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Teacher-Retention Tip: Lose the 'Martyr Mentality'

In a post last month on an Atlanta Journal-Constitution education blog, a Fulton County, Ga., high school teacher named Jordan Kohanim wrote about her decision to leave the classroom on account of what she felt were unsustainable and deteriorating working conditions. In a follow-up post published today, Kohanim offers some thoughts on what schools and communities could do to stem departures like hers.

Among other recommendations—e.g., giving teachers greater acknowledgment and at least some semblance of financial gain—she discusses the need to root out the "martyr mentality." This, she explains, is the public perception that teachers should be willing—or are somehow predisposed—to suffer and make untold sacrifices for their work:

This mentality creates a Kafka-esque Hunger Artist scenario. Teachers are told to sacrifice more and more to show just how dedicated they are. Equating an individual's ability to suffer for the sake of his/her work is not a durable approach. There must be a breaking point. ... Allow teachers the freedom to speak out about the conditions in which they teach without fear of retaliation. Shift the public perception that good teachers suffer for the sake of their students. It is not necessary. Teachers are not monks and nuns.

As if on cue, incidentally, the teacher-recruitment group TNTP released a high-profile report yesterday criticizing school leaders for not doing enough to keep the best teachers in schools. The report overlaps on a number of points with Kohanim's post. Recommendations for improvement include providing better pay and recognition, monitoring working conditions, and strengthening instructional support.

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