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The Power Moves to Retain Teachers Amid the Pandemic

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By: Neven Holland, Treadwell Elementary, Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS), Tennessee

“It’s the difficulty that keeps me here. It’s the opportunity to give my students in an underserved neighborhood with limited resources the high-quality teachers they deserve,” says my teacher colleague Armani Alexander. Despite all the difficulties of pandemic teaching, there is still this culture to grit and grind like our hometown Memphis Grizzlies in the profession we love with respect and knowledge of our urban community (Emdin, 2016).

Still, I would be naïve to think that there has not been frustration, fatigue, and burnout to be everything for all students and district leaders during this public health crisis. Last year during the height of the pandemic, prepping and grading for daily online lessons exceeded instructional time. Transitioning to in-person instruction has also been the hardest as it relates to supporting students with academic concerns and/or challenges to their psychological well-being wrought by the pandemic. According to research, “This perception seemed to directly impact the mental and physical state of the teachers. Burnout leads to turnover, which has more than doubled for teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers still encounter ever changing health guidelines and policies contributing to stress and burnout feelings which may manifest in adverse health outcomes and future turnover” (Davis & Kotowski, 2022). This is more urgent in hard-to-staff schools that disproportionately serve low-income students and students of color where certified teachers are difficult to find and hire (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017).

I have been working as a 4th grade mathematics teacher at Treadwell Elementary in Memphis, Tennessee since 2015. My school has worked tirelessly to retain teachers knowing the profession has not been pleasurable since the pandemic started. In fact, a record number of our teachers (over 90%) are planning to return next year, even though this year has the been one of the most difficult and mentally draining on record. There are five reasons why teachers at my school are deciding to stay.

School administrators make an intentional effort to build strong relational capacity with staff.

  • School administrators make judgments based on human feelings. They understand there is life outside of school and respect the use of personal days to take care of self and family.
  • There is an authentic school community t where lunch potlucks, staff get-togethers, and extended lunches help build and maintain teacher morale.
  • Administration and other support staff provide backup support to help cover classes so that teachers do not have to carry the burden without a planning period or adequate break.
  • Teachers are leading professional development that is culturally relevant and practical.

This year, according to my principal, the few departures are surprisingly not due to job dissatisfaction but retirements or promotions to other school positions. It has not always been picture-perfect and based on a recent insight survey led by TNTP on school climate, my school had the highest satisfaction score in 4 years. I am pleased that my principal and administration have formed teacher committees to address areas of improvement. My principal and the administration practice a culture of listening without defensiveness and respect teacher expertise to positively impact student outcomes. Through this initiative, I have been able to express the stressors in and outside my classroom that interfere with student progress. I am also hopeful that though the pandemic has taken emotional tolls on myself and my students, I am able find silver linings where my students are still seeking to be active participants in my class. Because of my school administration’s willingness to consider critical feedback and the respect they show teachers, high teacher turnover is not going to be our expected, normal reality.

Neven Holland is a teacher at Treadwell Elementary in Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS) in Tennessee. He is a 2022 Tennessee State Finalist for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and a Klawe Leadership Fellow for EdReports.org.



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Adnan Syed of ‘Serial,’ Newly Freed, Is Hired by Georgetown University

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Adnan Syed, who was freed in September after he spent 23 years in prison fighting a murder conviction that was chronicled in the hit podcast “Serial,” has been hired by Georgetown University as an associate for an organization whose work mirrors the efforts that led to his release, the university has announced.

Mr. Syed, the subject of the 2014 podcast and pop-culture sensation that raised questions about whether he had received a fair trial after being convicted of strangling his high school classmate and onetime girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999, will work for Georgetown’s Prisons and Justice Initiative.

Mr. Syed, who was 17 at the time of Ms. Lee’s death in Baltimore, has steadfastly maintained his innocence.

