How could Minnesota schools get and keep the best teachers?

About 30 percent of teachers in Minnesota leave the profession within five years. It’s one of the factors involved in a drive, being discussed today on Midmorning, to put highly effective teachers into public classrooms. How could Minnesota schools get and keep the best teachers?

  • colman

    Roll back the Bush tax cuts, roll back the Reagan tax cuts. Have the wealthy pay their fare share of taxes and pay teachers what they’re worth.

  • DMox

    Simple. Adopt a radical concept whereby we pay teachers on par with the hours they work, the education they must pay for to get the job, and give them the tools they need – in other words pay them like we pay just about every other professional in the work force – and advertise across the country that we’re serious about our children’s education. They will come. They will flock. The best of the best will show up, looking to finally work in an Educator’s Utopian Dream – to be able to afford doing what they love most – developing & educating our children.

  • Toni

    Getting rid of ineffective teachers with more years on the job would be a start. More new teachers are driven out of the profession by a demoralizing system that saps them of energy and stifles excellence than by low pay.

  • Tony

    I received my teaching license last year and have been looking for a teaching job ever since. There aren’t many available.

    The competition for a daily substitute teacher job is fierce. Often I’m competing against numerous other teachers for 4 hours of work (about $45) with no benefits. There are many days I go without work, and consequently without pay.

    If, as has been said, many teachers will leave the profession in the first 3-5 years, I wonder how much of that is due the absence of jobs.

    Teaching jobs are already scarce. I think we’d be better served by employing the many out-of-work teachers we already have than by trying to recruit additional unemployed teachers.

    How do you fund the employment of the many out-of-work teachers we already have?

  • Steven

    Better pay and more respect.

    Pay — I lived for a while in a state where (at the time) teachers were paid less than in Minnesota. Among my friends were some teachers whose chief motivation for pursuing excellence in their work was that they might get hired in Minnesota. That is no longer the case. You get what you pay for.

    Respect — In recent years, nationwide, much of the rhetoric around education reform has been based on suspicion. NCLB starts with the assumption that all schools are failing and makes them prove their not. Helicopter parents side with their bratty, spoiled kids against the teachers, undermining classroom discipline. Fundamentalists seem to assume public school teachers are all godless socialists with a secret plan to destroy America. It’s hard to focus on doing your job well when you feel you’re under attack.

  • Al

    Pay teachers as the college educated professionals that they are. I left teaching for a job in science after 4 years. I did not need any additional training, yet I now am paid twice as much and work fewer hours over the course of the year.

    And before anyone starts in with the summers off argument, I had the equivalent hours of a 52 week a year, 40 hour work week put in by the end of March in an average year.

    We promise our kids that if they study hard and get a college degree they will be rewarded with higher paying jobs than if they don’t. The reality is that for starting teachers this is not the case. My wife was, and still is a teacher. One of us seeking a job with professional wages was the only way we could afford to move our family to a house in a safer neighborhood, away from the drug dealers we saw on a daily basis.

  • Bob Filipczak
  • Chad

    Pay them right. Have dedicated education funding.

  • James

    Better Salaries. Get the money by NOT building unneeded sports complexes and other tax waste streams.

  • Jessica Sundheim

    Pay them a livable wage! School funding is not evenly distributed, with highly populated areas of the state at a higher advantage and wealthier counties providing more funds per student. Make the distribution of funds more progressive. Our school district has had to cut millions of dollars in funding this year and last, along with teachers. People voted to fund a much needed maintenance and remodeling project, but the funding is no where near what I whitnessed as a high school student at Wayzata High School. My husband has a teaching license to teach life sciences grades 7-12, but the best offer he has had in rural Minnesota was teaching both life sciences and chemistry for grades 7-12 (he would have been THE only science teacher) starting at $23,000 with union dues, retirement and healthcare costing $7,200 ($600 per month). For a family of six (or even two) $15, 800 before taxes is well below the rate of poverty! My husband turned down the offer and now works for Schwan’s Foods. Minnetonka, Edina, Wayzata, etc. get a reality check!!!

  • Jessica Sundheim

    Pay them a livable wage! School funding is not evenly distributed, with highly populated areas of the state at a higher advantage and wealthier counties providing more funds per student. Make the distribution of funds more progressive. Our school district has had to cut millions of dollars in funding this year and last, along with teachers. People voted to fund a much needed maintenance and remodeling project, but the funding is no where near what I whitnessed as a high school student at Wayzata High School. My husband has a teaching license to teach life sciences grades 7-12, but the best offer he has had in rural Minnesota was teaching both life sciences and chemistry for grades 7-12 (he would have been THE only science teacher) starting at $23,000 with union dues, retirement and healthcare costing $7,200 ($600 per month). For a family of six (or even two) $15, 800 before taxes is well below the rate of poverty! My husband turned down the offer and now works for Schwan’s Foods. Minnetonka, Edina, Wayzata, etc. get a reality check!!!

