Reduce Teacher Turnover as Way to Cut Costs

This letter was read to JCPS Board Members during the Jan. 26 Board Meeting.

Dear JCPS,Teacher Asks to Reduce Turnover

According to the district’s 2015-2016 budget proposal, teacher absenteeism and turnover is a costly expense to the district. As we all know, the schools with the highest need of experienced teachers are also the hardest hit by teacher turnover. According to a policy brief created for the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, “The consequences of high teacher turnover are particularly dire for our nation’s low-performing, high-poverty schools…The problem is not finding enough teachers to do the job- the problem is keeping them in our schools.” JCPS does not conduct exit surveys and has no tangible explanation for the flight of teachers from our struggling schools or the district as a whole. Please allow us to share some of the top reasons why teachers leave the profession.

Richard Ingersoll, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has studied teacher retention for years. During a recent interview with NPR, he said, “One of the reasons teachers quit is that they feel they have no say in decisions that ultimately affect their teaching,” Additionally, most of the turnover is driven by demoralizing school conditions, student misbehavior and lack of discipline. The district’s recent adoption of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is an example of the district making a sweeping change without input from teachers. This expensive program has an enormous impact at the classroom level, yet teachers were not involved in the process. To add insult to injury, Dear JCPS has heard from many teachers who say that PBIS is not working and that student misbehavior is worse than ever. Here are some comments from teachers in the district.

“I dread 6th period every day. It’s a daily fight to get students to put their cell phones away, stay in their seats, stay awake, and do their work. It gets worse every year. We are expected to make huge improvements with students who are increasingly unmotivated and unprepared, all while being told we aren’t doing enough.” – Anonymous JCPS teacher without tenure

“I used to enjoy coming to work every day, but the last few years I have dreaded it. I have a fear of being constantly watched, not being good enough, and being judged in a critical way. I can’t be perfect all the time. It’s like being in prison.” – Anonymous JCPS veteran teacher with over 20 years experience.

Teachers across the district are unhappy. We are scrutinized at every level, told what to teach, forced to give assessments that don’t make sense, and expected to teach in increasingly unproductive learning environments. We do not feel supported, and we do not feel valued. Absences increase when teachers can’t bear the thought of struggling through another day of verbal and sometimes physical abuse. Teachers leave the profession when they can’t take the pressure of being pulled in contradictory directions by those who are supposed to support us.

Low morale is costing the district money in teacher absenteeism and high turnover. Unfortunately, the highest cost is being paid by our students who need stability, continuity and community. Especially in struggling schools, these things are even more critical for students who need consistent relationships with adults they trust. Teachers want to teach because we care about kids. We implore the district to start including us in the decisions that ultimately affect our classrooms and our students.

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