Sunday, July 21, 2013
My sit down with Superintendent Vitti Part 5: Teacher Turnover, Dyslexia, the Future and More
Turnover sadly is not a problem just reserved to John E. Ford. It is a problem that the entire district has and, Vitti pointed out, it’s a problem that the teaching profession in general has. He went on to say that young people now were very transitional with their careers with few staying in one profession for a lifetime. Since that is how he feels, it’s no wonder he is a big supporter of Teach for America.
Teach for America takes noneducation majors, puts them through a five-week access course, and then places them in our neediest classrooms where they serve a two year commitment—or what we know to be the exact opposite of best practices. I have been a huge critic of the district using TFA teachers, recommending instead that we put our resources toward finding people who might be lifelong educators in our classrooms, especially our neediest.. Despite these points, I can’t disagree with his thought that Teach for America is not exacerbating the turnover rate in our high poverty schools.
Teachers come and go at an alarmingly high rate at those schools because Florida makes teaching at them both unattractive and difficult. Many of the students are mired in poverty, they start school behind, and gains are often slower. They don’t perform as well as the state would like on standardized tests and that, in turn, leads the state to demand that principals and teachers be replaced. This retards the development of teachers, wrecks continuity and makes attracting qualified teachers and principals to those schools even more difficult. He spoke of some district measures to help stem the turnover tide, including recruiting African American males, trading a free master’s degree for a certain term of service, and developing master teachers. However, what he didn’t speak about was the district recruiting its best teachers to go to our neediest schools. Furthermore he did make that point that some people could be successful at one school and unsuccessful at another school. Presumably he was talking about our suburban schools where there is little turnover and our inner core schools where there is a lot of turnover. I agree with him but in reverse.
You see I wonder about all the new teachers that go to the inner core schools because that is where most of the jobs are, filled with exuberance and ideas but quite often lacking classroom management and instructional knowledge, a combination that often leads quick exits. What would have happened had they gone to the schools in the suburbs or the schools where discipline isn’t a problem? Instead of being out in a year or two how many would have become lifelong educators had we put them in positions where they could have succeeded. Once again however the district seems to be content sitting back and hoping the ever revolving door of teachers at our most struggling schools will one day pay off. I don’t understand why the district doesn’t recruit the master teachers we already have to go to the classrooms that can least afford the massive turnover that is taking place.
Through a combination of additional resources, smaller classes, support and yes, a few extra dollars, I believe we could see many of the district’s best and brightest head to these schools. In the past, we have tried some financial incentives, but for people that entered the profession knowing their pay will never be comparable to what they do, it hasn’t swayed many. Instead the district seems content to try an ever-revolving door of novice teachers, many of them, the Teach for America ones that have at most five weeks of training.
At the end of the day I really do feel Teach for America has a role to play but as a supplement to our teacher corps, not as a replacement for people who may become lifelong educators.
At this point we had talked for over ninety minutes and he had postponed at least one meeting so I knew the time we had left was rapidly coming to a close. My final question was about the measures the district was going to put in place to help our dyslexic students. Dyslexia, by the way, is not even considered to be a learning disability. It’s subject that is very close to him. He started by talking about the catch-22 situation that many kids with dyslexia have. They need help but signaling them out also creates a stigma. He said he planned for the district to train teachers in strategies that would assist dyslexic students.
A Full Plate
If the superintendent’s plate seems very full to you, I believe he would agree, but I also think that’s the way he wants it, at least for now. He said his plan is to be very engaged, but as he finds people he feels are doing a good job and whom he can trust, he will step back some and “gradually release.” His role will eventually become that of a guide, where he will help offer vision and support. Right now, some things are working well. He mentioned how well the facilities were run and the excellent maintenance program, ATOSS’s and the staff’s willingness, especially at the school level, to accept change and as you can see from above, and I didn’t even mention how the district had done very little to prepare for the Common Core. We have a long way to go.
I also see and feel the frustration that many people have, and where I might agree substantially with many of their points, I disagree with more than a few who have called Vitti a failure after just seven months at the job. When Pratt-Dannals was our super, I used to routinely write that it would take us years to recover from him, and that hasn’t changed. Student accountability had been destroyed, teacher morale was at rock bottom, district and school-based leadership in many cases was at best questionable, and I could go on and on. Vitti arrived to a very deep hole, which is something I hope people remember when they first think to criticize. I think he has done some nice things and some things with which I disagree. He hasn’t been nearly as good as his self-evaluation indicated (46 out of 47 highly effectives,) but he has been a lot better than what we had. Regardless how you feel, the truth is he has barely got his feet wet. He also inherited a very deep hole courtesy of the previous administration, one that will take us more than a few months to dig our way out of.
I think people need to be vigil, the need to question and they shouldn’t necessarily take things at face value either. But at the end of the day I think people should be optimistic too that we are heading in the right direction.