Teachers are not superheroes, caped crusaders, or some type of knight in shining armor. They are normal, red-blooded Americans; a fact that most policymakers seem to ignore. If we ever want to create sustainability in the education profession and create meaningful reform, America needs to start creating education policy for humans and stop chasing this superhero chimera.
Don't get me wrong; there are teachers as amazing as any superhero. Ron Clark's most recent book, The End of Molasses Classes, documents how he gave an extreme home makeover to one student's home for Christmas. This is not a hyperbole for the blog; Mr. Clark and his team literally remodeled a student's home while he was out of town. Amazingly, this just seems like any other day of work for him.
Mr. Clark is just an example of the myriad educators that work relentlessly to make students' lives better. A recent report by Mathematica , documents the herculean work done to get impressive student achievement at KIPP schools. The typical foes of race, gender, and poverty don't seem to hinder these teaching superheroes. But, how does this network of schools get such impressive gains? In no small part, it's due to nine-hour school days for students and an average 74-hour workweek for staff members.
While KIPP may boast significant gains in student achievement, it also has high levels of turnover. The Mathematica study found that approximately one in every five teachers left KIPP classrooms during the school year. Nationwide, things aren't much better. About one-third of educators leave within three years of entering the classroom and 46% are gone within five years. Our current education system seems to be the kryptonite sapping faculty of their will to fight on.
As some would justifiably argue, not every school is a KIPP school and not every teacher is a Ron Clark. As the old adage goes: the best three things about teaching are June, July, and August. To the outside observer, teachers have it too easy. It shouldn't matter if people get burnt out and leave the profession within a few years, because anyone can do the job.
To dissuade this claim, it is important to note the significant impact that teachers make on students' lifetimes. Research done at Harvard University, has shown that being in the classroom of an exceptional educator for only one year increases lifetime earnings by $50,000. I don't care how a person started to teach, I just want to make sure that they stay in the classroom as long as possible.
What might keep them in the classroom longer? Work-life balance and a career ladder would be great initial steps. Corporate ideas and market forces have slowly crept into education, except in ways that might make a sustainable career for educators. Work-life balance seems to be all-or-nothing, with demands for personal time strictly relegated to summer vacation. A teacher's family and personal life should always come second or third to the job, contrary to best practices being developed across the private sector.
Like any employee, teachers want to be treated with respect. Cavalier assessments that label educators as lazy for prioritizing family or incompetent for studying education only provide further incentive to leave the profession. Whenever we get serious about meaningful reform, we'll start to make policies that are geared for the everyday heroes that are leading our classrooms and not continue to be blindly "waiting for Superman."