Editor’s note: Names of teachers and students have been changed.
How often do budding investment bankers leave the field in their mid-20s to try their hand at teaching?
Not often. And that’s only one of the things that makes Henry Rodriguez special. We met him earlier in this series as he helped a disengaged student find her voice as a consumer educator. Rodriguez fits the mold of what many say the profession is looking for. He’s young, well-educated, vibrant and personable — and great with kids.
Rodriguez told me he was attracted by the promise of the field of education and its significance.
“I wanted to make an impact on a personal level instead of just on the bottom line,” he said.
He did just that for four years. I heard very positive things about Rodriguez from both his colleagues and a former student.
But now he’s gone back into the private sector, this time in technology instead of finance, and in our conversation he mentioned a few reasons he left, reasons that help begin to explain why the teaching profession loses half of its recruits within the first five years.
The first relates to the new hiring practices of Miami-Dade County Public Schools. These mirror the practices of many districts around the country, which have moved to annual contracts for new teachers to avoid the political pitfalls of tenure. Under this system, Rodriguez remained on annual contracts each year he taught.
“I was basically getting fired every June 10 [once the school year was over] and getting hired every August 5 [before the next year began]. I had no security. It was stressful.”
It’s ironic that the job security that many public workers are derided for is what Rodriguez had to go to the private sector to get.
A second reason Rodriguez left had to do with his interest in professional and personal growth.
He had already begun a career once and thought he knew what to expect as a beginner.
“[In most careers] when you start off, you’re micromanaged for a while and, ideally, as you improve, they back off a little.”
Teaching, however was a different story. Rodriguez did not go through a traditional teacher training program and was on his own after he was hired.
“Basically, we had one day of teacher training with a few speeches,” he said. “Then, it was like ‘here’s your lunch and good luck.’”
And Rodriguez didn’t find support at his school either. He saw his principal the required two times a year, but he didn’t get feedback on his performance or helpful suggestions.
“It was hard to hone my craft.”
There one more piece to Rodriguez’s decision: money.
In his new position in sales, Rodriguez now makes the equivalent of his teacher’s salary as a base, and clears up to 50 percent more based on commissions he makes. So, for leaving teaching, he’ll make at least $20,000 more his first year. He’s quick to point out, though, that money wasn’t the biggest issue. He said that he and his wife have made wise economic decisions, but the salary didn’t not make things easy and it was not an incentive to stay. He said financial considerations were about 25 percent of the decision to leave.
The things that chased Rodriguez out of the profession point out some real deficiencies in our education policies.
Clearly, job security is important, particularly as you are beginning a challenging career. If we are not willing to offer that to new teachers and, instead, we continue to threaten them with accountability systems, they will leave.
Nurturing new teachers is also important. Like all professionals, teachers need help, particularly in the beginning of their careers. Providing such help would be a wise investment. Unfortunately, mentoring programs and meaningful professional development are often the first things to go when budgets are cut. They are seen as extras, when, they are essential if we want to keep people in the profession.
And finally, salaries are too low. Particularly without these other pieces in place, teachers are not compensated well enough to put up with the other structural challenges of the job.
If we continue to ignore these issues, we will continue to see people like Rodriguez leave. And the private sector seemed only too happy to snap him up and meet his professional needs.
At his new job, Rodriguez told me that he gets a lot more feedback.
He said he often hears, “Hey, this is how you’re doing. This is what you’re doing right, this is what you need to improve.”
Unfortunately, he never got that in the classroom.
He is sad to have left. He found the job rewarding through the very end. He misses that part of teaching and his students, who let him know that they miss him as he left.
“I can’t tell you what it was like reading those goodbye letters. I’ll keep them forever,” Rodriguez said.
If only we could have kept him.
Jeremy Glazer is a Miami-Dade teacher writing about classroom issues for StateImpact Florida. Want to sound off on something Glazer has written? Want to suggest a topic for him? Send us an email at Florida@stateimpact.org and put “Classroom Contemplations” in the subject line.