The university said that Mr. Syed, now 41, will help support programs at the organization, such as a class in which students reinvestigate wrongful convictions and seek to “bring innocent people home” by creating short documentaries about their findings. The program, founded in 2016, “brings together leading scholars, practitioners, students and those affected by the criminal justice system to tackle the problem of mass incarceration,” according to its website.

Georgetown University, which is in Washington, said that in the year leading up to his release, Mr. Syed was enrolled in the university’s bachelor of liberal arts program at the Maryland prison where he was incarcerated.

“To go from prison to being a Georgetown student and then to actually be on campus on a pathway to work for Georgetown at the Prisons and Justice Initiative, it’s a full circle moment,” Mr. Syed said in a statement. “P.J.I. changed my life. It changed my family’s life. Hopefully I can have the same kind of impact on others.”

He added that he hoped to continue his education at Georgetown and go to law school.

The new job this month culminated what has been a remarkable year for Mr. Syed, whose case has again received widespread public attention after a flurry of recent legal activity.

In September, Mr. Syed was released from prison after a judge overturned his murder conviction. Prosecutors said at the time that an investigation had uncovered various problems related to his case, including the potential involvement of two suspects and key evidence that prosecutors might have failed to provide to Mr. Syed’s lawyers.

In October, prosecutors in Baltimore dropped the charges against Mr. Syed after DNA testing on items that had never been fully examined proved Mr. Syed’s innocence, officials said.

Ms. Lee’s family filed an appeal with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals after prosecutors dropped the charges.

On Nov. 4, the court said in an order that the appeal could be heard in court in February.

Marc Howard, the director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative, said in a statement that Mr. Syed’s “commitment to the program and to his education was clear from the moment he stepped into the classroom.”

He added that Mr. Syed “is one of the most resilient and inspiring people I’ve ever met, and he has so much to offer our team and the other students in P.J.I. programs.”

In a Georgetown University article about the hiring, Mr. Syed said that he was in disbelief when he first saw a flier for the program.

“It became this domino effect to see us be accepted,” he said. “It made it become something real in the eyes of others, that there are opportunities. There can be a sense of hope: a sense of hope that things can get better, a sense of hope that I can work hard and still achieve something, a sense of hope that I can still do something that my family will be proud of.”

His attachment to the school was evident on Sept. 19, when he walked out of prison for the first time since he was a teenager.

Amid a throng of reporters and his supporters, Mr. Syed walked down the courthouse steps in Baltimore, smiling. He gave a wave.

And in his hand, he carried a binder with a Georgetown sticker. His graded papers and tests were inside.

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At Berkeley Law, a Debate Over Zionism, Free Speech and Campus Ideals

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“Supporting Palestinian liberation does not mean opposition to Jewish people or the Jewish religion,” the group said in a statement to the Berkeley law community. Members of the group did not respond to messages seeking an interview.

After learning about the bylaw, Mr. Chemerinsky met with the university’s Hillel rabbi and spoke with several Jewish students, but, aside from concerns within the law school, the reaction was relatively muted, he said.

That changed, he said, after Kenneth L. Marcus, the civil rights chief of the U.S. Education Department during the Trump administration, wrote about the bylaw in September in The Jewish Journal under the explosive headline “Berkeley Develops Jewish Free Zones.”

Mr. Marcus wrote that the bylaw was “frightening and unexpected, like a bang on the door in the night,” and said that free speech does not protect discriminatory conduct.

The article went viral.

Mr. Chemerinsky said he learned about Mr. Marcus’s article, which he described as “inflammatory and distorted,” while he was in Los Angeles for a conference. Mr. Chemerinsky said he typed out a response to the article, which was appended to it, and then didn’t think much of it. That afternoon, he was deluged by emails. At an alumni event that night, the law school’s perceived hostility to Jews was “all anyone wanted to talk about.”

In an interview, Mr. Marcus, a Berkeley law school alumnus, said that he was contacted by law students there who were concerned about the bylaw. He said he spent weeks trying to support them and wrote his article after Berkeley did not “rectify the problem.”

