Jenny Carey Louisiana Principal of the Year
I was humbled in July to take on the responsibilities of Louisiana Principal of Year. What an honor. Now more than ever I’ve been wrestling with what it will take for our city to close the opportunity gap for so many of our students in New Orleans. I know there is not one easy, straightforward answer. There is no silver bullet.
Strong tier one curricula are a solid start. Early childhood education is vital. High impact social services are critically necessary. But if we could boil it down to one thing, it would be ensuring the unbelievably talented folks standing in front of our kids each day – our teachers – are eager to return to the classroom year after year, perfecting their craft while leading our students to success.
Accordingly, the number one job of a principal is to guarantee that students are taught by highly skilled, thoughtful, master teachers. We must work relentlessly to both hire strong teachers, AND ensure our team is constantly developed through coaching, studying, and ongoing professional development. We must obsess about the strength of our teams and constantly reflect on how they can be better supported.
In New Orleans, according to research from New Schools for New Orleans, an estimated 900 teachers, roughly 29 percent of the teachers in our district, leave New Orleans annually for reasons ranging from low pay to lack of support systems. Across the state of Louisiana, though the annual percentage is lower (13% in 2016-17), the reality is that 43% of the teachers who departed had taught for five years or less. In the last two decades of working as an educator I have seen countless teachers leave the profession before their true potential was achieved, and I am passionate about reducing teacher departure rates so that classrooms statewide have exceptional teachers leading their students.
There is much research regarding strategies for teacher retention. Along with ensuring that teachers are compensated fairly and equitably for their hard work, a few things are critically important:
Ensure teachers know they are valued and irreplaceable. Teaching is the most rewarding job in the world, but it can also at times feel like a grind. Great teachers need to know they are appreciated for working hard, for constantly going the extra mile, and for never giving up on their kids. They need to be reminded of their importance within a school building, their impact on families, and their significance within a community. And this needs to be shown not only with words, but also through actions, like safeguarding their planning period and being celebrated publicly for their success.
Support teachers through coaching and development. Teaching is a demanding job that requires both intellectual preparation and countless hours of execution. It is a job that can never be perfected, as we can always be better for our kids. Teachers deserve to grow in their role and must be connected to resources and practices that can help them constantly improve.
Help master teachers find pathways that allow them to stay in the classroom and grow professionally. This might look like taking on additional leadership roles, piloting new curriculum, or mentoring new teachers. Our most highly skilled teachers should be encouraged to think about how they want to continue to expand or deepen their impact and then assisted in making this happen.
As we move into the core of our school year, let’s all support one another to ensure we can stay in this work long enough to have the true impact on kids that has brought us all to the classroom in the first place.