Why teachers quit (and stay)

How can schools attract and retain good teachers? asks Liz Riggs in The AtlanticForty to 50 percent of teachers quit within the first five years, including nearly 10 percent who quit before the end of their first year says Richard Ingersoll, a high school teacher (for “nearly six years”) turned education professor.

“One of the big reasons I quit was sort of intangible,” Ingersoll says. “But it’s very real: It’s just a lack of respect,” he says.

Other teachers — and former teachers — tell Riggs about the exhaustion, the stress and the inadequate pay.

Working conditions are more important than pay, says Thomas Smith, a Vanderbilt education professor.

  He pointed to a study by the Benwood Foundation that offered teachers in Chattanooga large bonuses to go teach in lower-performing schools. The study found that few teachers were willing to move for this kind of offer. (In fact, according to Smith, the initiative had to be reengineered to offer bonuses to teachers already in those schools.)

To improve the quality of teaching, “improve the quality of the teaching job,” says Ingersoll.“If you really improve that job… you would attract good people and you would keep them.”

‘I will not check my son’s grades 5 times a day’

I Will Not Check My Son’s Grades Online Five Times a Day  vows Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic. Her son’s high school lets parents access information on their children’s academic progress, attendance and grades.

My husband and I handed the letter over to my 14-year-old son with the promise that we will not be using the system to check on his grades or attendance (or anything else). In return, he promised to use the system himself and keep us appraised of anything we need to know.

More than 80 percent of parents and students who can access student information remotely check in “at least once a week…and many users check multiple times a day,” Bryan Macdonald, senior vice president of PowerSchool, tells Lahey.

When I posted a challenge on Facebook encouraging friends to join us in eschewing PowerSchool, I received many comments and emails, none of them neutral. Either PowerSchool and its ilk are best thing that’s ever happened to parenting or the worst invention for helicopter parents since the toddler leash.

“We just talk to our kids,” responded Elena Marshall, mother of eight.

Teachers and administrators have mixed feelings, Lahey writes.

I like that parents can check grades and I encouraged them to do so. I feel that open communication between home and school is essential in educating children, and only sending midterm and final grades home makes grades seem like a big secret. With parent access on PowerSchool, there are no secrets.  I am bothered, however, by parents who CONSTANTLY check…sometimes 5 or 6 times a day. These parents tend to be the ones who push their children the hardest and are the first to complain when grades aren’t entered on the DAY an assignment is due. As a language arts teacher with 60 papers to grade, I just can’t do that!  I’m not sure parents realize the school can see how many times they access the portal. -Mindi Rench, mother of two and junior high literacy coach and education blogger

Teacher Gina Parnaby tweeted that PowerSchool is a “Bane. Stresses my students out to no end. Freaks parents out b/c they see grades not as a communication but as judgment.”

Let’s assume that crazy parents will use the access to feed their craziness. But there are sane parents who aren’t sure how well their kids are doing in school and would appreciate a heads up before it’s too late to save the semester.

Outside experts, exhausted educators

Schools are deluged with consultants promising to explain Common Core standards, writes Peter DeWitt, an elementary school principal, in Ed Week.

Greg, who now teaches in Australia, suggests schools should just say no to outside experts and professional development.

“I’d like to challenge any school to go “consultant free” and “PD free” for 4 years. Imagine that? Just focus on being consistent and positive, providing quality teaching and communication with the community. I’d bet that school would do better than all the rest.”

Educators are trying to learn too much and do too much, writes DeWitt.

In addition to implementing the changes that are being forced upon us . . . some of us are flipping our parent communication and faculty meetings, researching ways to improve our leadership practices, or diving into old data to see what we need to change about our instruction.

At the same time we are doing our own learning . . . we have to engage in trainings and professional development to learn about the changes that are being forced upon us.

It’s exhausting. Greg’s advice — a holiday from consultants and professional development — might enable schools to get more done with less stress, DeWitt concludes.

Poverty is linked to poor planning skills

Low-income students aren’t as good at planning, focus and attention as more advantaged classmates, concludes a study in Child Development.

Third graders’ ability to solve a puzzle predicted fifth-grade math and reading achievement, even when IQ was taken into account, reports Education Week.

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Cornell researchers asked children to play  ”Tower of Hanoi,” which requires rebuilding a stack of rings of decreasing size on one of two other poles, moving only one ring at a time and always keeping a smaller ring on top of a larger one. “The puzzle requires students to plan their steps out in advance to avoid backing themselves into a corner, and being able to complete the puzzle quickly and with the minimal number of moves also requires focus and attention skills,” Ed Week.

The greater the level of poverty students experienced in their early childhood, the worse they performed on the puzzle.

Researchers blamed the stress of growing up in poverty.

“Low-income families are bombarded with numerous psychological and physical risk factors: … chaotic living environments, relentless financial pressure, familial disorder and instability, and social isolation,” the authors noted. “These circumstances could lead to an inability to focus on everyday tasks necessary for the development of planning skills.”

Surely, there’s also a correlation between poor planning skills, school failure, poorly timed pregnancy and poverty.

I’m not sure I could solve that puzzle.

Gallup: Teachers are happy, but stressed

U.S. teachers are happy with their lives but stressed on the job, concludes a Gallup survey. Compared to other occupation groups, teachers rank very high in emotional and physical wellbeing.

Teachers get more joy from life than people in other professions. They’re more likely to say they smiled or laughed a lot yesterday. But teachers also report high levels of stress, second only to physicians. Teachers rank sixth in saying their “supervisor treats me more like a partner than a boss.” And they are last –14th — in saying their “supervisor always creates an environment that is trusting and open.”

