I think the Jack Johnson lyrics in the title for this post describe the state of teacher retention today. Twenty-five percent of beginning teachers leave after three years and 50 percent have left the field after five years. Think about that—25 percent of special education teachers spend less time in their “career” than they spent in college preparing for their career.
Even among the Reality 101 readers and writers, you can hear thoughts of changing professions. Reality 101 blogger Ellen wrote about it two years ago in her blog post. More recently, Charmelle posted about her struggles with burnout just four months ago. It is easy to list the problems: low pay, lack of administrator support, principals who don’t understand what we do, fellow teachers who don’t understand what we do, lack of resources, overcrowded classrooms, IEP caseloads that never end and dealing with parents—difficult parents, absent parents or students who are already parents. But, what can be done despite these issues to keep teachers in the field longer?
One of the sessions I attended at this year’s CEC Convention & Expo was discussing what type of sessions would be of interest to those in the audience at the 2014 Convention & Expo. One person in the crowd spoke up and suggested a round table session for teachers to discuss problems faced by special education teachers.
So, how can I keep myself from being another teacher retention statistic? This question was what led me to a poster session at the CEC Convention & Expo. The poster was titled “Why They Stay,” and I think its findings very applicable for every special education teacher, myself included, on a daily basis.
The study surveyed 48 special educators who had been teaching at least five years. Over half of the participants had taught for 15 or more years. The results of the survey indicated that the teachers were less than satisfied with the pay the received, recognition, resources, collaboration, job responsibilities, professional development, school climate and administrator support. The only factor that received a ranking of “satisfied” was “impact on student success.”
The teachers that lasted in the profession were dissatisfied with nearly every possible factor of their school life except one, their impact on students. The researchers used two focus groups from the original teachers to get more detailed information on their responses. What came out of these focus groups was that the teachers who lasted in the field measured student success in ways that are often observed rather than measured quantitatively.
Is it that easy? The way to be a successful veteran special educator comes down to advice we have heard since we were kids. Don’t be negative. Focus on the positive. Don’t worry about what you can’t change. Focus on the things you do have influence over.
Some of the factors that the survey identified for success were having a mentor teacher to help you identify what you are doing right, keep a journal of daily successes and recognizing that your first year or two of teaching is just that—your first year or two of teaching! You are going to make mistakes as you learn and grow as a teacher. Just because you aren’t an expert in your first year doesn’t mean you need to look elsewhere for a career.
Personally, I have decided to start keeping a journal of at least one success per day. Perhaps you are already in the habit of journaling success stories or maybe you are blessed with the gift of being an eternal optimist. Whatever your case may be, could you share some of your successes, big and small, in the comment section to help some teachers struggling to find the positives in our profession?
One of the things that might help you the most would be to attend the Yes I Can! Awards at the CEC Convention & Expo, where students with disabilities are celebrated for their amazing accomplishments. You can read all about our 2013 award recipients to help kick start your positive thinking.