #8 might be the most important though, at least to me. I'm willing to overlook a lot if I feel that what I am doing is important and that I work with others who are equally committed. I was blessed to work with a staff like that at the think tank and I can already tell that I'm going to be blessed that way once again.
Perhaps what is most important to keeping those "irreplaceable" teachers is for schools and their communities to have cultural shifts. I don't think we need to start labeling "good teachers" and "bad teachers" anymore than law firms and pediatrician practices label "good doctors" and "bad lawyers" but we do all need to work in an environment where we are respected, encouraged, and coached and we all need to work with others that take our jobs seriously.