Preparing And Retaining Urban Teachers

Feb 29, 2016

A 2015 report by the National Center for Education Statistics stated that 17 percent, or one out of six, of teachers leave the profession within four years, with one out of ten doing so after the first year alone. These high rates are even worse for urban schools, with Pittsburgh Public Schools seeing an average turnover rate of 22 percent over the last three years. 90.5 WESA’s Kevin Gavin spoke with Shirley Johnson, professor of education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and Randy Bartlett, senior director of teacher residency at Propel Charter Schools, about what can be done to better prepare urban educators.

Both Johnson and Bartlett stressed the importance of fieldwork in preparing teachers for the urban setting. Propel Schools has students work with a veteran teacher for a year, moving beyond the theory of the classroom and into the practice in action, Bartlett said.

He believes one of the many challenges urban educators face is in the culture shock. Many of Propel’s students do not come from the city, so it can be difficult to acclimate to the different environment.

Johnson agreed stating that she finds many  teachers who end up in an urban setting are usually hoping for a position to open closer to home or in a school district similar to their own.

“Our teachers that are the strongest are the teachers who are deeply involved in the communities our students live in…” she said, stressing the importance of dedicated urban educators, rather than viewing city schools as a jumping-off point for their career.

Neighborhood differences manifest in a myriad of ways, most often in the wealth gap between inner-city families compared to those in the suburbs. A 2015 study by the US Department of Education reported that nationwide, 4th graders proficient or above in reading had an income gap of nearly 30 points compared to those lower on the scale.

Johnson believes that, while the lack of income may harm some students of urban schools, they should be held to the same standard as other school children. She said that the teacher needs to push the students to maintain high expectations and follow their dreams.

“In regards to teacher preparations, first and foremost, the students are responsible for teaching the whole child,” she said. “Part of what they learn about the urban setting is not what the media portrays, but the real facts of what is going on in urban communities.”

Another issue is the prevalence of violence in the urban setting. Bartlett called for schools to maintain a “robust ecosystem of support” for both students and teachers. This ecosystem would include counselors, mental health, and social work initiatives to help deal with the impact violence can have on one’s life.

“Having systems in place in order to provide [teachers] with professional development and ongoing embedded support in all of those areas, not just as new teachers but teachers throughout their careers, is really critical to meeting students and giving them the support that they need,” he said.

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