The clear finding that emerged: Many new teachers in the United States are committed to values that extend beyond expediency, narrow self-interest, and the present moment. These are precisely the kind of people who can help young people learn, not just how to make a living, but how to live and what to live for.
But the system almost forces these new teachers toward other occupations.
Talented, idealistic young teachers reminded us how draining it is to be in the classroom, particularly in high-need schools. “It’s just heavy emotional labor,” one teacher told us of her work with dropouts who had come back to school. Some teachers have coaching to get through the tough moments, but too many don’t. Even the best can burn out.
As many studies have shown, without adequate mentoring, administrative support, or opportunities for professional feedback and development, the first three years of teaching become a trial by fire. In fact, various researchers have found that one-third to one-half of all teachers – and even more in high-need schools – leave the profession within the first five years, often citing lack of support and resources as reasons for their departure.
The perceived low status of teaching is also a serious obstacle to keeping teachers in classrooms. So, of course, are compensation issues and questions of how teachers’ effectiveness is evaluated, the subject of frequent and corrosive headlines that often reduce teaching to test scores.
Not surprisingly, many new teachers reported a phase where they felt disillusioned, defeated, and a deep sense of having failed. Teachers who have been academic high-achievers often cannot deal with this sense of failure; they have been hard-working, motivated, and successful in virtually everything they have done. They blame themselves for not better overcoming the shortcomings of the system and soon begin to believe they are not good teachers.