  • Mary

    Pay them a professional wage and stop cutting school funding. Why would anyone want to go into a profession knowing ahead of time that you will not have the funding and tools you need to do your job the best you can? It makes no sense.

  • justacoolcat

    This is a false choice as Minnesota does have the best teachers. Our teachers can go anywhere and teach and are sought after across the country.

    There are multiple issues here, one is that funding keeps getting cut and the first thing to be cut along with funding are the teachers,typically the youngest and most enthused about teaching.

    So often, after years of trying to get a stable job teachers simply give up and switch professions which is, in part, responsible for the average career of a teacher being 3-5 years in Minnesota.

    We don’t have a teacher talent issue in this state, we do have an administration problem. Administrators that work in a revolving door world where each new big boss decides to impliment some new teaching philosophy and by the time things start to roll a new Big Boss comes to town. Wash rinse and repeat.

    We also have a problem with parents that have checked out on their children, but there’s no way the state can legislate a cure for that.

    We also have a problem with NCLB.

    Sure, there are a lot of problems with the Minnesota Eductional System, but teacher talent is not one of them.

    *Note, I am not a teacher.

  • Joanna

    I see people have already said what I was going to say: professional salaries commensurate with the training, complexity and importance of the work; respect so that that work is not undermined at every turn by budget cuts that undo projects that help kids learn. Reasonable class sizes!!! I seriously considered leaving my current profession to pursue a teaching licensure, but reluctantly decided that I would not be able to live on the salary AND deal with the extreme stress I saw my child’s teachers handling. And I must say, that in her ten years of public school education in Minneapolis, my child has had EXCELLENT teacher, every single one. Dedicated, innovative, inspiring, fair, models of respect. I know there must be some bad teachers out there, but seriously, these people deserve better working conditions, much more respect, and more of a say in what they need to do the job they do.

  • justacoolcat

    One more thing, the issue is not teacher pay.

    The average teacher salary in Minnesota is 48,489

    You can see a state by state comparison here

    Sure teachers could be paid better, but so could everyone.

    The issue is not money. There are literally thousands of excellent teachers in this state that cannot get work each year until they become tenured in a district. See my prior comments.

  • Beth

    I agree that the issue is not necessarily wage, but rather value. Offer financial assistance (or coverage) for continuing education opportunities, certifications, trainings. Provide teachers with state-of-the-art tools (could be technology) to equip their classrooms with.

  • Tim Nelson

    Repeal the Reagan tax cuts!


  • Jim Gust

    Disclosure: I was hired as a teacher in a suburban school district after graduating from the University of Minnesota with the Degree of Bachelor of Science with High Distinction. I served on my district’s Staff Development team for twelve years mentoring incoming teachers. I am currently retired after having served my community and state for 34 years.

    My opinion: I found my last 15 years of my career troublesome on many fronts. Two of the most important of these issues are compensation and lack of professional respect. Teachers are consistently underpaid in both prospering economies and during recessions. Over the years contracts never kept up with the rate of inflation. It was only through the attainment of additional training, a Masters, and part time jobs that I was able to make any monetary progress. I never expected riches, but a respectable professional living; that living was always significantly less abundant than other professions. That leads to the most important issue: lack of professional respect.

    First, teachers are vilified in many circles. In my former evangelical church, many parents home schooled their children because they did not trust the public school system. We in the public system were labeled as the enemy of “family values”. This misperception has only gained greater currency in society as these self styled prophets consistently preach their fearsome “truth”.

    Secondly, the bad news that No Child Left Behind reports is poisoning the well of potential teachers. The results based on a single high stakes test are not a fair assessment of any child’s achievement, but it is used to paint entire schools and districts as failures. The thousands of students meeting expectations and learning never make it into the headlines. Teachers are always the problem, not the solution.

    Finally, gutless principals and administrators afraid of threatened law suits by parents often let teachers hang in the wind when a teacher refuses to buckle to pressure to change grades, procedures, or curriculum to suit specific complaints. Teachers are often treated with less respect than their students.

    I am proud of my teaching career. I have to believe that thousands of students’ lives were enriched by my contributions to their education, but I do not think I would sign up for another 34 years in the current climate. Teacher working conditions must improve. Your child’s future depends on it.

  • As always, this topic brings out a passionate and boisterous response. Unlike most conversations around this issue, however, this one actually is free of rancor and railing on teachers. What a pleasant surprise!

    I think it’s interesting that teacher salary is the leading vote getter in this and most conversations around teacher retention. Although I wholeheartedly agree that we should pay teachers more, I do not see it as the leading strategy for attracting and retaining teachers. Please note that I taught HS English for 13 years so I would have been happy with a bigger salary. It’s simply not the sole thing that’s going to solve this problem, that’s all.

