25 August 2007

The Life Span of a Teaching Career

I know that Betty Steffy and others have done work to look at the various career stages a teacher may experience. Perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that one is "normal" as you journey through the profession; but I am still fuzzy on what sorts of conditions allow a teacher to be happy in the classroom over several decades. I am in awe of those who do it---those who get enthused at this time of year, get in there with the kids, and do so again and again.

Steffy suggests that at each crossroad in the stages, an administrator needs to be vigilant about helping a teacher reflect and renew---rather than stagnate and rot (my term). Without placing blame on already overburdened admins, is this really the reason so many teachers don't make it 20 or 30 or 40 years into the job?

What happens to that sense of optimism and challenge we have as beginners? Why is it that about 7 or 8 years into the job, we start to become dissatisfied with being good at our jobs? Whose responsibility is it to nurture these precious resources? How long can a teacher be effective in the classroom?

I realize these questions are rhetorical. It is likely impossible to pinpoint the perfect storm which leads to an extensive and rewarding career. We know a lot about why people quit before they reach five years into the profession. Do we know why they stop before 10, 15, or 20 years?

I think that what may be missing from Steffy's analysis is that at some point, every teacher is going to look around and ask "Is that all there is?" Can we say "Yes." and provide some significant reasons why this is satisfactory?


Redkudu said...

I believe part of the responsibility for career satisfaction lies with the teacher. While the recognition of vigilant administrators is is wonderful, in increasingly overcrowded schools it's also a pipe dream. If recognition and increased responsibility/mentoring roles are a portion of what facilitates their continued enjoyment of the profession, then they have to find (or make) those opportunities for themselves.

Asking for ten minutes at the next department meeting to share a great warm up or teaching tool, volunteering as a new teacher mentor or expressing interest are all things that can easily give a teacher a renewed sense of purpose. Teachers who wait to be recognized are going to be waiting a while.

The Science Goddess said...

I think you have really hit the nail on the head.

One thing I have tried to do in my district role is to remember to not just listen when teachers needed to share various things...but also to send "thank you" notes or small treats of recognition for different things they participated in. We all need that pat on the back...that understanding that working in the classroom is hard and purposeful.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

I agree with both of you.

A principal with leadership skills helps tremendously, but most teachers need to get involved with the business of schooling beyond their classrooms to avoid periods of stagnation. Some ideas: meaningful school committees; curriculum and instruction; and strategic planning. Whatever is a good fit.

Recognition for achievements is important, and goes a long way to maintaining satisfaction if it's authentic.

I suppose a balanced life in general helps too!

I've often reflected on my career ups and downs. A combination of my own goals to make a positive difference in the big picture plus good principal leadership to facilitate my goals (with a few "attaboys" thrown in) always accompanied the highest points.