Abellanosa: When teachers leave

Fringes and frontiers

CLASSES are once again starting in most schools. In this season, recruiting and hiring teachers is a tough challenge on the part of Human Resource. Schools nowadays no longer have the monopoly of their teachers who have been attracted to other professions that offer better compensation and benefits.

Thirty or forty years ago, those who studied Education (BSE, BEEd, BSEd) had a rather linear direction in life, and that is to teach. There was a high likelihood, then, that teachers would die with their boots on. This was the situation when the world was simpler in many aspects. As a child of the 80s, I witnessed how my teachers age in their job. Today, we see a fast turnover of teachers in many schools. After two or three years of teaching experience, an Education graduate would not hesitate to transfer to the industry or venture in a more challenging work abroad.

I have heard a number of times the observation or comment, sometimes with much concern and intensity, that the impermanence of the teaching force in schools distorts the educational process. Problems in schools such as lack of lesson mastery and poor classroom management are usually attributed to the lack of stability in the teaching force. This may be a valid observation. Let’s be honest though that such isn’t an easy problem to solve. It also cannot be immediately blamed on or attributed to just a single factor (e.g. salary) without further qualification.

If we come to think of it, times have changed. It’s not that those who left teaching are traitors of their vocation. The market is changing and globalization has given us wider latitude of options. In the 80s and (perhaps) 90s there were no call centers. Going abroad then and becoming a teacher (say in the U.S.) was not an easy option. If there was any chance to work abroad, it was as a domestic helper. And given the preference of Filipinos for a professional job, many were not willing to risk leaving their teaching posts.

The trend of the country’s labor export has changed. Doors have opened and economic borders are collapsing. The demand for language teachers has surged and this is primarily due to the interest among some Asians to learn the English language. The practice of human resource specifically in the field of talent acquisition has changed. Multinational companies are no longer as fixated with degrees much as they are more interested with skills and the capacity to deliver. Someone who has a degree in Secondary or Elementary Education need not be nailed in his chosen profession.

And while the pull factor is strong, the push factor is equally strong. Many teachers would love to teach but for them checking and other paper works are just too unbearable. Stricter laws that protect children’s rights sometimes make teachers feel the increasing asymmetrical relations between teachers and students. With high efforts only leading to stress and yielding less impact, there is, for some teachers, no wisdom or logic in staying in the profession.

At the end of the day, staying as a teacher or otherwise is not an ethical question. It’s not an issue of right or wrong. Every individual has the right to pursue economic advancement. School administrators can only do so much. They can try all forms of retention strategies. People Managers may even experiment on the mixture of their hard and soft powers if only to lessen the turnover of teachers. Still, if a teacher leaves, that’s it... what can we do?

I once heard of an accreditor (name of accrediting agency withheld) who is fond of implying that “a school is problematic because its teachers are leaving.” At the very least we can only check the data from exit interviews. If given the freehand, however, I would like to ask this accreditor point blank the secret of his school that made its teachers believe that it is a perfect paradise to live or even die for.


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