For my last couple of posts, I’ve been posting about my recent hiring at a private school. I found it instructive to look at some of the ways it sold itself to parents, namely by the fact that it kept class sizes small and did not overtest, and to contrast those things with what the ed reform movement has been saying is crucial to improving schools.
Today I thought I’d add another point, that is probably even more important.
Before I was offered a contract, I was called into one final interview with the principal and the elementary school director, who said that they had a few more questions that they had to ask me before they could consider hiring me. The question that they asked me was this: “How long do you plan to stay at our school?”
The principal told me that although he was very strongly considering hiring me, he didn’t want a teacher who was merely going to be a temporary presence for one year. Even two years, he said, was too little. He explained that new teachers need time to get to know the school, how the system works, and that he wanted to invest in their development. I was first struck by the contrast between this interview and my interview for my TFA school, where I was hired on the spot after a ten minute conversation. I was even more struck by how much this contrasted with the TFA ethos of placing teachers for short placements and then replenishing them with a new batch of recruits. At this school, the principal felt that building a stable staff was a key element of the school culture.
It also reminds me of how I viewed my teachers when I was young. Ms. Clevenger, my favorite teacher in elementary school, was a constant presence and institution at the school. Kids who had had her in years past told us about the early homonid lessons that we would be doing with her, and we told the next group of students what they would be facing. We saw ourselves as a part of a stable school community, and when teachers did leave we were sad. I wonder how students in high turnover schools feel, in contrast. Turnover in low income schools is not a phenomenon that TFA introduced, but I do worry that they are normalizing the concept of teaching as a short stint.
I have experienced enough to know that turnover is harmful to schools and can commit myself to more than a two year stint. To all of the new 2013 CMs who read the blogs on this site I offer this advice: if you survive the first year and see yourself becoming a more competent teacher, stay beyond the two year commitment. Even if you have other plans after TFA, that’s fine. You don’t need to become a career teacher, but the more you can give the better. If you are 22 years old now and you stay for four or five years, you will still only be 26 or 27 by the time you move on to your next goals, and although you may not realize this now, that is very young. If your dream was to go to medical school after TFA, I guarantee you that 27 is not too late to do that. In the meantime, you will have honed your skills and become embedded in the school community, and the students from your third year and bey0nd will be enormously lucky to have you teach them.
So if you’re one of the corps members who finds you have a knack for teaching, stick around more than two years. Your students will be lucky that you did.