The issue: Teacher retention. More and more school districts, especially but not exclusively in high-poverty areas, are experiencing what's called "high churn rate"—excessive teacher turnover due to burnout, low morale, and poor teaching conditions.

What could be pictured: Still active but "disillusioned teachers; teachers who've already dropped out, showing who they are and what they're doing now; illustrations of the top 10 reasons (named in the article) that teachers cite for leaving.

Might be a good project for: A teacher, a college student, anyone whose work takes them to schools, a photographer who can't travel much but can get to one or more area schools.


Featured Comment by Adam McAnaney: "I know this post (and this blog) are about photography, but this hit a nerve. No need to post this comment if you would rather avoid the controversy, but here are my thoughts. I briefly taught fourth and fifth graders in a public school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City. I’m no longer a teacher.

"For starters, there are lots of reasons for the problems with our schools, but bad teachers have to be very low on the list. They obviously exist, but they are few in number and a product of the system. If you solved the other problems with our public schools, you would have far fewer bad teachers and the impact of those that remained would approach nil. Of course, there are so many problems with our public schools, that it is laughable to say something like 'If you solved the other problems with our public schools, then….' Indeed, I think the magnitude of the school problem has prevented serious efforts at solving it. I could go on and on, but there are plenty of books on this subject, written by people who have far more experience and better credentials than I do. I will point to two issues, however:

"1. While I suspect that David Jenkins and I would disagree on a great many issues, I sympathize with his feelings about the lack of discipline and the fact that kids know they are untouchable. Think about any and every form of discipline you every experienced as a child. All of those are probably considered corporal punishment and disallowed. No detention. No writing phrases 50x (though, to be honest, this always struck me as a silly punishment anyway). No sitting in the back of the class. Writing or calling home is pointless (partly due to a lack of discipline at home, partly due to parents overwhelmed by other problems and partly due to a reflexive tendency on the part of today’s parents to defend their children and blame other children or the teacher). So what’s left? Well, you can keep kids in during lunch and prevent them from playing on the playground. Except that only works every third day, because the school is overcrowed and supposedly 'temporary' trailers have been erected in the schoolyard, leaving only a fraction of the space available for lunchtime play. So the classes rotate days on which they are allowed to go out during lunchtime. On the other days, the students have to sit in the cafeteria the whole time. Disgraceful.

"2. Which brings us to the bigger problem with our schools. While money doesn’t solve everything (and I agree that teachers’ salaries aren’t the biggest problem), it helps. All of the issues raised by the article point to a lack of resources, and resources cost money. More administrative staff to reduce paperwork, more teachers, more classrooms, more teaching assistants, more money to make schools look like schools, rather than run-down penitentiaries. Of course, some schools have all of these things. Why? Because the vast majority of school funding in the United States is derived from local property taxes. Big surprise that kids in poorer areas with low property values underperform. And since parents tend to move from areas with below-average schools to areas with better schools once they have a high-enough income, this becomes a self-reinforcing cycle. The well-off move to high-income areas with better schools, contributing their tax dollars to a system that is already doing well, and depriving their old neighborhood of a chance at turning the tide. This is such a perverse funding system, that nobody outside the U.S. could ever imagine why we established it. (Yes, I know there are historical reasons. But at some point we need to update our structures to confront modern realities.)

"Ultimately, however, people expect too much from schools. Students probably spend around six hours a day in class, receiving instruction. During the other 18 hours of each day, during weekends, during vacation and holidays, they are out of schools’ reach. We can’t expect schools to solve the greater problems in our society, although neglecting schools will certainly contribute to those problems.

"Okay, I’m done. Just thinking about this makes me angry and sad. I couldn’t say all I have to say if I had 100+ pages to say it in. I don’t have the time or the energy to try, and I know that even if I did, it wouldn’t make a difference. I could have made a difference if I had stayed, but I didn’t. Which makes me angrier (at myself) and sadder and a part of the problem."

Featured Comment by Robert Roaldi: "Most of the time, we get what we pay for.

"Public education used to be considered important because we believed that it was advantageous to a society that large numbers of people in it be able to read, think, and reason.

"The fact that we are seemingly not willing to pay for this any longer (I say we even though I live in Canada) seems to suggest that we don't see the link between an educated populace and a decent society in which to live. (Or at least, that it's okay if a lot of us don't have access to it.) It is a spectacular failure of imagination.

"We moronically complain about the cost of public education and related high taxes, but we never calculate the cost of not funding public education, even though those costs are staring us in the face every time we walk out the door.

"The occasional bad teacher during one's schooling is not in itself a bad thing. If nothing else it teaches you to recognize nitwits and that sometimes nitwits get into positions of authority. This can be a valuable lesson in life.

"I wish I knew how to turn this state of affairs into a photographic essay. It must be one of the most high profile failures of our culture. We used to have good public education and we are letting it slip away. How do you photograph stupidity?"


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