Written as part of #blogsync3: “Wasted investment? Why do so many teachers leave the profession in the first 5 years?”
To find other posts on this topic, please visit share.edutronic.net/teacher-attrition/ Rather than write about the reasons that teachers leave the profession, I thought I would suggest how it could be avoided.
Why people leave teaching (paraphrased from another post in this month’s #blogsync by James McEnaney)
- They made the wrong decision – teaching is not for them
- They find other opportunities more suited to them
- A major life event makes it impossible to stay with the job
- They become disillusioned because of
- Being micro-managed
- A lack of support from senior management
- Being stifled by systems that put constraints on their creativity and innovation
How the issue of ‘disillusionment’ be addressed?
Middle and senior leaders must find that happy balance between providing guidance and direction, while putting trust in teachers and supporting their ideas.
Teachers must receive regular, specific, positive feedback on their teaching in order to feel valued, to know they’re doing the right thing, and to know how to continue improving. For example, on the thorny issue of ‘lesson outcomes’, I cannot impose a required format for these, because that will stifle individual teachers’ creativity. What I can insist on is that it must be made clear to students what they are learning about, what they are doing, and why. That’s it. As long as a student, teacher, or anyone else in the room is clear what the students are learning about, what they are doing, and why, I am happy. If people are concerned that Ofsted inspectors are looking for a particular style of lesson outcome, they need to stop worrying about it. They only need to worry about what the students in their classroom are looking for.
Assessing teachers’ progress is not that different to assessing students’ progress. Students need feedback on what they’re doing, while they’re doing it, so they know what they’re doing well and how to improve what they’re doing. Good grades are not feedback – they are a by-product of good teaching and learning. Similarly, teachers need feedback on what they’re doing, while they’re doing it, so they know what they’re doing well and how to improve what they’re doing. The appraisal (or ‘performance management’) process is the means by which this happens, along with informal observations arising from ‘popping in’ to lessons in the normal run of things. Good Ofsted grades are not feedback – they are a by-product of good teaching and learning.
This is where I believe the problem lies. I have just stated that student grades and Ofsted grades are not feedback, and are therefore not helpful for assessing teachers’ and students’ progress. They are indicators of success, but that is all – they are ends, not means. However, in my experience these tend to be the main foci of individual, departmental and whole-school improvement. This approach is similar to the type of business thinking that prioritises profit margins above all else. If a business wants to be great, it must decide what it wants to do well, how to do it well, and how to keep getting better at doing it. If it does so, and is run efficiently with trusted and valued staff, it will become a great business, and will maximise its profits. But this will be a by-product of success – an end, not a means.
And so it is with schools. If individuals, classes, teachers, support staff, middle and senior leaders all know what they are trying to do well, how to do it well, and how to continually get better, they will do so. As long as the school is run efficiently with trusted and valued staff, then final grades and Ofsted grades will follow. Both forms of grades can of course be useful insofar as they give a good idea of students’ or schools’ attainment. But only within their clearly-defined limits. They are not the only indicators of success. A few other indicators might be: student employment and further education several years after leaving school; student, staff and parent happiness; the reputation of students from the school within the local community; the retention and development of staff.
Do you teach?
If so, why do you teach? Do you meet your students in September and look at them thinking something along the lines of, “These people will be able to get some very high grades in my subject in 11 months, and if Ofsted come in they will rate my teaching as outstanding.” If you have been driven to think in this way, then you may well join the ranks of teachers who have left the profession after becoming disillusioned with it.
Or do you look at them and think something along the lines of, “I wonder what they are thinking. I hope that they leave this lesson thinking about what they’ve learnt. I hope what I teach them enriches their experience of life. I hope that in years to come they all play a part in shaping a better future, as I try to do. If they get good grades at the end of the year, it will be thanks to the effort they put into their learning, and the enjoyment they take in it.” If you think this way (as I suspect most teachers do) and are encouraged to think this way by your colleagues, then I hope that you will continue to enjoy teaching for many years to come!