Not allowing Zionist speakers, he said, was a proxy for prohibiting Jews. The provisions, he said, are “aimed at the Jewish community and those who support the Jewish community,” even while acknowledging that the policy could allow Jewish speakers and bar those who are not Jewish.

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‘Better Defined By Their Strengths’: 5 Ways to Support Students With Learning Differences

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“People with learning differences are human,” wrote Deanna White, a neurodiversity advocate and parent learning coach in response to a question we posed on LinkedIn. “Unique individuals and wonderful humans that are better defined by their strengths. So stop focusing on the weakness.”

We invited our social media followers across Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to weigh in on the most effective way schools can better support students with learning differences.

Responses ranged from shifting educators’ mindset—like highlighting student strengths—to more far-reaching changes that would require schoolwide or district support.

Focus on students’ strengths

There are many ways of encouraging students to play to their strengths, as educators Winston Sakurai and Phyllis Fagell demonstrated in an August 2022 article by Education Week Assistant Editor Denisa Superville.

They detailed how they shared their own learning struggles as a way to connect with their students. Their personal successes show students, who may be struggling academically or socially, that anything is possible.

Here’s what other educators had to say.

1. Help them understand their learning strengths and challenges and growing them as strong self-advocates.

2. Devoting time and money to developing teachers’ abilities to differentiate.

– Amy S.

By having high expectations and giving them exposure to high-quality materials and experiences, even ones that seem “above them.” They will shock us with their insights every time.

– Angela P. 😒😒🥴

Meet students where they are

In a 2015 primer on the topic, EdWeek Assistant Editor Sarah D. Sparks wrote about how “differentiated instruction”—the process of identifying students’ individual learning strengths, needs, and interests and adapting lessons to match them—became a popular approach to helping diverse students learn together. Respondents largely agreed.

Time to work with every student. If you can meet with a child for a bit of time to help with exactly what she or he needs, it might ignite both learning and understanding.

Alison K.

So many ways…start with environment, a.k.a. The Third Teacher.

  • Reduce obstacles

  • Increase supports

  • Meet kids where they are

(h/t @drncgarrett)

Matt R.

Small class sizes, strong positive teacher/student relationships, differentiated instruction, and reflection.

Yvonne E.

Smaller class sizes

In a 2017 Opinion essay, former teacher Marc Vicenti wrote about “the daily wear and tear on educators when trying to juggle a full teaching load and meaningful relationships with lively young people who all have different needs and experiences.”

“We can either choose to be less effective in our practice or exhaust ourselves—neither of which is beneficial to students or our own well-being,” he wrote.

Smaller class sizes are one way of mitigating the risk of burnout while working to meet each student’s needs.

Small classes, small schools, local control. I am the principal in a pretty small school in a small community and I know every child, and every family and we can build programs to meet our students’ needs. A country run or state run school system can’t do that.

Ryan G.

Increase funding to actually lower the student-to-teacher ratio. This allows teachers to give more time to the individual.

Cathleen W.

Fewer standardized tests

Standardized tests have long been criticized for narrowing instruction and for holding all students to the same standard when “students enter school at varying levels and learn and grow at different rates.”

The backlash against standardized testing renewed interest in alternative ways to evaluate students’ learning progress, like “performance assessments—the idea of measuring what students can do, not merely what they know”.

STOP standardized testing.

Dawn W.

Fewer standardized or timed tests, teaching to mastery, not according to a schedule.

Autumn

Give students a voice

Sometimes it’s best to go to the source to discern how to best tackle an issue. Giving these students a voice can not only empower them in their learning, but also help educators understand how to have the biggest impact.

Ask them how they learn and what helps. Give them a voice!

Grisel W.

Yes! Listening to what students need and giving them a voice is something we need to do for all students, but especially those who need more help in the classroom.

Victoria D.



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