Recently, The Teacher Salary Project was invited to Tacoma to participate in the Teach to Lead Summit. We brought along the amazing Devin Triplett, a high school teacher from Sacramento, along as part of the team. Here are his thoughts on his experience at Teach to Lead.
The author Elizabeth Green describes teaching as “the science of all sciences, the art of all arts.” For, as she states, “Teachers not only [have] to think; they [have] to think about other people’s thinking. It is the highest form of knowing.”
In today’s world, it is not enough to have a teacher who is an expert in their field of study. An excellent teacher is a person who must be knowledgeable in their content, yet also acutely aware of how we as humans learn, develop, overcome obstacles, battle doubt, and progress toward understanding the broader implications our choices have in this world. The lessons they teach are not focused on content alone. A great teacher leads students in curiosity, zeal, resilience, resourcefulness, and compassion. Finally, a great teacher doesn’t just act as a leader for students; they are leaders for other teachers as well.
Recently, I had the tremendous experience of participating in the Teach to Lead Summit in Tacoma, WA. Organized by the U.S. Department of Education, Teach to Lead is focused on bringing together groups of teacher leaders from across the nation in developing and strengthening ideas on how to reinforce teacher voice and leadership within our schools. With Founder and President of The Teacher Salary Project Nínive Calegari, UESF President Lita Blanc, 826 Evaluations Director Lauren Hall, James Lick Middle School teacher Laney Corda, as well as critical friends Annie Tronco and Elizabeth Evans, our team arrived in Tacoma excited to work with so many incredible educators, advisors, and leaders.
One moment that stood out over the course of the weekend came during a talk delivered by Washington Teacher of the Year Nathan Gibbs-Bowling. He reminded us all that if we don’t advocate for ourselves, someone is going to do it for us; but they may not have our best intentions in mind.
I couldn’t shake this thought that teachers--highly-educated and skilled, well-spoken and insightful teachers--would be the ones in need of being reminded to advocate for themselves.
Yet, it’s true. The education system is facing a crisis in which skilled educators are leaving the profession. Furthermore, fewer college graduates are considering teaching as a career. Of those that do complete the education necessary and decide to enter the field, 46% will leave within their first five years. Teacher shortages are occurring across the nation at a time when over half of the U.S. teaching force will be eligible for retirement within the next ten years.
I can say that teaching is the most difficult, demanding, complicated, yet also the most rewarding job I have ever had. The teachers I have worked with are some of the most intelligent, insightful, and skilled individuals I have ever met. Yet, it is hard to believe that close to half of all who complete the education necessary to be a teacher leave because the job is too difficult. We teachers know that it’s not going to be easy going in, and that’s part of why this profession is so rewarding. I believe that teachers are increasingly feeling that their work is not being adequately supported, and that their efforts are unsustainable given the compensation.
While salaries are not the only cause for falling teacher recruitment and retention rates, poor salaries are the primary cause cited by 61% of the teachers who leave the profession due to dissatisfaction. Teachers work an average of 10 hours a day and 52 hours a week. However, the average teacher salary is 14% less than other professions that require similar levels of education. As a result, it is not uncommon to see one’s local teacher holding part-time employment outside of teaching. If this teacher is also a parent, the financial sacrifice of being a teacher often becomes unsustainable. A great teacher can impart a year and half’s worth of learning to a student in one year, and great teaching over a period of time can help students overcome the disadvantages of poverty. However, these highly educated and skilled individuals need to know that we as a society value their work. So, how much is it worth to us to ensure that our schools have and hold on to the best teachers for our students?
I am in my fifth year as a high school English teacher. As I think of the teachers who have guided me towards becoming the teacher I am today, I also think of the 46% of new teachers leaving the profession before ever having the opportunity to hit their stride as educators. I can’t help but think how many of those might have gone on to become great teachers themselves, leaders for students and faculty alike. I also wonder how many more now in the field might leave the profession without the support and guidance of a skilled teacher leader.
I am grateful to Nathan, Teach to Lead, the Teacher Salary Project, as well as others who have chosen to advocate for our nation’s teachers. Our students deserve the best teachers we have to offer, and the recruitment and retention of great teachers needs to be prioritized within the budgets of schools and districts everywhere. If 3.2 million teachers across the country were to advocate that we pay teachers what we believe our students are worth, who could disagree?
Devin began his teaching career as an English instructor in Querétaro, México. Prior to joining The Teacher Salary Project team in 2009, Devin interned with both 826 Valencia and 826 National. He currently lives in Sacramento, CA where he serves as the Director of Curriculum and English Department Chair at Cristo Rey High School, Sacramento. He graduated from California State University, Chico with degrees in Music and Religious Studies.