Teachers are Not Widgets

Teachers are Not Widgets

I learned a new application for an old word in a recent article in Education Week (Vol. 31, No. 27). The word is “churn”. While the traditional definition is “to stir or agitate violently”, in this article, it refers to the practice of moving teachers around and compares this churn to a hurricane.

Urban school districts suffer the most from this type of disaster. New teachers often leave the teaching profession within the first five years or they at least leave the urban schools for suburban institutions. This creates a stir in the school or the entire district as educators move in and move out and others move in to take their place. This interferes with relationship building between staff members and with their students. This instability creates obstacles in developing trust and understanding.

A more complicated problem is that teachers not only leave urban schools, but often , those schools will move teachers around within the building (and sometimes between from one school to another) treating them as objects or widgets, merely filling a scheduling or staffing hole. Teachers are not given the opportunity to develop expertise in a grade level or subject as they are moved about by the hurricane. The article states, “For every two teachers who left the district or the profession during our study, another three were moved from subject to subject, grade to grade, or school to school.” In addition to personal mastery, educators who are blown about are not able to form stable professional learning communities in which to grow in their abilities.

Educators, researchers, and policymakers have learned to accept churn as “background noise.” The constant movement has become a fact of educator’s lives. Further research showed that of controlled studies attempting to measure the effects of new interventions churn was ignored as a possible reason for failing to find effects from the interventions.

Churn is apparent even in the world of administrators where principals are switched about in efforts to turn around struggling schools. As a result, teachers are constantly adjusting to new leadership styles.

What does this mean for teachers?

  • Less knowledge. When teachers are moved from grade to grade, they need to learn new curriculum materials and new educational standards. Looking at the National Common Core State Standards, it is obvious that a teacher would find differences and variance in the standards.
  • Weak relationships. Teachers in schools with a high-level of churn, fail to make lasting relationships with co-workers. In fact, they may feel less inclined to even attempt the effort of connecting with colleagues if they feel that the coworker will only disappear at the end of the year.
  • High turnover. Teachers who feel like widgets will leave the profession. Teachers who feel valued for their contribution to the education of children, stay.

What does this mean for students?

We have to remember that students ultimately suffer due to churn. Students cannot build relationships when teachers are moving to other buildings. Without a degree of staff stability, students encounter a new school climate every year of their education.

What does this mean for policymakers?

Teacher turnover has been talked about for many years. Teachers leave the profession for a variety of reasons, but the fact remains that teacher turnover has related economic costs. It takes money to train teachers and to provide them with materials to meet educational demands. It takes money to recruit qualified individuals.

Turnover has educational costs. If students are consistently taught by less experienced teachers, they will experience less effective teaching on the whole. If students are taught by teachers who are always new to the curriculum, they will not benefit from a teacher’s deep understanding of a subject matter or grade level.

Turnover has personal costs. Educators and administrators are never able to develop confidence in an area, a building, or a subject area if they are constantly tossed around by the winds of change.

Churn needs to be recognized and addressed. It cannot be a necessary evil involved in education. The root causes of churn need to be examined. How arbitrary is churn? What are the reasons that are given when teachers and administrators are moved or choose to move? How can we convince teachers to stay? How can we convince administrators to let teachers stay in one place long enough to develop a level of expertise?

Final Thoughts:

Educators leave the profession of teaching for a variety of reasons. Although teachers may seek higher paying jobs, more often teachers site the reasons for leaving as “environments that lack essential professional supports including:support from school leadership, organizational structures and workforce conditions that convey respect and value for them, and
induction and mentoring programs for new and experienced teachers.”

When teachers feel valued and respected, they will stay – through thick and thin. When teachers are treated like warm bodies to fill a classroom based on scheduling needs, they feel undervalued and unable to fulfill their role as a mentor for the future.

Some people think that anyone can teach. That is a widget mentality and teachers are not widgets.

%d bloggers like this: