Where teachers want to be

Some high-poverty schools are places where teachers want to teach, writes Emily Alpert in Voice of San Diego. In a story on high teacher turnover at high-poverty schools, she profiles Balboa Elementary, which has bucked the trend. Balboa primarily educates children from low-income, non-English-speaking Mexican families. Scores were so low for so long the school was reconstituted in 2005, losing most of its staff. Now Balboa is keeping its teachers.

The school offers perks, such as giving teachers the right to use on-campus day care and a refurbished teachers’ lounge. But the key is that teachers feel “respected and included in reforms,” Alpert writes.

They worked together to create common assessments to check if children understand their lessons. They set common rules for each classroom. And they devised new ways to talk about math to better prepare students for algebra.

“We all get along. No one sits back and does the bare minimum,” said teacher Laurie Bergener. “You can walk into any third grade classroom and we’re all doing the same thing.”

Balboa now scores above the state average for schools with similar demographics.

Seniority rules force principals to take teachers they don’t want, reports part one of the series. Teachers without seniority may bounce from school to school.

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  1. It’s nice to know that somewhere, teachers are sticking to their school because they want to – and are allowed to.

  2. Apropos of nothing… it’s been a while since I worked around public schools, but when I read “refurbished the teachers’ lounge” I still think “repainted the tobacco-stained walls and replaced burn-marked furniture.”

  3. palisadesk says:

    Some teachers prefer high-poverty schools for a variety of reasons, and are better suited to work in them than in “better” schools. While positive steps such as those mentioned in the article will make difficult schools better work environments (and this is good), it is also true that the skill set and aptitudes teachers need to bring to the job are different in high-poverty schools versus higher-SES schools.

    I can speak from personal experience to this, having worked in a spectrum (top private school in DC area, rural school serving very poor seasonal workers’ children, working-class city school and several urban, very low income schools). Many colleagues have come and gone, and some — who were outstanding teachers — simply didn’t “fit” with the environment in a high-needs school. They were much happier, and more effective, when they transferred to more middle-class settings. I was the reverse — satisfactory in a higher-SES school, but really *far* more productive in a challenging environment. I know others who feel the same way — our worst nightmare is to be bumped to a quiet, high-achieving middle class school;-) There are probably research studies that quantify the characteristis of teachers who are significantly better adapted to one end of the spectrum versus the other; what does need to be remembered is that teaching excellence is situational, and that moving the “best” teachers to the low-performing schools may not have the desired effect, as those teachers may be much less effective in a very different work environment.

    A key to good results in all schools is excellent leadership at the administrative level. Collaboration and teamwork among staff is critical too.

  4. palisadesk says:

    Oh, btw Bart — it *must* have been awhile since you were in a teachers’ lounge: smoking in school buildings has been banned nearly everywhere. Teachers who smoke have to creep outside and hunker down behind the garbage dumpster or sit in a car in the parking lot;-)


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