From The Montreal Gazette, Friday, February 1, 2013. See
Too many teachers are quitting, experts warn
By Janet Bagnall
False allegations of misconduct are one element in a toxic brew of
problems driving an extraordinary number of teachers out of the
education field, say educational experts.
"Across North America, nearly half of all new teachers leave the
field within five years," said Jon G. Bradley, associate professor
of education at McGill University. In Alberta, one of the few
provinces to collect data, the figure is 40 per cent within five
years. Figures for Quebec were not available, but believed to be
similar to the North American average.
The education field is in crisis, said Bradley. "It's almost as
though we're doing everything in our power to discourage these fully
trained, committed people from making teaching a career," he said.
But if the growing incidence of false allegations is the "elephant
in the room" that no one wants to talk about, it's not the only
problem. Other frustrations for teachers include low social status,
relatively low salary levels, the lack of merit pay and a sense of
failure, he said.
"Any other profession that had that kind of turnover would look at
working conditions, would look at salaries and other things
surrounding the teaching environment," said Joel Westheimer,
university research chair and professor at the University of
Ottawa's faculty of education. "Instead, in education, we bring up
talk about testing teachers and linking their pay to the students'
performance. I mean, can you imagine Microsoft suffering a crisis
because there were not enough programmers going into the profession
and leaving after the first five years? Would (the company's)
response be to increase salaries, recruit better people, change
working conditions so that they could work in different places, have
free soda and free lunches? Or would it test them?"
Bradley said teachers have been left defenceless in the face of unfair
pressures and accusations. "We're all worried about bullying in
schools, but what about parents bullying teachers? What about
principals bullying teachers? It's not a collaborative workplace. We
live these lies (in schools), that everybody loves children and
therefore we all have to be nice people." But schools are not nice
places, said Bradley. "Learning is hard work," he said. Students
are pushed and challenged and they don't always want to be.
Parents, teachers and school administrators ideally should all be
working together with a clear understanding that "when we turn our
children over to a school, we do so on the understanding that
they're doing the best job they can with the resources they have,"
said Bradley. Instead, teachers, especially male teachers, are left
alone to confront sometimes fantastic allegations.
It is now standard practice to warn teachers to never touch students.
British music teachers were told in 2010 by their union not even to
reposition pupils' hands on an instrument. When the British
education secretary complained that this directive played to a
"culture of fear among adults and children," the union refused to
change it, saying careers had been ruined by false allegations.
The tragedy, said Westheimer, is that at the same time as the first
false allegations came out, in the 1980s, so did research showing that
children learn better when they feel cared for by their teachers. A
U.S. study from 1986 found that in classes where a teacher touched
students when congratulating them on results or behaviour, students'
disruptive behaviour dropped by 60 per cent.
Bradley, who has been in education for nearly 45 years, worries that
with no "exit interviews" for departing teachers, no one is
gathering information on why the field is hemorrhaging its newest
"It's not just one thing you can fix," he said. "It's a
whole series. It's an attitudinal view of the place of school and
the role of teachers in our society. And I don't think we're
prepared to engage that. That's what scares me."
PHOTO SIDEBAR: Frustrations for teachers include low
social status, relatively low salary levels, the lack of merit pay and
a sense of failure, says Jon G. Bradley, associate professor of
education at McGill University. Photographed by: Marie-France
Coallier, The Gazette
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244