Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Convincing Teachers to Choose High-Poverty Schools

I just read an interesting (and very short) piece in the latest Teacher's College Record. In it, Tom Carroll and Souma Sathya argue that we need to "change the conditions that make high-needs schools hard to staff" (which is also the title).

Their most important point, to me, is "that at the end of the day it will be the teachers who will make the decisions about where they will teach." As such, they argue that we should make high-needs schools more attractive to teachers.

Their recommendations are, in short, that we award bonuses to teachers who teach in these schools, ensure that there are competent and supportive leaders, that novices are not left to "sink or swim," and that paths to rise from novice to master teacher be created.

The purpose of this post is to encourage you to read the piece (it will only take two minutes, really), so I'll keep the analysis short. Though short on details, all of the recommendations seem logical and fairly straightforward. High teacher turnover certainly crippled my school and given the demographics of the current teaching force it seems likely both that reducing turnover in the future will benefit high-poverty schools and that making schools better places to work will reduce turnover.


Brian Rude said...

I read the article by Carroll and Sathya. There is much that makes sense and that I would not disagree with, but, unless I missed it, there was not a word about discipline. I wonder about this. I don't have direct experience, but from what I read it seems easy to conclude that "high-need" schools are often simply out of control schools, where teachers don't have the means to control the students to the degree necessary for effective teaching and learning. If you don't have the tools to do your job, you'll want to move on. Money may be important, but frustration is often more important.

Actually I do have a bit of experience that may be relevant. For a couple of years in the early seventies I taught math in a prison school. There were frustrations to be sure, but lack of control was not one of them. Being a prison, we were given the tools needed to maintain discipline. The students had a lot of strikes against them, a lot of factors that limited their learning, but a lot of things were right. A lot of learning took place. Many young men who had essentially wasted all previous opportunities for education made progress in this setting.

I think it is fair to say that ed schools do not, and have never, seriously addressed discipline. It seems to me that surely getting a grip on discipline is the number one problem with "high-need" schools? Am I wrong?

Corey Bunje Bower said...

Brian, good catch. They don't talk about discipline, though they do mention supporting teachers. In my experience, a large part of supporting new teachers in these environments involves discipline and classroom management (though, of course, I can't be sure that they meant it that way).

Discipline was the largest problem in my school, and I know a lot of other people who taught in urban schools that would say the same thing. That said, not every school is out of control.

The ed school I attended while teaching gave, at least in my mind, short shrift to discipline issues. Whether that's true of other schools or not I don't know.

Attorney DC said...

I definitely agree with Brian that discipline is the major reason teachers do not want to continue working in high-poverty, high-minority schools.

In my experience, discipline was the single most frustrating aspect of teaching. Although middle class kids aren't always models of deportment, they generally keep their misbehavior to reasonable levels (not that they couldn't improve!).

But low income students often are much more out of control. I taught low-income middle and high school students. These were some of the behaviors I encountered: walking out of class in the middle of the period, crawling under the tables, and spitting on the floor. Students refused to do homework, resisted doing classwork, didn't come to class prepared, and had little respect for their own parents or for their teachers.

Some people think teachers avoid high-poverty, minority schools because of "racism." In my experience, it was simply the daily frustration of attempting to teach students who refused to learn and acted like jerks. As Brian said, teachers do not have the means to control the students to the degree necessary for effective teaching.

narls1969 said...

Brian Rude is correct about discipline, and I can relate to his experience in a "prison school." I taught last year in a "court school," where my 10-12 graders were forced to be there. I also taught at the local juvenile hall. There, the parole officers maintained discipline, and all I had to do was teach. We had POs at our court school, also.
But, the Carroll and Sathya article makes the same disturbing suggestion:

"To narrow the teaching quality gap between high-poverty and low-poverty schools, EDUCATION LEADERS MUST TRANSFORM THE CULTURE of high-need schools using a comprehensive approach that targets both recruitment and retention." Emph. mine.

My question is: how do we change a school's culture? Each school's culture is a reflection of the overall/outside social culture. I maintain that it can't be done. Educators are expected to be nothing short of societal engineers. Until society at large realizes we're not prepared to do that, and address these larger social issues, teachers aren't going to be very willing to teach in these high need schools.