Why are teachers leaving? Part I

I recently heard the following said by a character in an episode of “Law and Order”: “Why are teachers being pushed out. Is it because they are being micromanaged by the DOE. Is it because they are being given all of the responsibility and none of the authority?”

Is this really how we are seen by others – or how we see ourselves? Seriously, this was broadcast on a TV show, certainly not the bastion of knowledge we go to when seeking “truth in education.” So how did they get it right? These are the key talking points heard by teachers around the country today. I don’t completely agree, so why are we (as Einstein would say), “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” We are seeing change – not all of it positive for teacher growth and development – yet we continue to accept ineffective solutions for our best and brightest in education today? Education is not being sabotaged , but I do think those looking ahead to change are grasping at straws and coming up short.

We all hope that the ideas coming from today’s leaders [Charlotte Danielson (Framework), Robert Marzano (Evaluative model), Diane Ravitch, Michelle Rhee, Todd Whitaker, and so many more] will solve our problems, but are they?

Let’s dissect this TV drama statement regarding teacher attrition one piece at a time.

1. Is it because they are being micromanaged by the DOE. I couldn’t agree more, but what is micromanagement anyway? One definition is, “management with excessive control or attention to minor details where where one entity takes an overbearing approach in the level of control and influence over the members of a group. Often, this excessive obsession with the most minute of details causes a direct management failure in the ability to focus on the major details.” Lifted from the annals of Wikipedia (again, not a fountainhead of wisdom, but they do seem to have this one covered), some “symptoms” of micromanagement are:

  • frequent requests for unnecessary and overly detailed reports (“report-omania”)
  • focus excessively on procedural trivia rather than on overall performance, quality and results (after all, how many ways can we serve up an Aim or a Do Now?)
  • clouding of overall goals and objectives
  • the necessity for constant and detailed performance feedback
  • appearance of lack of faith or trust in employees work creating teacher disengagement which eventually leads to an “assembly line” mentality
  • Do any of this sound familiar to teachers?

In short, micromanagement limits success and creativity. Coaches were brought on board to empower teachers. Instead, they are micromanaging teachers practice – different from practice management –  leaving many teachers feeling dis-empowered and growing more tentative and paralyzed every day with the feeling that, “there is just no pleasing them.” These new coaches may have been great teachers and well versed in curriculum and planning, but they have never worked long term – side by side – with professional consultants in the industry to understand the practical nature of consulting.

Practice management consulting is designed to have the opposite effect. Consultants help teachers achieve their objectives (personal goals based on the school’s Mission Statement) using business tools to become self-actualized through goal setting, action steps and statistical analysis to help guide their professional decisions and those scholastic choices of their students as well. Consultants do not deal with the practice of a professional – their honing of professional skills, such as lesson writing, grading, etc… And practice management is not classroom management.

2. Is it because they are being given all of the responsibility….” Yes, teachers have a great deal of responsibility, but so does every other professional who is given a monumentally important task. Teachers must be given the latitude to own this responsibility, then consult with them to allow self-realization (to become the best a teacher can be). Teachers are up for the task, but are not being given the tools to succeed. They want better.

We say teaching is a calling. A calling is defined as “a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action especially when accompanied by conviction of divine influence.” So instead of treating teachers like children by micromanaging and over-evaluating (teaching is the only profession to do this), let teachers fulfill this calling by giving them the tools (sound and effective practice management) to grow and develop their practices.

3. “Is it because they are being given all of the responsibility and none of the authority.” You (the teacher) were given the authority when you were hired. What you do from that point on is up to you. I understand we must live by the constraints of the school and the guidelines of our contracts, but we are not machines. We are not automatons, but we certainly are beginning to look like them. We are teachers.

How do we break out? How do we become more of who we wanted to be when we came into teaching? It is simple. There are many things a teacher can do to change the current status. Above all, keep your mind open to new ideas.

The Business of School program is that new idea.

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