On August 2, I made my voice heard. At the State Board of Education meeting to discuss the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan for Indiana, I decided it was time to voice my concerns about teacher turnover in our schools and why I support teacher residency plans and the need to adequately fund these programs.
Here are the remarks I made to the board:
Over my children’s six years attending the same school, the thing that has bothered me the most is the revolving door of teachers and principals. Unfortunately, it didn’t dawn on me how important it was until my son began to show signs of frustration, and his behavior changed in a manner that concerned me, prompting me to seek out mental health services.
During this process, I had to obtain his medical history, get input from his teachers and request any documented disciplinary action that he had received. I soon discovered that the school had no records, even though he had been suspended multiple times for not following directions or being disruptive—for behavior he could not control.
I am not condoning this behavior, but I also didn’t think suspension was warranted. The worst part was the fact that he was struggling already in a failing school with an F rating. He had 3 principals and 3 different teachers in one academic school year. In fact, the more I saw, the more I questioned the quality of his assessment. My concerns were heightened when one day I literally watched as they pieced together a file for my son.
When one teacher left, they’d leave nothing for the next. No grades. No test scores. They literally were starting over with every new teacher. Not only did it frustrate me, but it saddened me to know that children were being cheated out of grade accuracy, or not receiving quality curriculum.
On my journey to get my son help, I realized that I couldn’t ask any of his teachers to validate my concerns simply because they were not able to. They don’t have a history with my son.
For children in urban communities and lower income families, consistency is key. My son did have one teacher who he felt understood him and would listen to him. Unfortunately, that teacher quit abruptly, and it took a toll on my son. From that point on, it was a trend. Teachers would quit and substitutes would fill in. We had one principal walk out mid-week. One of my children even asked me if it was their fault because they were bad. It hurt to hear that from the mouth of a first grader, but it’s a natural assumption for such an unexpected thing to happen.
To make up for this turnover, schools are forced to find quick-fix answers. They split classrooms up, mix grade levels, and put more stress on teachers who are already well over the student-teacher ratios. I’ve even heard some teachers say that they won’t teach in urban communities again.
So my question is this. How do we filter teachers that are willing to accept such a challenge from those who are teetering on the edge?
I believe the answer is, you give them the opportunity to sit in a classroom and let them see firsthand the issues that they will face if they choose that particular school or grade level. And that’s where the importance of teacher residency plans comes in. To go in completely blind keeps that cycle of inconsistency going. Teachers will continue to come and go.
New teachers need that real time, classroom experience. The more they are comfortable, the longer we can keep can keep them in our schools. If a teacher feels like a school has invested in them, they are more likely to be invested in our school and our children.
That's why it's vital to have teacher residency plans in the ESSA plan that are well funded and effective. Doing so would be a major step forward in providing quality teachers to every student in Indiana.