Jan 2023

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All Hands In

Teachers are leaving the profession at drastic rates and to be honest, we don’t blame them. In our first inaugural episode of Teaching STEM #4Real, I sit down with Dr. Sheldon Eakins and we have a candid conversation about the teacher shortage. You can listen to the full episode here: Ep 01: “I’m Ready to Quit!” Teachers and Mental Health.

One thing he said was this:

I’m not going to tell you not to leave the classroom

Dr. Sheldon Eakins

I couldn’t agree more. We need great teachers now more than ever. However, we need to take a closer look at what is driving our teachers away.

Why are teachers leaving the classroom?

A viral tweet claimed that they were choosing to stay in the profession simply because they love what they do. The tweet implied that the teachers were fleeing the profession because they do not love what they do (or did). *Disclaimer, the author of the tweet is not a classroom teacher.

Teaching is an act of love. It is literally stamped on one of our t-shirts. (You can purchase it here! Thank you @Teachfortheculture) So we ask, how does this love get compromised and what can education leaders do to foster a culture where our teachers want to stay and thrive?

Let’s start with what’s not working:

The teacher salary is not sufficient for working professionals.

One quote from a teacher said,

I love teaching and I miss it a lot. But I left because I couldn’t pay my bills on that salary. Love doesn’t pay bills.

Bryan Bee

As administrators, how can we leverage funds for stipends, build professional learning into the academic calendar so that it does not require additional work hours, and offer allocated preparation time for teachers to lesson plan, collaborate, communicate with parents, and, dare I say, rest.

There is a huge focus on test preparation versus learning.

Let’s make room for my second t-shirt, “More than a test score” (available from the same shop!)

Leena wearing "more than a test score" t-shirt. STEM4Real

Yes, we have demands of the state test whereby it is connected to our funding, our performance, our rankings, our real estate, etc. However, is it truly connected to our learning? Did you know that elementary science is not taught everyday in elementary school? That is because only mathematics and ELA are tested. That is why some state organizations are fighting for a science test because it is the only way for students to get access to science.

Decreased support and respect.

When I was in the classroom, one of the factors I truly valued were my principals who supported my work, my growth as a professional, and the autonomy I had in my classroom. However, our teachers are getting punished due to COVID-19 illnesses, docked for sick pay and vacation days, AND experiencing abusive experiences from students, parents, colleagues and administrators. Instead of dismissing these experiences, we should think about how we can listen to what’s going on.

In our Leadership 4 Justice program, when we look at systems of inequity, we use the RECOGNIZE-DISMANTLE-REBUILD framework. We must first recognize this decreased support and respect.

To the education leader that is outside of the classroom and has accused our teachers of leaving because they do not love what they do enough, I encourage you to stop and recognize the teachers that are fighting this fight as we look to save education, especially in a global pandemic.

What can education leaders do to foster a culture where our teachers want to stay and thrive?

Let’s start by prioritizing our students:

When making decisions, do you think about the whole child?

Students writing on their notebooks, studying.
Photo by Santi Vedrí on Unsplash

The CAMTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports) integrates academic, social/emotional and behavioral supports to teach the whole child.

We are also doing the same with our values of quality STEM education + social justice as the foundation.

From a STEM perspective, we are encouraging you to do the following:

  1. Take Risks (the hardest one!)
    Remember, we are disrupting years of doing something comfortable.
    Allow teachers the latitude to take risks and use innovative pedagogy tools that are student-centered. They may not work at first, however, your encouragement will allow teachers to keep continuing on using them. Trust that these innovative strategies will ultimately benefit students over time.
  2. Invest in teacher-centered professional learning
    Design STEM professional learning experiences that will help teachers improve their work. Make sure that these professional learning will be engaging, standards-based, and motivating for teachers to continue their craft. See how we can compensate our teachers for investing extra time into their learning. You can read this article for some tips on how to motivate your teachers: “How to Teach Better Lessons?”
    Aside from that, take time to listen to your teachers. Ask them for input. Let’s all have a voice for our professional growth.
  3. Prioritize equity
    Think about all students and how your decision making can truly be equitable for all students. Look at your master schedule, instructional minutes, and of course, school data. How are we truly ensuring that all students are getting access to all the standards? Yes, science too!
  4. Jump in a classroom
    The last date that I was a teacher in the classroom was December, 2013. That was almost 9 years ago. This is why I do what I can to stay connected to the classroom. Whether it is modeling teaching lessons, interviewing and surveying teachers, observing instruction, or even substitute teaching, I truly believe that as administrators and education leaders, there’s only so much reading and research we can do. We must learn directly from our students and from our teachers that are on the frontlines.

Bonus: What administrators need to know about their teachers

Teachers preparing lessons.
Photo by Surface on Unsplash

Here’s a useful resource that you can read regarding the topic:

Jennifer Gonzalez from Cult of Pedagogy shared her insights with an article from the teacher’s perspective: “What Teachers Want You To Know: A Note to School Administrators”

In this article, she aims to raise awareness to the teachers’ situations which administrators usually get overlooked. She has talked to a lot of teachers daily and she noticed these common struggles among them. She wrote this not just for the teachers, but more especially for the students, because taking care of the teachers’ time and health will enable them to maintain the quality of their instruction for the students.

We, at STEM4Real, have been leading professional learning programs through our Leadership 4 Justice Program and NGSS/STEM Tailor-Made Professional Learning. We also run The STEM4Real Network, a group of educators dedicated to equity and social justice in STEM pedagogy by utilizing the Lesson Study process. We are always looking to grow our group of Netties.. Feel free to reach out to us here.

We would love to create a plan to address student achievement for all students and foster a culture where our teachers, stay, thrive, and commit to equity!


Teaching #4Real

Learn more about how we promote student equity and social justice in STEM4Real