Last week, I had the privilege to help welcome new special education teachers to my district. I absolutely LOVE early career teachers. Their enthusiasm is contagious and inspiring. Being a special education induction coach (an after-school gig) is something that I am passionate about because we need excellent teachers who stay in this field. My goal is to retain 100% of the new teachers from this group. I still want them working in my district 10 years from now! Last week, I asked our new teachers to raise their hands if they have heard that most teachers leave the profession in 3-5 years. They all raised their hands, but I told them, “that statistic is not you guys.” I desperately want this to be true, and I am committed to doing whatever I can to hang on to these talented, courageous young people. I want new teachers to DISBELIEVE that leaving is possible, and I will be shouting that message loudly all year. So I have been thinking: What can we all do to retain and empower our early career teachers to become teacher leaders who stay in the field to influence and advance the profession?
Yesterday, I read an article about job satisfaction and motivation.* Teaching ranked among the highest satisfying profession, but among the lowest in workplace engagement and happiness. I found that really interesting. It reflects the dialogues I hear in my workplace. Teachers love the time with students behind closed doors in their classrooms, but often feel discontent with the greater context of education today. Outside of classrooms, there is high-stakes teacher assessment, endless meetings, high-stakes student testing, decreasing funding, new reform initiatives around every corner, media bashing of public education, and other perils. We live in a constantly shifting landscape and it seems like teachers have a hard time finding comfortable footing.
Despite these challenges, we have to stay focused on positive, solutions-driven discussions in our workplace. Did you know that most early career teachers think that veteran teachers are negative, burnt out, and exhausting? I think that there are some problems with the message we send to our new teachers.
As veteran teachers in the field, let’s support these new teachers in superhuman ways. Let’s smile at them in the halls, get to know them, and stay after-school for a few minutes to lend a hand. Let’s keep telling them “You are a leader” and let’s give them opportunities for leadership. We need their teamwork and fresh ideas to advance the profession. When we have the opportunity to interact with new teachers, I encourage veteran teachers to step aside from the burdens we bear for a few minutes. Let these new teachers re-spark the naive, relentless, world-changing passion for teaching that once consumed us all. We can raise them up to critical consciousness about the challenges in the profession over time. If we overwhelm them with too much too soon, they head for the door. When new teachers talk about change, don’t tell them that change isn’t possible. Instead, tell them: You be the change.
And new teachers, I encourage you to walk away from negative conversations or people that drag you down. Have the courage to change the topic when a conversation is not productive. Be the change that I believe you can be. We need you.