    Since many of you have already offered excellent insights, I will add one more. Absent from most discussions around education reform and teacher retention is one glaring blind spot: schools are seldom organized in such a way as to be very good places to work. In fact, it’s rare that schools even view themselves as a “workplace.” The ethos of “it’s all about the kids” is overly pervasive in education, often to the detriment of the students themselves.

    Case in point. We often talk about paying teachers more to teach in difficult environments. This is logical. However, a cynical response to this would result in trying to decipher something much more vexing: “So. What’s your misery worth to you? Can I pay you 80K to work in a divisive, caustic school setting? 125K to teach in an unsupportive, disrespectful culture?”

    There is a bulky body of research about why educators leave the profession. Salary does NOT top the list. Salary IS a contributing factor, but a nuanced reading of the canon of research indicates that teachers aren’t saying, “You’re not paying me enough.” Rather, they’re saying, “You’re not paying me enough to put up with these conditions.”

    If we did a vastly better job of creating organizational conditions where success was likely as opposed to lumping on programs or initiatives we’d be far better off on our journey to education reform and improvement. As it is, unless we make schools excellent places to teach, it’s unlikely they’ll be excellent places to learn.

    We know this on a logical level, now we have to see if we have the will to actually respond.

  • John Herold

    After increasing salaries for teachers, another way to keep teachers in the schools is to offer medical coverage to all people. This will help the teachers in districts that do not offer medical insurance, or that offer only a paltry contribution. I know teachers who do not have coverage for their own children because the cost is too high and their salaries are too low to buy their own.

    In a bigger picture, though, it will help students come into the school prepared to learn, thus allowing teachers to teach. Some students are sent to school sick because nobody is at home to care for them during the day. Some students get sick because their families could not afford “well care,” or the family was crossing its fingers that the student would get well without the cost of a doctor’s visit. Some students stay home to care for a sick brother or sister because the single parent needs to be at work. Some students arrive at school unprepared because they were up late into the night caring for a sick parent or sibling. In low income districts, the students often come from families that too frequently, and reasonably, prioritize family need over the need to be rested and fed, ready for school.

    Putting money into education is a nation-wide question, and certainly teachers need adequate salaries. However, the frustrations of classroom teaching also drive teachers back into the job market. The frustrations come from systemic problems, some of which are lack of nutrition, lack of physical play, increased inability to read and think critically, and lack of medical coverage for all. Putting money into medical coverage will play a part in keeping quality teachers in the classrooms.

  • Jean Stilwell

    Two big factors in teacher retention are working conditions and ongoing, effective avenues for building professional skills. The workload in education is very heavy as is the emotional investment but if teachers are getting both respect and support from within both their school and their district, they can make this a career. Respect includes having a say in the goals and strategies used in their school. Support means having access to the necessary tools as well as ongoing discussion and training in honing the craft of teaching.

    As a 30-year teacher in Minneapolis, I was blessed to teach for many years in a school that did both. Excellent principals helped bring this about as well as a culture of collaboration. Let’s find ways to support schools that can function in these ways and let’s stop, as a culture, slamming teachers for being the source of our society’s problems.

  • Jon Ahrndt

    Reduce college requirement for a major from 4-5 years, to 2 years of coursework and 1 year of classroom teaching experience. This would encourage more people to enter the teaching field.

    With more people entering the profession, the standards to become a teacher could be raised.

    Current teachers need site based workshops in all education methods. These need to be of high quality. Teacher exchange programs between schools needs to be arranged for teachers who need or want a change of scenery without giving up their jobs, career, and retirement.

  • Chris

    Just because they have been teachers for a long time doesn’t mean they are good teachers. Math and English doesn’t change much at the K-12 level. But if you have Science teachers going on their 20th year they probably could be replaced. Esp if they weren’t keeping up with the new.

    Higher ED is WAY WAY more important anyway. High School diploma’s aren’t much anymore, we should be more concerned with cuts to higher ed. Allow higher ED to be better funded, then you will have harder college classes and smarter teachers.

    One more thing, dumb parents aren’t helping much either. College and post college grads don’t have as many children. That’s just creating a culture of average at best children.

  • Kirsten Vaage

    Jim Gust’s comments (above) are right on the money. I was licensed to teach at the U after obtaining a Masters in my subject matter; I taught for 13 years–eleven in a suburban classroom, 2 in a small central Minnesotan town. I worked hard, always, to engage students, to help them connect the material to themselves, to walk them through the steps, until they (not me) achieved the objective set before them. My efforts were often stymied by enabling or absent parents, by administrators who had little to NO idea of what I taught and how, and by some colleagues who chose to take advantage of the lack of oversight to ask very little of themselves or their students.

