Teachers need to partcipate in persistence, not mass exodus

Education majors should carefully choose teaching as their professions.

Education majors should carefully choose teaching as their professions.

When secondary English education professor Michael Smith began teaching in a Chicago suburb 34 years ago, there was “much less pressure to scrutiny than teachers are experiencing now,” he said.Ashley-NguyenCV

But before classes could begin in the School District of Philadelphia this year, more than 100 teachers brought a spotlight upon themselves when they quit, took leave or failed to appear in their assigned classrooms less than a week before students took to their desks. Earlier in the summer, approximately 100 others did the same.

While Jerry Jordan, the president of the Philadelphia Teachers Federation, told the Philadelphia Inquirer no one can blame teachers if they find “a higher salary and better working conditions,” it is questionable where those educators’ intentions lie.

If the School District of Philadelphia was too challenging of an environment for them, they should not be teaching at all.

This past school year, 44.5 percent of schools within the city’s school district passed the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test, compared to 85 percent in the suburbs. To say one group of kids needs more help than the other walks a fine line, but when there is a 40.5 percent distinction between the two, it’s obvious that leaps from the city to the suburbs are not necessary.

Educators never allow a student acing English but failing math to solely focus on the subject he or she is best at, yet those teachers who left the district to relocate — not including those who were sick — opted for an easier alternative.

“No one ever said teaching was an easy profession, especially in K-12,” said Ellen Linky, the director of clinical education for Temple’s Urban Education Collaborative. “Sometimes, [teachers] are the lifelines of children.”

As Smith pointed out, there is an added pressure on current teachers to ensure their students perform well on standardized tests. Since most students don’t jump out of their seats the instant they see sheets of blank, fill-in bubbles and No. 2 pencils, some educators find standardized tests to be “one huge extra burden,” Linky said. And in urban areas, she added, teachers are often faced with students who are not reading or doing math at their grade level.

“When you accept a responsibility, there are certain requirements that come as anchors with that,” Linky, a former principal in the School District of Philadelphia, said.

Such anchors should include the responsibility to remain dedicated to students, no matter how problematic some kids can be. In an urban area, there are bound to be troublesome children with difficult home lives or infested attitudes. Though this exists in suburbia as well, differing environments sometimes affect students’ approaches to the classroom.

To counteract this, teachers must have a range of methods to get through to a child. Every student learns differently.

Education majors nationwide should carefully consider their chosen professions and decide whether they are committed to fighting challenging battles before they are assigned a class of their own.

The National Education Association reported in a 2006 study that across the U.S., nearly half of all teachers quit after their first five years in the force.

Temple is currently working toward making field experiences a more intense requirement.

Tracy Rossi, a senior secondary education English major from South Jersey, said while she could have attended Rowan University for less money, less time is spent in the classroom there.

“At Temple you are in the classroom at least a year before student teaching,” Rossi said in an e-mail. “The focus is on pedagogical matters and strategies to get the main point across to your students.”

Rossi said while the stigma surrounding the School District of Philadelphia is “pretty intense” in South Jersey, she came to see it differently at Temple.

“The students in the Philadelphia school district are known to be troublemakers,” Rossi said. “As I started my field experience, I realized that it wasn’t like that at all. The students are just bored and therefore act out.”

Smith estimated that during the last couple semesters, “well over half” of his students have gone on to teach in the Philadelphia area. But the key, he said, is whether or not they have stayed.

“Persistence is not necessarily a common attribute,” Linky said. “Today’s generation is immediate. If the kids aren’t listening, the teachers get exasperated.”

Even as university students immerse themselves in the School District of Philadelphia, they should not be afraid if it seems teaching isn’t for them. There is no shame in choosing a different route because once a graduate is assigned to a classroom, fleeing for something easier should not be an option.

Ashley Nguyen can be reached at ashley.nguyen@temple.edu.


  1. How many of your readers would choose an offer of a lower salary over a higher one, decrepit working conditions over modern working conditions? How many would choose to work in an environment where teachers are not respected over an environment where they are respected?
    And why does Temple contribute to this by offering advanced degrees to Philadelphia regional superintendents who lack the ability to compete at the graduate level?

  2. This was an exceptionally immature piece. Only in education can we pretend that the real world doesn’t exist. In the real world, people leave one opportunity for a better one all the time. The question should be this: Why did somany teachers decide to do this at the very last minute? Clearly, there is some animus involved insome of the decisions.

    I love my students, my fellow teachers and my hard-working principal. However, I am a mature person who doesn’t pretend to live in a vacuum. I hear what other teachers have said. One very talented, experienced special ed teacher I work with now, was given a stream of poor reviews by a former principal who simply had no idea how to teach Autistic children. This loser administrator saw the children’s behavior and actually blamed the teacher for it. I heartily applaud the teacher for sticking with Philadelphia. She could have gotten a job with an Approved Private schoool in a heartbeat. Instead, she changed schools, driven out by an incompetent. She no longer teaches Aut. Support but is an asset to our school in LS. Others would simply get a job with less grief. Can you blame them?

  3. Have you considered that Philadelphia teachers perhaps do not leave because of their students’ behaviors but because of the systemic problems in the district? The fact that as a special education teacher several weeks into the school year we still do not have caseloads or IEP access or instructional materials. The fact that several weeks into the school year we can anticipate that our rosters will likely change substantially in the next month. The fact that in a school of 1000 students only 25 parents showed up for Back to School night. My students behave in my class. Conduct is not an issue. However, I would find teaching much more fulfilling if I had an overhead projector or a computer with internet access or curriculum materials for my special education students. While I am dedicated to teaching in an urban school because I feel strongly that these students need effective teachers more than their suburban peers who have the advantage of educational enrichment through their parents and daily lives, I can fault no teacher who feels that they are not adequately supported in their effort to teach in this environment. Crumbling ceilings, windows that don’t work, rooms without adequate seating and supplies, chaos in the hallways during your instructional time all add up and wear you down. More money, more pleasant environment, and perhaps an easier workday – making the choice to leave the Philadelphia district does not necessarily reflect a lack of dedication to teaching. It likely reflects the frustration, exasperation, and exhaustion from trying your hardest in a system that you can have little effect to change – and as other commentors have stated, a real world attitude of moving up and on as persons in all other career fields do without society judging them for lack of dedication.

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