A true story below about two teachers at one inner-city, extended-day elementary school in the Escambia County School District.....Should we treat all teachers exactly alike in terms of pay? I have questioned this in the past as I've advocated for expanded differential pay for teachers in tough assignments. I'm amazed that the idea is constantly rejected, few in education are in it solely for pay, however I believe we should pay a stipend for teachers that work in the toughest schools--they deserve it!
One teacher worked at this location for nearly a decade, she loved her job and her students. But the combination of changing leadership at the top, with growing demands for precise teaching pedagogy and rigid test preparation protocols dictated downward to this individual in her classroom slowly wore her down. Meanwhile, continuity of staff at this school was impossible. Every year, 25-40% of the staff would churn, young teachers would quit, and veterans that could, would transfer out-others would retire. Her students, by and large, were impoverished and lived in appalling conditions. They made small to marginal gains and continuous pressure was put on this teacher to get the scores up! Was she not effective? She certainly thought she was! Meanwhile, support from the parents was sporadic at best, non-existent at worst. Lots of good intention and good will was poured out to this school by many local charities pitching in and putting time and resources into the school. But progress was still excruciatingly difficult to achieve. Many students were held back. Some 5th graders became pregnant. Lots of children were neglected. Massive dysfunction! Several teachers were physically attacked, and more than one student was arrested and led away from this
ELEMENTARY school in handcuffs for assaulting a staff member. Her students loved her, and she loved and cared deeply for them-but this place was just so difficult the grind was taking a heavy toll on her mentally and physically. Overall there was such a huge lack of any appreciation for the efforts being put in by this teacher! Administrators and parents treated her disrespectfully, so much so that finally she asked herself “Why?” Why am I doing this? A lack of strong support from the top, and marginal to no support from parents finally pushed this teacher out of this school, and it was a gut-wrenching decision for her to leave…But she did leave. She found her way into one of the suburban schools locally that has tremendous parental support, a stable staff, and continuity in site leadership. In her new environment, this teacher from the inner city was named the top reading teacher in her new school in her first year there!!—and her students did exceptionally well on all their exams! The parents of students at this school answered calls, got their kids to school on time, and made sure they completed their assignments. Finally-support!! She is a great teacher that knows how to teach—and she has found a new home! What a huge loss for her previous school….
The other teacher in this tale came to the Escambia County School District, to the same extended day, inner city school, from another state in the southeast. This teacher was recognized in her previous school as the teacher of the year, she had impeccable credentials, and a track record of success in reaching kids and teaching kids. She was a math whiz, and teaching kids to read came as naturally as breathing air for her. She was an experienced veteran with a proven track-record of success. She arrived at this inner-city, extended day school, and she noticed lots of different things that seemed peculiar to her. No continuity. One classroom had three different teachers in the first four months of the school year. Other teachers were stressed out. One teacher was inconsolable at the end of the workday, crying. She was struggling, and conveyed that she felt like she had no support at all. Multiple long-term subs, and many teachers quitting, some teachers fearful of students, very fearful of the parents. Subs were hard to get, and when teachers were absent, classes got doubled-up. Meanwhile, huge groups of teachers would be pulled out of the classrooms at this school for training, leaving substitute teachers, that were hard to come by, in their places. No continuity. School leaders were in and out, the front office assistant held things together as best she could and was a rock, but too many times the principal just was not there. The days were long, and the hours added up. Students were not making the progress that they should be making, she feared. As the end of the first year arrived, this teacher realized her students were just not doing as well as they should. In fact they were not doing well at all. What more could she do? How many more hours could she work? How much more of her own money could she spend on her class? What could be done to help these kids? At the end of the year, despite her superhuman efforts, the students’ grades were very, very disappointing. Many teachers left, and the leadership at the school was again changed. But would this help? Would this be what’s necessary, or is the problem something else? These are the questions this amazing teacher kept asking herself. Because of the experiences of this first year, this teacher’s husband was wary of her continuing on at this location, and if she was to stay, he said he wanted her moved down to 1st or 2nd grade; some of the over-age fifth grade students are too aggressive and too intimidating, and large numbers of them simply do not have any respect for the teachers and staff. And the parents of these over-age fifth graders don’t see this or acknowledge this as a problem. This teacher wants to come back. She wants to teach, and she cares deeply for these kids; however, she will transfer out of this school as soon as she is able, she’s actively looking for other assignments right now. Whether or not she will come back this next year is, at this moment, an open question.
Meanwhile, the word on the street is that this school is having an extremely difficult time hiring qualified teachers for next school year.
Progress will be difficult here, and something has to change to keep these teachers at schools like this one.
Treating these teachers, like the ones described above, just like the teachers in the ‘burbs, will be the recipe for continuing high levels of staff churn, which will inhibit progress for stdents.
We need to think differently about how we treat, manage, and compensate the staffs at our 12 schools that serve the areas of our community that have massive social dysfunction. If we don’t, we won’t have the right, or any, staff left to take these assignments…..
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