Thursday, February 9, 2017

Teacher to Parent - Why teachers leave

I read in a recent Post and Courier editorial about the shortage of teachers and the problems with teacher retention in our state. Is this a real problem and what might be some ideas to correct it?

I read that, too, and I thought the P&C’s editorial was welcomed fresh air for what has been a closeted matter for a long time. While it is not a burning issue in all schools, it is a serious problem in many places, and there is no doubt it is hurting thousands of students.

As director of the Charleston Teacher Alliance, I interact with teachers all over the region, and from what I hear, the primary reasons they leave the classroom to come down to three critical issues:

1. Student discipline. Across the state, teachers and principals have not been given the power to enforce basic rules of behaviour, and I’m not just talking about gum chewing and running in the halls. I routinely hear from teachers who have been assaulted, cursed at, threatened, and terrorised by out-of-control classrooms. Far too often the students in these situations are treated with tenderness while the teachers are blamed. Teaching in many schools has evolved by stages, from instruction to daycare to containment to survival. Until teachers and principals are empowered to get their classrooms back in control, the profession will continue to bleed talented, intelligent educators.

2. Parental support. From the moment teachers step into the classroom, they are warned that they will be held accountable for raising the test scores of all students. They are also warned that they must do so without the expectation of parents’ help. While most parents are supportive of their children’s education, too many have forgotten their responsibilities. They do not discipline their children. They do not make them study. They do not encourage them to listen to their teachers. Instead, they blame teachers and the system for failing them. Teaching is hard enough when everyone is behind you, but when the people who have the most influence on students are not supportive of your efforts, exasperation and fatigue can take root, and teachers will abandon the profession.

3. Administrative power and teacher discretion. Because districts are becoming increasingly top-heavy with administrators, teachers are being forced to implement prescribed (and usually unsuccessful) programs and teaching methods. Teaching is an art, not a science, and when you exchange a teacher’s palette and canvas with a dime store paint-by-numbers set, the effects on the teaching profession are predictable. In addition, districts continue to slam teachers with grotesque amounts of paperwork, replace instructional time with unnecessary testing, and cram more and more students into already packed classrooms.

I’m no genius, but I am a teacher, and my advice to those at the state level is that if you really want to keep teachers in the classroom, you might pay attention to why they’re leaving in the first place.

Jody Stallings has been an award-winning teacher in Charleston since 1992. He has served as Charleston County Teacher of the Year, Walmart Teacher of the Year, and CEA runner-up for National Educator of the Year. He currently teaches English at Moultrie Middle School and is director of the Charleston Teacher Alliance. Please send your questions to him at

The Charleston Teacher Alliance (CTA) is the largest teacher advocacy organisation in the Charleston County School District, and one of the largest in South Carolina. It is unique among teacher organisations for its data-driven approach and focuses on teacher empowerment.

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