    I am currently an attorney. After teaching 7 years, I went to law school part time because I had little guidance, support, and reward. My pay increased for the years I taught and by the time I resigned 6 years later, I felt properly compensated but undervalued and greatly misunderstood by most of the public and even more so by the majority of my administrators.

    To keep teachers teaching, they need others to know the great breadth and depth of challenges they face daily in their classrooms (38-40 students? to name one), they need others–administrators, parents,and public officials–to create conditions that enable them to TEACH instead of asking them to perform miracles with few resources, and they need to be nurtured in their field/discipline through meaningful professional development experiences, and substantive degree programs (so much is just dreck, a quick way for institutions to make a buck).

    I’d still be a teacher if I’d been known, enabled to teach, and strengthened in my area of expertise.

  • Cathy Kreisel

    Teachers are professionals and should be paid accordingly. Very few non-teachers realize the amount of work and stress associated with teaching. I have taught in public schools for nearly 20 years. I love teaching, but it is not for the faint of heart. The pay is so low that it’s almost like being a missionary–your heart has to be in it. My husband works in the electronics industry and gets paid 3-4 times what I earn as a teacher. And he often works fewer hours!

    Schools should hire people who are smart and really have a heart for kids. I’ve been on many hiring committees and seen real hiring abuses. Here are 3 abuses: (1) A principal or administrator will decide ahead of time who they want to hire and not look objectively at a person’s qualifications. At the high school level, the person who gets hired often has coaching credentials. He/she may not be a good teacher but can coach–the all important thing in high school! (2) In a small town, favoritism is often shown to locals. It’s who you know, not what you know that counts.(3) A candidate with more experience and education will be passed over because they will have to be paid more according to the steps and lanes system.

    The “committee” is often a farce. They’re just fulfilling their hiring rules, such as interviewing 3 people. New college grads shouldn’t feel bad about not getting hired, because there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes.

  • Mandy

    It is true that teachers trained in MN (and the midwest) are sought after. We have several schools with top-notch training programs. The problem is not hiring talented professionals, the problem is retaining us.

    Retaining qualified, dedicated and knowledgeable professionals has many layers. Teachers need the respect of the administration, families they serve and the community. All too often, I have heard the comment, “Oh you’re a teacher. It must be so fun to play!” Yes, it is true I am passionate about my job and of course it is fun – I wouldn’t want to do anything besides teach children.

    However, teachers put in some of the longest hours of any profession. Next school year, I plan to log every last hour I put into my classroom and my children. To date, I have averaged 70 hours per week. That is in addition to being active in my union, volunteering for school functions, and being in two graduate programs. That said, there is little time left for much of a personal life. The respect and pay certainly does not reflect the heart, time, dedication and passion that many educators put into their profession. Teaching is not a job that you leave once the day is over. All too often, we bring home stories of families or children that are weighing on our minds for one reason or another. Teachers put so many aspects into their teaching. I often feel that teachers should be required to have supplemental degrees in child psychology, social work, counseling, nursing, special education, family counseling, strategic planning and a host of many others!

    In addition to respect, teachers need fair compensation. Walk into any classroom and you will notice a plethora of books and other items teachers purchase with their own money. Very little of what teachers spend on their classrooms is reimbursed. When tax season rolls around, regardless of how much you spend, you can only be reimbursed up to $200. While I am grateful for that refund, it is pennies compared to the nearly $2,000 I spent on my children and classroom during the last school year. Graduate school is another expense that many teachers pay out of pocket for or need to take out student loans. I am currently sitting with $50,000 in student loans from my undergraduate and graduate studies. That is nearly double what I earn in one school year. In many professions, you can get your employer to pay for part or all of your graduate school expenses. That phenomena is nearly non-existent in teaching.

    It is no wonder that teachers use their health insurance coverage more than most professionals. According to national statistics, there has been a dramatic increase in teachers seeking mental health services and medication over the last 10 years.

    Teachers deserve respect and fair compensation. Their efforts need to be celebrated by the administration, families they serve and the community at large. I wonder what other profession(s) one might find where folks go home drained nearly every day with little energy for a personal life, feel disrespected, earn meager salaries and continue to go back each day with an open mind, a generous heart and dedication to ensure every child succeeds.

  • Jim Carlson

    Always a few lefty comments — usually by those in the lower tax brackets. Look, many teachers work hard and some of them are underpaid for their value in the market (other districts, completely different jobs, etc). I would be willing to pay math and science teachers more and even really good english/writing teachers. Do I get to pay others less? I want to stop all step and lane increases and tie all raises to each school’s success at attracting kids and student achievement. Fine, let’s argue about the ‘fair’ way to measure, but throwing up our hands and saying no way is perfect is just an excuse to keep the paternalistic method of paying for seniority which is used ONLY in public teaching and has yielded pathetic results despite ever more money being spent on education. People don’t take teachers seriously because they see teacher unions that do everything to keep out competition and any innovation that threatens their weakest performing members.