By Kevin Cormier
I am a luxury.
I am one course and one dissertation away from having a doctorate in math education. I attend workshops and conferences, read relevant studies, and work continuously to improve my teaching practice. I consider myself an above average teacher. I work hard and generally get favorable results. And I know I still have room for growth.
In my school–a semi-rural, overwhelmingly white school–I am just another teacher. A luxury, because in my math department, I have some colleagues who are as experienced as me, and some whom I would certainly consider to be better than I am. The students in my middle school have a strong, cohesive math program to follow. If I were to be replaced by a new teacher, the support system in place would ensure that any drop-off would be slight.
This is not the situation in urban schools, where the average experience of teachers is lower. Many education experts point out that the students in the most need are not gaining access to the highest quality teachers. In my second or third year of teaching, I would not have been well-enough equipped to deal with the challenges that urban schools can present. But now, in my eleventh year, I feel much more prepared to take on that challenge.
What if we had a system that allowed experienced teachers to move more freely between districts without fearing possible budgetary consequences? What if, while keeping my current job which I love, I could continue my career in a school where my level of seniority is essential? I don’t want to be a consultant or a coach–I want to be a classroom teacher. If I had the opportunity, I would drive into outer neighborhoods like Somerville or Charlestown, and try to help stabilize a middle school math department if the school felt that it would be an asset to them. If there is agreement among districts, perhaps directed and supported from the state level to allow years of service and accrued in-service and graduate credits to be transferred seamlessly from one district to another, I believe that we can address three major issues that face our profession:
Ensure that students most in need of high quality educators have easier access to them – Since this has been a clearly identified shortcoming of our current system of education, we can encourage teachers who want to make the move to do so in a way that would not jeopardize their job standing and security they have earned.
Increase teacher retention – If one of the reasons teachers leave the profession so early is that they are often only able to find jobs in high-stress environments, we may be able to open up more positions in lower-stress schools for them to better adapt to the pressures ALL teachers face. Early-career success can keep them in the profession longer.
Build a more unified profession – Too often at conferences and workshops, there are powerful discussions about high-needs students that could use the input of veteran teachers, but oftentimes those teachers cannot combine their wisdom of the craft with the needs of those students, as they have not had the experience in those classrooms. If more teachers are exposed to more diverse teaching and learning environments, it may become clearer to them that good teaching is good teaching, that collaboration and common understanding can be more easily reached, and that together we can work to improve all student learning.
In the end, we all want better for our students. But that will not happen until we can build a system which will help bring experienced and knowledgeable teachers to all districts, not only to help the students who need it most, but to also provide guidance and support to the newer teachers, to build their efficacy and give them the confidence to lead the next waves of students, and the educators who follow them.
Kevin Cormier teaches 7th and 8th grade math at Nissitissit Middle School in Pepperell, MA. He is a a Teach Plus Commonwealth Teaching Policy Fellow