Turnover – The Biggest Problem We Face: Part 2

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the biggest challenge my school, and others like it, face: teacher turnover. I discussed how of the 76 pedagogues who have worked at my school, 36 have left. Last week, that number hit 37. A tremendous amount of our school’s human resources are needed to help support and develop the new staff we bring in, thereby taking away resources from students. This begs the question, why are so many people leaving?

Common perceptions of urban teaching is that most people who leave go to teach in the suburbs or private schools. This has not been the case at my school; none have left for the suburbs, and only one for a private school. Last week I posted the individual reasons people leave, but this week, I aim to speculate on broader trends that cause people to leave. In many cases, these trends overlap for individual people:

Trend 1: Teaching is hard; teaching in the Bronx is really hard
Of the 37 who have now left, many were teachers who really struggled in their classrooms. Some of these teachers may have been more successful with suburban students who will do almost anything they’re asked, but they struggled with the challenges our Bronx classrooms present. This trend exists in all urban schools, though, and is much discussed, so I will stop there.

Trend 2: Starting a new school is a lot of work
Teaching is hard work, but creating a new school from scratch is even harder. When a school has only a small handful of teachers in its first years, no one is just a teacher. By my second year at my school, I was our tech guy and a grade team leader. With all the extra work, people burn out quick. Additionally, with so many people with limited experience in their jobs, things rarely work smoothly at first and teachers are required to constantly roll with the punches. It makes for an extremely stressful work environment.

Trend 3: New schools get lots of ambitious, young, teachers
Given all the extra work that goes into a new school, it should not be surprising that many of the teachers willing to work in these schools are young, ambitious people without families. New schools need “supermen” and “superwomen” and therefore seek them out. Many of these people are not native New Yorkers, but see NYC as a good place to spend their 20’s. These teachers are likely to leave for four reasons:

  1. They move on to bigger and better opportunities within education
  2. Teaching was always just something to do after college, and after their 2-4 years they move onto something else
  3. They leave NYC to go back home
  4. They start a family and no longer want to spend the amount of time teaching requires

Let us consider the first three cohorts of teachers hired the pioneers of the school. Of the 34 pioneers, 16 were under the age of 30 when they started; only 8 of us remain. Of those 8, only 2 were non-natives and unmarried. Both plan on leaving at the end of the year. We were the people who should have grown with and sustained the school when the initial group of leaders moved on, but this has not been the case.

In my next post, I’ll suggest some ideas for dealing with these problems.

5 thoughts on “Turnover – The Biggest Problem We Face: Part 2

  1. So, one thing to look at is what happens in similar schools. Do they all follow your school’s pattern?

    That’s a conversation better held in person, at a forum where there are teachers from a sampling of these recent start-ups. December 1?

    (I know that there are significantly different, though perhaps not better, patterns)

    I should exclude myself. My school is different. We started with experienced teachers (3 years, 5 years, 5 years, 15 years, 20+ years, 20+ years and a brand new F Status guy). Our hiring has tended to cluster in the 4 – 10 year range, though with exceptions. And for a variety of reasons we have very little turnover. Our biggest turnover year we lost one teacher mid-year, and three at the end of the year.


  2. I sympathize with many of your problems. Urban teaching, specifically inner-city, presents an entirely separate set of challenges from the school I am currently gaining experience at. One question, I am assuming you name is derived from Plato’s Allegory of the Cave?


  3. What kind of support does your school give to teachers? Are you the most experienced teacher or are there other experienced people? What role do the other experienced teachers play? Does everyone mentor newer staff? How does your principal treat older vs. newer staff? I’ve heard a lot now that older staff is marginalized and treated with indifference by administration. This is not the case in my school. It could be because at our school, our principal was a teacher for 10 years. She then took over the school after our principal retired. She has a lot of respect for veteran teachers. One of the most veteran teachers at our school is a coach. We were once a new school -about 15 years ago but right from the beginning we had experienced staff. I learned from my more experienced peers.


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