A nuclear engineer who can’t work under pressure

This piece about students handling pressure is older, from early February, but I wasn’t blogging back then when I read it, and I am blogging now. It’s an interesting article that discusses a distinction between two genotypes, the effects of a gene on the brain’s ability to clear dopamine, and the effect of that ability on academic performance of various sorts. There’s no way to summarize the really interesting part in quotes, so go read the whole thing. I’ll settle for quoting the overall conclusion about competition:

Maybe the best thing about academic competitions is that they benefit both Warriors and Worriers equally. The Warriors get the thrilling intensity their minds are suited for, where they can shine. The Worriers get the gradual stress inoculation they need, so that one day they can do more than just tolerate stress — they can embrace it. And through the cycle of preparation, performance and recovery, what they learn becomes ingrained.

To this I’d only add that being able to perform under high pressure is itself an important skill, one that is needed in many fields. When the stuff hits the fan, you hope you’ve hired the person who isn’t going to freeze on you, who isn’t going to panic. You want to have hired the person who can keep their head when all around them are losing theirs. For some fields, this isn’t really an issue: you don’t need high pressure librarians, for instance. And no poet I’ve ever met needed to make a snap decision NOW.

Now, I fully admit that how a small child handles stress isn’t necessarily indicative of how the adult he or she will become will handle stress. I also recognize that there are many types of nuclear engineers, and some work solely in design. But still, this tickled my funny bone:

Just knowing he won’t be taking the tests in March has put Noah in a better frame of mind about school. “The pressure is off his shoulders now,” his mother said. When he doesn’t grasp a concept immediately, he can talk it through without any panic. “He looks forward to science class and math class again,” Muthler said. “He wants to be a chemical or nuclear engineer.”

Principals, teachers report more stress

Three-fourths of principals say the job has become “too complex,” reports MetLife’s new  Survey of the American Teacher.  And the number of “very satisfied” teachers has hit a new low.

Most principals say their responsibilities have expanded; nearly half say they “feel under great stress several days a week.”

Teachers also report more stress and less job satisfaction, notes the Educated Reporter.

Factors contributing to lower job satisfaction included working in schools where the budgets, opportunities for professional development, and time for collaboration with colleagues have all been sent to the chopping block.

At high-poverty schools, about half of teachers were rated excellent by principals and colleagues compared to three-fourths of teachers at low-poverty schools.

More than 90 percent of principals and teachers say they’re knowledgeable about Common Core State Standards and have the “academic skills and abilities to implement” the new standards. However, only 20 percent of teachers and principals are very confident the Common Core will improve achievement or college and career readiness.

School leaders need better training, writes RiShawn Biddle, who notes that 82 percent of teachers are “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with their jobs. ”Far too many principals see themselves more as colleagues of teachers with higher job titles than as school leaders” charged with evaluating their staffs, Biddle writes.  Fifty-three percent said they find it challenging to evaluate teachers.

Poverty rises, but kids are doing OK

Child poverty is up — but so is “child well-being” — according to the Foundation for Child Development. Child well-being is up more than 5 percent since 2001 in the index, which evaluates 28 factors.

Families are struggling to pay the bills with “falling median income and less secure parental employment, all shown to be associated with higher chronic stress on children and families,” notes Education Week.

From 2001 to 2011, the percentage of children living in families below the poverty line has increased from 15.6 percent to 21.4 percent; a third of this increase in child poverty occurred between 2001 and 2007—before the most recent recession.

But other things improved.

. . . Last week’s horrific school shootings in Connecticut notwithstanding, children as either the victims or perpetrators of violent crime has fallen more than 60 percent from 2001 to 2011. Likewise, the index shows children are less likely to do drugs or become parents as teenagers. They are more engaged in their communities and have slightly better educational attainment, though growth in preschool enrollment has stalled since the recession.

“Parents got a lot more active in the lives of their children,” says Kenneth C. Land, a Duke sociology professor who was the lead researchers. It’s not just affluent “helicopter parents,” Land says. “Even parents of more down economic status are monitoring their children more and being more involved.”

Who ruined childhood?

Schools Are Ruining Our Kids, writes A.A. Gill in Vanity Fair. Gill has raised one set of children and has a second set just starting school.

In the 100 years since we really got serious about education as a universally good idea, we’ve managed to take the 15 years of children’s lives that should be the most carefree, inquisitive, and memorable and fill them with a motley collection of stress and a neurotic fear of failure. Education is a dress-up box of good intentions, swivel-eyed utopianism, cruel competition, guilt, snobbery, wish fulfillment, special pleading, government intervention, bu­reauc­racy, and social engineering.

Gill blames “the byzantine demands of the education-industrial complex,” but it’s really competitive parents who demand preschool put their kiddies on track for the Ivy League.

Over-achieving Hillary Clinton smugly told us that it took a village to bring up a child. Oh my God. If only. If all it took were some happy, thatched, smocked village, we’d all have bought villages, have bought 10 villages—we’d have adopted a village. But no dusty, higgledy-piggledy, clucking, mooing, sleepy-town hamlet is going to get you into the only pre-school that is the feeder for that other school that is the fast track to the only school that is going to give your child half a chance of getting into that university that will lead to a life worth living.

Oh no, we need far more than the village. We need au pairs who speak three languages and musical nannies and special tutors and counselors and professional athletes with knee problems to coach hand-eye coordination.

Outside of the wealthier parts of Manhattan, how many parents can afford to buy villages worth of nannies, tutors, coaches and counselors? Are parents really so obsessed with their children’s “success” that they forget about happiness?

Stress + hysteria + teenage girls = epidemic

The Mystery of 18 Twitching Teenagers in Le Roy can be explained by teenage girls expressing stress in physical ways (“conversion disorder”) and mass hysteria, suggests a New York Times Magazine story.  The epidemic started with high-status girls and spread to the less popular. A search for environmental toxins — ones that affect only adolescent girls — fueled the panic.