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Teachers Who Stay

Posted: 2013-08-29

This is from Exasperated Teacher blog, Aug. 29, 2013. It is about teacher value in the deepest sense. As a contrast, watch this video.

A recent article in the NY Times examined the benefits of short teaching careers.

"...[T]eaching for two to five years is seen as acceptable and, at times, even desirable." Others argued that "...students need stability and that a system of serial short timers is not replicable across thousands of school districts nationwide."

I would like to advocate for teachers as professionals, that is, teachers who stay. Teachers who stay establish and build relationships with colleagues and support staff. They readily lend supplies, become the source for institutional memory, serve as trusted advisors and can point you to which resource best explains the difference between factors and multiples. Teachers who stay have earned the confidence of students, their families and the larger community. They are invited to family picnics, introduced to grandparents and recommended to cousins. Teachers who stay can be counted on. Their former students come back for advice, help with homework or to introduce a new baby. Teachers who stay are enriched by and contextualize experience and knowledge over the course of time. They know when, how and to whom to voice their objections and when to hold their tongue. Teachers who stay care. They are not cultural tourists in the community where they work but active members. They contribute to food banks, participate in voter registration drives and march against unfair police practices. Teachers who stay function as beacons of continuity in communities where familial disruption and economic instability are the rule not the exception.

But teacher-student –family -community interactions are not the only examples of the benefits of relationship building. Many daily interactions are enhanced by the existence of ongoing and long-term relationships. For instance, I've visited my local beach so frequently and for so many years that when I leave my beach pass at home, I am still admitted -- because they know me. Then there is the owner of my favorite Mexican restaurant who remembers that I like a salted margarita and a few weeks ago lent me travel books because he knew I was going away. And there's the print shop that doesn't charge me tax when I develop photographs because the staff knows I'm a teacher and the pictures are for my classroom. Conversely, it has been my experience that the delivery of excellent medical care and services has been reduced because, like the teaching profession, medicine has devolved into a series of discrete interactions designed only to achieve a set of metrics while failing to recognize the importance of the arc of relationship.

The other day I got a letter in the mail from my health insurance company informing me that I had to select a new primary care physician because my now former physician no longer participated in their plan. It is the third such letter I have received in ten years. This "doctor churn" was not the norm when I was a child. In fact, my entire family went to the same doctor for more than twenty-five years. He understood our health concerns in multiple contexts: individual, family, community, short-term needs and long-term goals. I remember my mother calling our doctor at night. I remember my doctor coming to my bedside at home. I remember my doctor meeting me in the emergency room when I needed stitches. At my new doctor's office, I spent time filling out forms which asked if I'd ever had surgery or was allergic to any medications. There is no way that that questionnaire or the five-minute consultation that followed could substitute for a quarter of a century of relationship building. There is no way I would feel comfortable calling my new doctor for medical advice in the middle of the night - at least not yet. We just don't have that type of relationship.

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