I’ll freely admit I am far from a perfect parent. My almost-two-year-old loves music and there is only so much “Baby Shark” and “Baby Beluga” one mama can take. The other day, when he asked for “Music, please, Mama,” I turned on my music. Weezer’s “Can’t Knock the Hustle” came one. The dancing commenced, as did the repeating of lyrics. Luckily, he’s more excited about mimicking phrases like ‘Hasta luego’ and ‘come at me bro’ than the curse words in the song, but he is most obsessed with repetition of the song’s namesake phrase, “Can’t knock the hustle.” Now while it’s hilarious to hear an almost two-year-old tell Elmo that he can’t knock the hustle, my son got me thinking about my beginning teachers.
As a mentor to teachers in their first or second year of teaching in grades 7-12 throughout my district, I see the hustle on a daily basis. Some of my teachers have been asked to work (and be paid for) their preps. Others have been asked to sponsor clubs or tutor after school. More than a quarter of my teachers coach at least one sport for one season, with many coaching 2 or more sports over two or more seasons. Over half of my teachers teach two or more different sections. They do what their school communities ask of them. However, there’s a stark difference between inviting a teacher to become a part of campus culture and that teacher letting campus culture overtake the rest of their lives. Outside of the classroom walls, many are working on their certification through a Masters or Teacher in Residence program, working second and third jobs, and even trying to adjust to life as an adult.
Many teachers, beginning or not, do this hustle and more. However, beginning teachers who are just learning how to run their classrooms, create and modify curriculum, navigate the politics of working within a school system, and build relationships with students are especially at risk of burning out. When the hustle becomes the grind, we put our teachers, and therefore our students and our schools, at risk.
We ask much of all of our teachers in our schools, but we ask especially a lot of our beginning teachers. Often, they are given the course schedule that no one else in the school wanted the year before when the master schedule was built or courses that no one already at the school was qualified to teach. These courses often tend to be entry-level courses with high levels of failure, special education classes with high teacher turnover rates, or even courses that have teachers jumping from classroom to classroom across campuses and even schools. High failure rates? Sky high caseloads and behaviors? Traveling across the campus and district? That’s not hustling, that’s grinding.
Over two-thirds of the teachers I have the pleasure of interacting with on my caseload fit into the above descriptors. The rise up to the challenge on a daily basis to provide high-quality instruction for their students. They build amazing rapport and relationships with their students, instilling a culture of success and acceptance. They expected to be hustling their first year of teaching, but they are tired from the grinding.
According to Education Week’s Teacher Recruitment and Retention: It’s Complicated By Debra Viadero, the top three reasons teachers would consider leaving are fairly obvious: salary, school climate, and leadership. Anyone that has spent any amount of time in schools could tell you that without a survey. However, coming in at a tie for fourth place is a level of autonomy to teach the way teachers think is best and grade/subject reassignment. In other words, teachers are looking for a position that matches who they are as professionals and the strengths they possess.
As master schedules begin to be built in schools across Arizona, it’s important to take into account not only how to make classes work with staffing numbers, but how to make staffing strengths and areas of need work for classes. How can we get our most talented teachers wanting to work with our most needy students instead of chasing the elusive AP stipend? What can structurally be done to get our teachers who are most in danger of burning out in situations where they can be successful?