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Saturday 9 February 2013

New Teachers Leaving the Profession

I have heard this statistic before... how a high number of new teachers leave the profession in the five years for various reasons. For that reason, I suppose, it is good that I am in my seventh year, albeit still not continuing full-time due to lack of jobs and the structure in which jobs are posted in my district (or not posted in many cases) but that is another rant.

Patricia Melnyk writes in the Montreal Gazette:
As a non-permanent or contract teacher, I have also had my share of positions where working conditions were far from ideal. For example, I have taught classes classified as “regular,” which are supposed to include mainly students whose behaviour falls within the normal range. In fact, sometimes these classes have included not only students who are coded (students with diagnosed conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism and academic or behavioural problems), but also a good number of students with undiagnosed disorders. Under these trying conditions, teaching in the normal sense of the word becomes almost impossible, with constant noise, disruption and chaos. Moreover, classes such as these are also relatively large. These vexing conditions can and often do lead to a teacher’s deep sense of frustration, hopelessness and even burnout.
Burnout is something I recently talked about with student teachers I presented to at Vancouver Island University. It is so important to find work-life balance and avoid burnout, but I digress.

I'd be lying if I said I hadn't considered a different profession, I love teaching, it is my passion, which is why I am still doing it... but after the first three years of not obtaining a contract, feeling exhausted and abused at the end of the day as "a sub" I really debated if this was something I could maintain doing.... luckily in year four I had a contract a "class of my own" at least temporarily and started to realize I could never leave... still, I can see why some consider leaving and understand how many make that decision. Teaching is tough!

I read with great interest several articles recently written about the percentage of teachers who leave their profession in the early years.

According to McGill University statistics, nearly 50 per cent of all new teachers in North America leave the profession within their first five years of teaching. As a teacher in my 39th year in a public high school, I understand the many reasons they do so.

The article (which I encourage you to read, it is well written and addresses many things teachers will nod their head in agreement to) focuses on three reasons many teachers leave the profession:

  1. False Accusations
  2. Parents
  3. Special Needs students (which I read as lack of support for special needs)
 “The education field is in crisis,” Jon G. Bradley, associate professor of education at McGill University has stated. It is easy to understand why this is so and why teachers are abandoning the merry-go-round of disgruntled parents, the staggering number of special-needs students and the false accusation syndrome for careers in which impotency, impossible demands and abuse do not thrive.

So what do we do about this problem? Nothing? Seems the problem is only being made worse...

Universities are still pumping out new teachers, with no growth of jobs, there is a surplus of teachers in many areas of Canada and the retention of quality teachers seems to be a non-issue. Many teachers leave the profession, but there are ten more waiting to take their place. The turn-over is like that of some jobs I held in my university days, new cook every other week, customers don't know the different, but guess what? Students do...

Montreal Gazette writes:
“Any other profession that had that kind of turnover would look at working conditions, would look at salaries and other things surrounding the teaching environment,” said Joel Westheimer, university research chair and professor at the University of Ottawa’s faculty of education. “Instead, in education, we bring up talk about testing teachers and linking their pay to the students’ performance. I mean, can you imagine Microsoft suffering a crisis because there were not enough programmers going into the profession and leaving after the first five years? Would (the company’s) response be to increase salaries, recruit better people, change working conditions so that they could work in different places, have free soda and free lunches? Or would it test them?”

Sadly, this isn't just new teachers feeling the pressure. Debra Berry writes:

I’d like to point out that it is not just the new, young teachers who are quitting. I left at 55, with 32 years of teaching high school, the last six with horrific, inhumane workloads. I taught 14 groups of students, 400 teenagers, twice a week, in what felt like a factory assembly line. As a teacher who ran multiple student activities and sports teams over the years, I was exhausted. The success of my students sat squarely on my shoulders with little or no support from a board obsessed with the budget over students’ needs, and an administration with so much paperwork they never came out of their offices.

Many of my colleagues are leaving for the same reasons, most before full pension. I am so glad I got out, but my daughter, after three years of teaching, is exhausted by her workload of four different elementary school levels, many special-needs children not properly supported and hours of unpaid and unrecognized preparation time.

I think education needs to be a priority for provincial governments. There needs to be adequate funding and support in the classrooms to help retain teachers and ensure students are getting the education they deserve.

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