Perhaps I am biased because I am surrounded by teachers on a daily basis, but teachers are some of the hardest working professionals I know, and yet they are some of the most under appreciated. It is easy to condemn us for our “summers off” and our “winter breaks” and the numerous “holidays off,” but this time off still does not make up for the 12-16 hour workdays some teachers put in.
I left the classroom as a full-time teacher two years ago. I loved my students, I truly respected my colleagues, and I looked forward to seeing our new school grow and succeed. But with very little support, in a completely new school (the building was given to us a week before school started), with an inexperienced administrator, and many more lacks, I did not last. I like to think I am not a quitter, but going home stressed about work on a daily basis and feeling incompetent half the time because I felt like no matter how hard I worked that I wasn’t meeting expectations was enough for me to decide to leave.
Through the years, I have been privileged to meet amazing teachers who have truly succeeded in the classroom, but many have eventually decided to make the same choice and leave as they found themselves burned out after only a few years. In my current work, I work alongside teachers who have been in the classroom for an average of 15+ years, and most them agree on one thing: self-care.
These veteran teachers remind me that teaching is not a sprint but is instead a marathon. However, the overly eager educator in me can’t help but push the needle a little further every chance I get, and while I see more and more teachers willing to take on more, I can’t help but feel responsible for adding to their plate as I become weary that maybe I will end up burning them out too. It’s in those moments that I start brainstorming all the things we could do to help keep them motivated. What if we provided childcare after school? What if we had fitness classes offered on campus? What if in addition to maternity leave we also offered new mothers lactation pods? What if we actually cared for the whole teacher?
The reality is I am not the only one concerned with teacher burnout and retention. For many new school leaders, that seems to be one of their biggest concerns. Thankfully, organizations like Great Public Schools Now, a California not-for-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all Los Angeles students receive a high-quality education by accelerating the growth of high-quality public schools, is taking leaps to combat teacher retention and teach us all a lesson about teacher care. Bright Star Schools, a charter organization consisting of six schools, just recently earned a $250,000 grant that will go towards workplace enhancements as a staff survey showed that “teachers wanted to be able to teach, but also to raise their own families and stay healthy.” In prioritizing the well-being of their teachers, Bright Star hopes to create a model where teachers can make a career out of staying in the classroom rather than giving it their best a few years and leaving.
Bright School Stars is not the only organization focused on innovative ways to keep teachers in the classroom while also attracting new teachers to join the field. For example, Lynwood Unified School District has moved to differentiated professional development to provide teachers opportunities to continue their own learning. This district created Google Certification seminars to build capacity of tech leaders within the classroom. Additionally, the Board championed the opening of a district gym, available to all district employees at no cost, with the purpose of prioritizing staff’s health and well-being.
These are not crazy ideas — they are just seen as innovative because not enough schools are making teacher retention the priority it needs to be. In a time of teacher shortage, implementing strategies and learning from each other needs to be at the core of our work. Our teachers deserve to be cared for in the same way that they care for our children. Perhaps with more funding opportunities, like Great Public Schools Now grants, we will be able to make the “whole teacher” a school’s priority too.
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