I have been a supporter of professional teacher associations my entire career as an educator: I was a member of the union the moment I walked into a classroom as a student teacher. Besides reading articles about education and educational practices I am also always interested in what is happening in the workplace.
Sean Cavanagh writing in EdWeek reports that Charter schools are seeing a significantly higher turnover than traditional public schools 1). Turnover in public schools is at 14% whereas the rate for charter schools is 25%.
There may be many factors which impact this disparity but a report by Teach Plus suggests several factors as being most often cited:
• Build a culture of “mutual feedback,” in which administrators not only allow offer guidance and instruction to teachers, but also accept it from the educators on staff. Doing so is likely to improve student achievement, the authors argue, and strengthen teachers’ belief in the school.
• Protect teachers’ time for teaching. Charters should be “vigilant” in protecting teachers’ planning time so they can improve their craft, and find creative ways to ease up on the other work they’re asked to do—like lunch duty and study hall. Reducing those non-academic burdens will help reduce burnout, the paper says.
• Create career pathways for teachers. Too few charter schools today offer any room for advancement, the paper says. And when they do give teachers leadership duties, it doesn’t come with relief from teaching duties, on their other end. Charter schools need to work harder to develop career ladders, based on what teachers say are the kinds of leadership roles they would want, the paper argues.
• Become more attuned to the personal needs of teachers. Charter schools’ schedules and expectations “can wear down even the most idealistic and energetic hires,” the paper says. Not only should teachers be adequately compensated, they should be allowed to have relatively flexible schedules, to help them keep up with responsibilities in their personal lives as they fulfill their on-the-job duties. The idea is to “create a culture of sustainability for teachers while maintaining high student achievement.” 2)
Looking at this list I notice that support and availability of all of these factors can be found one place that I know of — in my teacher association. Over the years I have participated in many forums and in-services sponsored by my association that seek to offer connections with other teachers in order to facilitate peer support and professional growth.
Our association recognizes that teachers put in a lot of their own time to be successful at their jobs. So one of the key features of our district consensus agreement has long been to ensure that all teachers have at least some time set aside every day for planning and collaboration.
While plans for advancement have been problematic in some areas, our association has also been very supportive in lobbying for recognition and compensation for teachers who seek to become better at their profession. Such things as national board certification and pursuit of advanced degrees have been key focal points in negotiations and discussions for the recruiting and retention of superior teachers.
Finally, here comes that old bugaboo raising its head. Paying teachers more money in order to have them stay. What then is “adequate compensation”? The study has shown that Charter schools may not be offering enough in the way of a sufficient salaries calculated to make their teachers want to remain in the education field. That means that one quarter of the teachers that have become part of their system and philosophy leave teaching forcing them to find and integrate new staff continually.
Teacher associations help ameliorate the negative factors in the current educational environment.
Having been on numerous bargaining teams in two different school districts I have seen the process first hand. I am very familiar with what our associations do to benefit not only our members but non-members and subsequently our schools.
What does the teacher association bargain for? Number one is salary, number two are benefits. Why do they bargain for these things first? Because as any teacher will tell you our working conditions are our student’s learning environments. It is intuitively obvious that constant turnover in the field of education is not a good thing. For the most part teachers, like any other professional, perform better at teaching as they continue to do it and amass experience. Also they are more likely to work to become better in their field of endeavor when they feel valued as professionals.
In my opinion, all the points cited in the Teach Plus report point to unionization as the right thing for Charter school teachers. The more they are recognized as professionals the better off they will be and concomitantly the likelihood of their remaining in the profession also increases proportionally.
Yes, I am a union shill, I readily admit it. But I have a good reason. In supporting Charter school teachers becoming recognized as teacher association members I am also supporting the profession I have devoted 33 years of my life to. It is in the best interest of education for all public school teachers to be the best trained, most committed and fully compensated individuals that they can be. And retaining trained, experienced teachers is in the best interests of our children.