Thirty-three percent of new teachers leave the profession in the first three years.
Fifty percent leave within the first five years.
These statistics, and as far as I know they are accurate, have been trumpeted for years, most often as an indicator that our best and brightest are forsaking their classroom careers for other, more lucrative, positions.
At some point over the past few years, the teacher flight percentages changed into something far more ominous- an indictment of tenure laws.
As I have listened to the drumbeat of criticism of public education reaching a crescendo this week, I have heard many trumped up charges that have little or no basis in fact. And one of those that keeps being featured in the sound bites is this myth that young, talented teachers are being pushed out in favor of incompetent instructors who cannot be fired because they have earned tenure.
This portrait is backed up only by anecdotal evidence that shows when teacher layoffs were forced by our current economic situation some good teachers were put out on the street while tenured teachers remained employed.
That record never indicates if the tenured teachers are competent. As far as I can tell, no one has bothered to look into it. It is far easier to make the accusation.
Undoubtedly, good young teachers have lost their jobs while tenured teachers (most of whom are qualified and competent) continue working.
That being said, that number makes up just a small portion of those who are leaving the teaching profession.
As a reporter, a job I held for 22 years before entering the classroom, I talked to many teachers about their jobs and I ran into some who were overwhelmed by the responsibility of dealing with children hour after hour, day after day. The best teacher preparation programs in the world can never completely prepare a teacher for that day when he or she stands in front of 30 children. The responsibility is staggering and some people find that teaching is not what they thought it would be.
Even with better preparation and far more mentoring programs, there are still thousands of teachers across the U S. who decide the classroom is not for them after surviving a year or two in the trenches.
This weekend, I heard the teaching profession unfavorably compared to law and medicine, with the talking heads noting that those professions police their own and do their best to rid their fields of incompetents, leaving the impression that teachers circle the wagon and protect everyone from the teacher who cannot impart knowledge to his students to the ones who cannot keep their hands off the children.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In the first place, the people who were making those statements cannot really expect us to believe there is not some wagon-circling occurring in those other professions. But like doctors and lawyers who want the best for their professions, the vast majority of teachers do not want to have our reputations besmirched by people whose lack of competence or moral character endangers children and their learning.
Many of those 33 percent who leave in the first three years and 50 percent who leave within five years are those who are removed due to their failure to improve as teachers or due to character flaws that make them poison to any faculty.
When good administrators are doing their jobs properly, and that is what takes place most of the time, the bad eggs are never in the classroom long enough to receive tenure.
The tenure laws also play no role in the number of teachers who leave the profession because they cannot make ends meet on their salaries. I have been reading education critics talk about the myth that teachers’ salaries are actually much better than what the public normally hears. Perhaps that is true in some districts, but those of us who teach in Missouri, where schools can still pay as little as $24,000 a year to a beginning teacher and less than $40,000 to teachers with as much as 20 years of experience, are not seeing that level of luxury.
Many teachers are also leaving because they see the change from education that stresses learning to hour after hour of teaching test-taking skills, something they know is going to be of minimum benefit to the children when they enter the adult world.
They are finding other professions because they are tired of being beaten down by a public that is rapidly losing respect for those who care for their children because of an unending coordinated attempt to destroy public education and teacher unions.
When the lie that teachers are incompetent, selfish, and care more about themselves than they do about the children in their classrooms, when they find that lack of respect coming from the parents who hear those lies, and eventually, from the children who view much of the world through their parents’ eyes, is it any wonder that many young teachers decide enough is enough?
Obviously, there are many reasons that young teachers are leaving the profession, and sadly, sometimes the best and the brightest are the ones who choose to take their talents elsewhere.
But many of those who leave the classroom behind are those who found out they were not cut out for teaching or those whose incompetence or lack of character made them a danger to the students.
Tenure laws, contrary to another of those lies that has been told about the teaching profession, do not prevent incompetent, lazy teachers from being fired. They simply offer those teachers, as well as competent teachers who come under the gun, due process, something that Americans should hold in high regard.
The direction in which the so-called educational reform movement is taking this country will end up causing more talented young teachers to seek other employment than any problems caused by tenure.