This article appeared in the Winter 2017-18 edition of The Classroom Teacher.

By Suzanne Garcia McCall, TCTA 2017-18 State President

Slam! Lockers close and anxious little faces line your door. Your heart beats as fast as it did the first time you got on that crazy roller coaster. The excitement and apprehension hang heavy in the air. You are probably more nervous than they are. All the décor is perfectly draped, covering every inch of the walls. The pencils are sharp, and every desk has a neatly written name tag. This is what you have been waiting for.

Then reality hits. As a teacher, you have to keep up with the many demands that come with your job. Taryn Williams, a first-year teacher at Cathelene Thomas Elementary in Slaton says, “My biggest challenge was figuring how to do all of it on my own. With student teaching, you helped and aided your mentor teachers and taught lessons. But coming into your own classroom, setting it up, figuring how to balance paperwork, parents, grading, data, having to do all of that 100 percent by yourself as a first-year teacher was overwhelming.” 

Juggling the demands that come from students, parents, the central office and the state can be challenging, even for veteran teachers. Combine that with testing, paperwork, lack of support and respect, and differentiating for every learning style in your classroom, and the job can feel overwhelming. On top of that, many state leaders have attacked public education to the point where public perception is that schools are failing. That impression contributes to a lack of respect that educators in Texas often receive from parents, the media and community members. 

It’s easy to see why we are losing not only new teachers, but many veteran teachers as well. If we leave it up to the Legislature, teacher retention will only decrease. Instead, it is up to us as educators to save our noble profession.

In a special report for CNN, Vermont educator Katy Farber shared four ways to retain teachers today: provide leadership growth opportunities; cultivate collaboration in school; solicit feedback and use it in decision-making; and create an environment that compensates master teachers for their growth and evolving as teachers. 

As I look at this list, I feel like it is up to teachers to band together and support each other. We may not be able to control leadership opportunities in our schools, but we can create a collaborative environment. “A teacher that is happy with the people they are around is much more likely to perform better in the classroom,” says Mason Gatewood, a teacher at OL Slaton Middle School in Lubbock. We can begin by taking teachers who are in need under our wings. But keep in mind, it is not always a new teacher who needs support. Veteran teachers can draw upon the innovation that younger teachers bring into the classroom. If we focus on student learning, then we will be able to manage all that is required of us in an accountability-driven system. 

Excellence in education requires that teachers work in collaborative teams to clarify the learning intentions and success criteria of their lessons, gather evidence of student learning, and discuss the effectiveness of their teaching based on that evidence. Teaching can be a lonely profession, but it doesn’t have to be. Band together with your colleagues, find each others’ strengths, and work collaboratively toward the team’s goals. We can build the confidence in our fellow teachers to try new and innovative teaching practices. 

Schools today focus too much on teacher performance and not enough on shifting the ownership of learning to students. This unrealistic working environment needs to change. We have to teach our students how to analyze their own learning and set goals of high expectations for themselves. The big question is “what kind of schools do we want to have in Texas?” 

We need schools where every teacher believes that we must create winners. To do so, we must question the status quo. We must seek new methods and test them in the classroom. Some schools may not all have the systems in place to promote teachers into leadership. Step up and be a leader anyway. Guide those among you. Individually and collectively reflect on the results of your teaching. Maintain a sense of curiosity and openness to new possibilities. Finally, recognize that the process of searching for answers is more important than having the answers. 

From challenging work conditions to not enough support and respect, I don’t have to list all the reasons we lose teachers every year. Instead, think back to why you became a teacher. Was it to instill a love of learning in your students? Was it to show your students that they had self-worth? Was it to pay it forward for a teacher who inspired you? Whatever your reason for teaching, stay focused on it, band together with your colleagues and stand up for our honorable profession.