Want to improve schools? Improve teaching conditions and you will!

Most good teachers will tell you it takes many years to become a successful teacher. Attending to the social, emotional, artistic, physical, and academic needs of several dozen children all in one room at the same time is no walk in the park.

Gradually, when properly supported, beginning teachers learn their craft. Common agreement is that it takes five years for a teacher to become skilled. Unfortunately, because of the way our culture and our school districts treat teachers, we often lose teachers right when they have learned to do their work well.

It pays to work hard to retain the most dedicated, creative, responsive, and intelligent teachers in a district. We impoverish our schools and neglect the education of our children when we let these teachers become disheartened enough to decide to move on. Common sense would dictate that school districts would do everything in their power to attract and retain top teachers.

Unfortunately, conditions that allow teachers to do their best work are hard to find in American public schools today, and this failure to thrive wears teachers down. The Organization for Economic Development (OECD) reports that the top school systems in the world give teachers adequate time to consult with colleagues about their students, plan curriculum, assess learning, meet with students, research best practices, and collaborate on interdisciplinary, hands-on projects.

Teachers in the US spend hundreds of hours more per year in the classroom than do teachers in the most successful school systems in the world. This is why American teachers feel so burdened and is part of the reason our school system ranks 28th in the world according to results from PISA’s international measure of student achievement. A teacher’s choice in this country is often either to do the work they should have been able to do during the day – but at night, on their own time – or just not do it, which definitely impacts student learning and does not feel moral to a devoted teacher.

Teachers go to bed – and wake up again –  with the weighty feeling of never getting through the huge pile of important tasks they need to finish in order to do a really good job with children. The result is a heavy feeling of guilt that never truly goes away. This is a demoralizing feeling, and it’s one hard-working people should not have to bear. It’s a feeling that drives many of the best teachers from the profession.

School districts should do everything in their power to make sure teachers have the time they need to do well by the children in their care. This is how to keep teachers. This is what teachers want.


Kathreen Harrison

About Kathreen Harrison

Kathreen Harrison is a public school teacher in Maine. She has a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. She has worked in a variety of schools in New York and Maine in a number of capacities – French teacher, gifted and talented teacher, elementary school teacher, and curriculum coordinator for island schools. She has lived in Maine for 20 years and has a particular interest in school reform.