Opinion: NYC Teachers Need More Help to Combat Burnout

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - 04:00 AM

Over the last six years I've watched dozens of talented, intelligent teachers leave the public schools in the Bronx neighborhood where I teach.

They did not leave because of reforms like the new teacher evaluation system or the adoption of higher learning standards. It was not because these teachers stopped caring about kids or didn't want to work hard. They left because they didn't have prospects as professionals, because the respect afforded them is minimal and because they simply burned out.

It likely comes as no surprise that I teach in one of the most impoverished areas of the city which, as a new report from the Independent Budget Office documents, experiences higher teacher turnover than wealthier neighborhoods. I see this turnover as perhaps the largest obstacle to creating the stable environments my students need. 

During the summer before my third year of teaching, I received a phone call from a good friend whose students had collaborated with mine electronically. We’d set up the call to talk about expanding the collaboration effort but before we began, she dropped a bomb: she was leaving teaching to work at a mobile phone company. The reason: no way for her to move up the career ladder. She loved the kids and her classroom, but she did not want to commit to a career in which she was not recognized for great work. What was more, she was exhausted.

Faced with the options of remaining a classroom teacher, jumping to the admin track, or finding a job outside the school system, many teachers make the latter choice. Still others join the vast army of consultants and professional developers as a way to work with children without many of the downsides.

For all the difficulties teachers face in every New York City school, those facing educators of our most disadvantaged youth are compounded. The new teachers’ contract begins to address this issue with a salary differential for teachers in certain “hard-to-staff” schools. But offering differential pay for hard-to-staff content areas – such as math, science, and special education – in low-income communities would go further still and would really acknowledge the gap between the poor communities and the wealthier in the city.

Paying for staff to train new teachers on site in their first years also would go a long way, both providing support for new teachers and career opportunities for veterans. The new contract moves in the right direction by providing two new roles directly related to teacher support: the model teacher and the master teacher.

Writing them into the contract is great, but the reality is that the leadership roles will cost money. If the city does not allocate funds for schools to install these positions, principals may be reluctant to create them in the first place. It’s crucial that the city and the teachers union genuinely support these efforts so that the kids who need it most finally get some stability.


Nick Lawrence


Comments [6]

Howard from montclair, NJ

I understand what the teacher is saying about burn-out. On the other hand, teaching is one of the most rewarding jobs ever. I taught for LA Unified for 18 years. Yes there is not a lot of respect for teachers. One of the first things I learned about teaching is that you can't do all that they tell you to do if you want to truly address the needs of your students. And the 3rd year of teaching you're probably just figuring it out wherein discipline isn't a major concern. But for me what the public and many newer teachers don't understand is that it is the administrators and the superindentents that are really the ones letting our kids down. This is simply that they should be the first line of defense to hault the dumbing down of our school systems. They were the ones that accepted things like "No Child Left Behind"--better known in academic cirles as "no child left untested." When the notion of state standards came in--which was rather annoying--but because of new teachers who aren't the best teachers, I know I wasn't; and to provide some uniformity I understood. What I didn't understand was throwing away a bunch of text books to simply make sure that standards were in them. That was stupid and ridiculously expensive. I was the Dept. Chair so I know how much a class set costs--over 10K. I feel that administrators should be the ones getting the publics ire. After all if Macy's wasn't doing well you wouldn't fire or hold the sales clerk responsible. I know at one point LA Unified hired a former Admiral as our superintendent. And, look at Bloomberg's choice several years ago--I woman that failed at HP ? It's too ludicrious to continue anecdotal information. But, I'm sure you'll hear from me again.

May. 27 2014 04:07 PM

As a veteran teacher I agree with much of what the author is saying, but the E4E affiliation makes me suspicious. E4E is a secretive and fake grass-roots organization that pretends to advocate for teachers while promoting anti-teacher legislation. I could respectfully disagree with their positions if they were honest about where they are coming from, but they aren't.

Nick, are you speaking on behalf of the organization or are these your opinions? And where were you and E4E all these years when the union was advocating for the policies, such as the creation of model and master teacher positions, you now claim to support? As allies of the Bloomberg administration you were strangely silent when the union could have used your help.

May. 22 2014 06:44 PM
Norm Scott

Note how while mentioning the exhaustion of teachers E4E offers no solutions - other than an out of classroom track - and for people who claim to care about children - it all boils down to money. No mention of the useless paperwork, the high class sizes, the focus on data, the wasted time on test prep.

May. 22 2014 08:40 AM
Norm Scott

How typical of a member of E4E - it's all about a career ladder. Poor 3rd year teacher -- no way to advance - (how about becoming a supervisor?). Clearly she preferred working for a cell phone company than classroom teaching. As one who spent 30 years in a classroom and loved it my "career" advancement was looking forward to teaching a new class every year and using my experience to improve. I learned something every year of teaching. What a waste of time reading this article.

May. 22 2014 08:22 AM
educator for realness

"They did not leave because of reforms like the new teacher evaluation system or the adoption of higher learning standards." Did you interview these teachers? Is that how you know their inner most thoughts? WNYC is it worth noting that the Educators for Excellence is a Gates-funded group paid to promote and protect the common core. Why give him a platform? Where's the excellence WNYC/Schoolbook, when someone can make gross generalizations about topics they are essentially paid to promote.

May. 21 2014 02:23 PM
EdintheApple from NYC

Teacher attrition has been high for decades - part is generational - moving from career to career is more commonplace - part is teaching is a hard job and not for everyone. Teaching is not an instant gratification job - successes one day, failures the next - there are no big bonuses - and - self evaluations not necesarily accurate - "I'm a really good teacher," maybe "yes" amd maybe not as good as you think.

We should probably be more selective in accepting students into teacher ed programs and more selective in hiring candidates - supporting teachers within schools is essential - and more easily said than done - the new contract does establish alternative paths - and - maybe we've promoted newer teachers into leadership roles too quickly.

Teacher attition may not be a bad thing - if you can't tough it out - adjust to the good and bad days - learn to manage time - learn not to be exhausted - maybe this isn't the job for you/

May. 21 2014 01:28 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.