E4E-NY teacher Pat Capella: A Personal Reflection on Keeping Great Teachers in Their Classrooms
Pat Capella teaches special education at Jane Addams High School for Academics and Careers in the Bronx. Pat is also the UFT Chapter Leader at her school.
I admit that I’m jealous. I envy the teachers who will be returning at the start of the new school year to classrooms full of hope and promise. When I return to my high school classroom in September, it will be with a different perspective. I teach in what is labeled a failing school. We will be closed in three years. The promise I will make to my students is to see that they are provided with the best educational opportunities that can be provided in these circumstances. But it will never match the education they might have received if our school had not lost so many exceptional teachers over the past several years.
My school has seen a hemorrhage of teaching talent. Teachers have retired, been excessed, or left for other opportunities, but if my school had been effectively supported, many would have stayed. I know that there are those who will say that our school failed because it had poor teachers. That is simply not true. There were many reasons why our school was not successful, but we never suffered from a lack of teaching talent. I can only conclude that, as a policy, our educational leaders do not feel that retaining good teachers in schools, especially struggling schools, is important.
Recently, I was invited to attend a teacher-led roundtable discussion hosted by E4E on keeping teaching talent in the classroom. I welcomed the opportunity to join other education professionals in an open discussion on the problem of keeping our best teachers in the classroom. We discussed many reasons for why good teachers leave, which were as varied as the different perspectives in the discussion group. Some of the examples given were the lack of school cultures that support or recognize exceptional practice, insufficient professional development, lack of monetary incentives - just to name a few. If retaining teaching talent is important for students’ success (and I would challenge anyone who thinks otherwise), then how can we best accomplish that? Although many ideas were discussed, the model that most resonated was one in which administrators would recognize talent and nurture professional growth through compensation and leadership opportunities.
I know that there have been many conversations in the media about supporting additional compensation for the most effective teachers. These dialogues seem to have a very one dimensional view about what makes a good teacher. Looking at it solely from the point of view of optimal test results does not factor in the understanding that teaching, at its best, is a cooperative endeavor. Both teachers and students benefit when practices are elevated by the expertise of successful colleagues. So it would seem that if the desired end result is higher test scores, and as a consequence having students able to meet the challenges of college and careers, a model system should be stable enough to keep the best teachers, encourage their development, and reward them for taking on leadership roles in which they work with their peers to improve outcomes.
This does not seem to be the working model for many of our schools. We need our educational policy makers to understand that if they want success, they must support our best practitioners as they seek opportunities for professional growth within the framework of the institutions in which they teach. Smart teacher retention is about more than simply increasing the percentage of teachers who return each year. It’s about creating school cultures that empower great teachers to learn from each other in order to best serve their students.