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Many public school districts say they don't have enough teachers. That's especially true in science, math and special education. A big factor driving the problem is teacher attrition, and it's not just those who are retiring. A lot of teachers are leaving out of frustration and burnout, as NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.
ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Danielle Painton in Lancaster, Pa., is the kind of teacher any district would love to have. By all accounts, she's hardworking, empathetic and committed to the craft of teaching. The 34-year-old got a teaching job right out of college working at an elementary school in a small town near her home in Lancaster, Pa. Painton says she loved the job for 10 years.
DANIELLE PAINTON: When I tell people I left teaching, they think, oh, it must be the kids, right? That's what had me there from the start. That's what I miss.
WESTERVELT: Painton left, she says, largely because she felt that schools in Pennsylvania had become test and data obsessed. Jump on the big data bandwagon. But no one seems sure, she says, what the bandwagon was really for or where it was headed. The creativity of teaching, she says, was slowly eroded alongside the lens focused on the individuality of each student.
PAINTON: You know, I can't see that kid who walks through my door who didn't have breakfast or whose parents just got divorced and think that his number on his latest test is the most important thing about that child on that day.
WESTERVELT: The fact is there are many Danielle Painton in America. Eight percent of public school teachers leave the job every year, a number far higher than other developed countries where the attrition rate is half that or better. Only a small percentage of that 8 percent is for normal retirement. In fact, research shows that the biggest reason public school teachers bail is not unruly students, ornery parents or low pay.
LINDA DARLING-HAMMOND: Working conditions are even more important for keeping people in once they've made the choice to teach.
WESTERVELT: That's Linda Darling-Hammond, a leading education researcher and president of the Learning Policy Institute. She says working conditions include feeling that your input is valued, that you're listened to - in essence the vital support teachers need in order to do their jobs well.
DARLING-HAMMOND: Which administrators are a key part of providing along with the investments in their teaching conditions and the opportunity to teach freely and creatively in ways that are exciting and work for children.
DARLING-HAMMOND: To help solve the problem, Darling-Hammond advocates what she calls the 4 percent solution. Cut the attrition rate in half from 8 percent, and teacher shortages would be largely eliminated. To help retain more teachers, she says, school systems need to invest in revamping teacher preparation, and principals need to invest and prioritize professional development because, she says, all the data show that training and mentoring matter a lot.
DARLING-HAMMOND: Teachers who are well-prepared leave at more than two times lower rates than teachers who are not fully prepared. If we could prepare teachers well, mentor them when they come in and give them decent working conditions, we would be very close to the 4 percent solution.
WESTERVELT: If not, she says, the problem will continue to impact America's most vulnerable students, as high poverty school districts have some of the biggest attrition and teacher shortage challenges of all. Eric Westervelt, NPR News.
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