Lack of Support Makes Teachers Quit

Union Survey Finds High Pay Not Enough

Nearly two-thirds of the teachers who resigned from the Detroit Public Schools over the last two years cited poor administration as one of the three main reasons for leaving, according to results of a recent survey by the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT). The survey was mailed to 327 teachers who resigned in 1997 and 1998. One hundred teachers responded. It asked the teachers to list the three most important reasons leading to their decision to resign; it also asked them to list the single most important reason.

Student behavior was put on the top-three list by 40 percent of the teachers, and oversized classes were mentioned by more than one-third of the respondents. Interestingly, dissatisfaction with salary levels in Detroit fell behind concerns over inadequate supplies, parental attitudes, and working in unsafe schools and neighborhoods.

"The survey rebuts the popular assumption that the main reason teachers leave Detroit is to go to higher-paying jobs in the suburbs," said DFT President John M. Elliott. "Many teachers took pay cuts to go to other areas."

Elliott said that because Detroit is already suffering a serious teacher shortage, "It's crucial for the education of our students that the administration starts giving teachers the support they need.

"Detroit cannot afford to keep losing good teachers."

In the survey, 34 percent of teachers who resigned singled out administration and 10 percent singled out oversized classes as their top reason. Salary and student behavior were the top reasons given by 9 percent; 6 percent cited safety, and 5 percent cited supplies.

Teachers repeatedly mentioned the frustration caused by working in a situation that limited their ability to give Detroit students the help they need.

"I loved my students dearly," wrote a master's-level teacher with four years of experience who took a pay cut to leave. "I came to work early and stayed late, preparing for the day so that my students received the best education I could provide them."

But this teacher grew tired of having to cope with the never-ending problems of inadequate classroom supplies, poor lavatory conditions for the students, and long waits for special education testing. "I was tired of going to administrators when I had a problem and being told that I am the professional and should figure it out for myself. I was tired of getting no assistance from administrators when a child was unruly, out of control, and threatening the safety of others."

The survey also showed that 78 percent of the respondents are working in other school districts, that most of them (71 out of 100) quit Detroit elementary schools, while 17 left middle schools and 12 left high schools.

Regardless of the schools where they taught, stress, frustration and sadness resonated through teachers' comments.

"The students are not given any support services," lamented one former Detroit teacher. "It is not equality of education. It is sad that the district is not child-centered. The students and their incredible needs are last. Only a miracle will change the status quo."

Another teacher, a single parent of two children, was happy at the elementary school where she taught for two years. "Are the children often difficult to deal with? Yes! But that is a challenge, not an impossibility. The parents were great, with the exception of a few, of course."

But she explained why she had to leave her job for one that paid less. "Too many administrators downtown were making decisions and forcing implementation by teachers with little support," she wrote. In addition, she cited problems with payroll. "I waited 7-8 weeks for my first paycheck. I started December 2 and wasn't up-to-date with pay until mid-March."

Reprinted with permission from The Detroit Teacher, a publication of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.