All Children Can Learn…and All Teachers Can Lead

Teacher Leader (Pages 9-36)

Oakland Teacher

This essay by Roland Barth, published in February 2001, argues for the need for greater teacher leadership opportunities and greater teacher autonomy within a school system. He also considers the barriers to teacher leadership and the ways in which those barriers can be overcome.

“In the 1970s, Ron Edmonds introduced us to the ringing phrase “All children can learn.” Our profession has begun to take these words seriously, even believe them and act upon them. I would like to suggest an equally revolutionary idea: “All teachers can lead.”


Examining Why Teachers Leave

Due to high turnover, teachers today are less experienced than ever and this may be a permanent change that the school system has not addressed. Low pay, while a major issue influencing teacher attrition, is not the most significant factor in teacher decisions to leave the classroom. That’s according to a recent Carnegie report, Beginners in the Classroom.”

As an Oakland teacher, I think teachers and administrators talk about turnover a lot in our schools because every year we experience the struggles associated with it, but the cycle continues. School budgets are often structured as such that if a teacher leaves and needs to be replaced, schools cannot afford to hire the most experienced and qualified teachers. So new teachers are hired and 70 percent of our teachers leave Oakland schools within their first 5 years in the classroom. As a result, we’re saving money in the beginning but increasing turnover in the long run.

My school Skyline High has been slowly progressing over the years to ensure that we are doing a better job at serving kids and to make the working environment more collaborative, positive, and sustainable for teachers and staff. However, that change takes time, and this job never becomes easy, so teacher turnover is still a major issue. I believe teachers are significantly underpaid for the challenging and critical work we do, and I believe that compensation does play a major role in teachers’ decisions to continue in the classroom or to leave. If you ask young lawyers and consultants at major firms if they enjoy the long, grueling hours, (or even if they like their jobs), I doubt many would say yes, but you don’t see the same amount of turnover because in those professions, high compensation keeps them in the professions.

At the same time, I agree that the teaching profession attracts a different breed of professionals who are motivated by much more than money, and with the intense nature of our work, a supportive staff and administration is critical to sustaining experienced and effective teachers in the classroom.

I am fortunate to work with a staff of educators who believe deeply in peer support and provide it on a regular basis. I have worked for the past four years in a small academy team, whose support has carried me through many, many hurdles. I also have the fortune to work for an administrative team that works tirelessly, values teacher input and leadership, and continues to lead our school to be more effective each year. Without this collegial support or the appropriate compensation, I am confident that I would have already left teaching, but because I have the support, I am inspired to continue in this important work.

-Lisa Rothbard Manager of Teacher Leadership

P.S. We want to hear from you! The study concluded that low pay is not the most significant factor in teacher decisions to leave positions. In your view, is it a matter of low pay or more a matter of other intangible rewards, job satisfaction, and the like? Click here and let us know what you think!