From Mary Bahr: Treat teachers with respect and allow them to collaborate and succeed

Early this morning, I posted a request to math and science teachers to tell me how to attract more strong colleagues to their profession.  I received this essay from Mary Bahr before 11:00 am.

Mary and I served on Florida’s science standards committee together in 2007-2008.  She most recently taught at Fort McCoy School in Marion County.

I taught High School and Middle School Science, with my last 18 years in a Title One K-8 School. My background includes a Biology/Chemistry degree, and National Board Certification in Early Adolescent Science.

My school provides an excellent example of how to attract and keep math and science teachers. Teacher turnover during my career was very low. Most teachers moved because of the long commutes.

Incentives that work address how teachers are treated in the school community. In our school collaboration was encouraged and teachers took leadership roles. The administration of our school did both large and small things to encourage this. Small things included scheduling lunch so departments could eat and plan together and Principals asking teacher opinion about changes. A large example was sending groups of teachers to yearly conferences. We are not talking about $10,000 bonuses here but a few thousand dollars a year that builds outstanding curriculum and, just as important, builds teams that work together and share resources. Our science teachers attended the State Science convention for at least 15 years. We carpooled, roomed together, ate together, but usually went to different presentations , and talked on the way home about what to do next. New teachers accompanied us and the process of mentoring and supporting each other began every Fall.

But what about bonuses? My experiences varied a great deal. Our school often earned an A grade in the Florida State grading system. Sounds great for morale, doesn’t it? But, in reality, the legislature mandated that staff decide how the bonuses were distributed. This lead to conflict, not only at my school but at around the district and State. Who and what programs got how much money divided school communities and made them less effective and destroyed trust. This does not encourage an environment that recruits and keeps our most needed teachers. The same thing happened with a bonus based on test scores where excellent teachers with our most vulnerable children and lower test scores were left out. If you want to encourage science and math recruitment in public schools, you need to pay them fairly with both a fair wage and a fair distribution of bonuses.

So bonuses are a bad idea? No! In fact, I participated for many years in a bonus program that both rewarded teachers fairly and provided mentoring and support for new teachers. The State of Florida paid teachers who qualified to participate in National Board Certification and then offered them a bonus, starting at $10,000 the first year, to mentor new teachers and teach skills to their colleagues. This program or a model of it is an ideal way to offer bonuses to Florida Teachers.

In conclusion, if you want high quality teachers just start treating us with respect and let us use our skills to improve our schools alongside our all-important administrators and support staff. Do this and you will have people lining up to teach in the public schools.

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