Andrew Pablo: What is Needed to Support Young People of Color to Achieve a Career in Education
Three research fellows from Rennie’s Future Education Leaders Network reflect on ways to support young people of color interested in working in the education space. Their blog posts focus on the push and pull young people of color face in their pathways to education, highlighting research on financial, social, and emotional barriers to educators entering and remaining in the field. The fellows also shed light on their own personal experiences and share their reflections from having gone through the education workforce pipeline themselves. Read Andrew Pablo's reflections below or read more about this project and other fellows' reflections.
Andrew Pablo is currently seeking a Master’s degree in educational policy. Prior to entering this program, he served as a special education teacher at KIPP Northeast Denver Leadership Academy in Denver, Colorado where he worked with and created curriculum for students with learning disabilities. He previously worked as a 9th- and 10th-grade resource specialist and English Language Development teacher at LIFE Academy, a public school in Oakland Unified School District. Andrew taught, organized support services, and created each of his student’s Individualized Educational Plans (IEP). He also took the opportunity to work with one of the Oakland Unified School Board members as their intern, where he played a role in the passage of measures such as the “George Floyd Resolution” and “Housing for All” policy (Board Policy 7351). It was through that experience that Andrew discovered his passion for education policy, which led to his current pursuit of a Master's program in educational policy. Read on to hear Andrew’s reflections on how administrators can best support teachers.
A year’s worth of learning gaps due to the disruption caused by the pandemic, increased rates of student misbehavior, a persistent teacher shortage, and rising economic inflation have all contributed to the increasing stress and demands on the modern teacher. The need to prevent the loss of quality teachers has never been more urgent. Yet, a recent survey by the National Education Association reported that 55% of teachers intend on leaving the profession sooner than they had planned to. Clearly, our current educational system is failing to meet the needs of our most important educational resource: our teachers.
That being said, teaching turnover and retention in the American educational system has always been an issue. About 46% of teachers quit before their 5th year of teaching, which is representative of just how draining and personally unsustainable the profession can be for many. Furthermore, each year, more than 200,000 teachers leave the profession, with about 60% of that population leaving for reasons other than retirement. Many studies have indicated that the main reason teachers leave is due to their school environment, specifically, the lack of administrative support and autonomy given to educators in the workplace. Among the factors that influence teachers' decisions to leave the profession, administrative support is the most profound and influential, with teachers who cite a lack of administrative support being more than twice as likely to leave their school or the profession.
So what does strong administrative support look like on the ground? Communication, supporting student discipline and curriculum, building trust, consistency, and comprehensive and constructive feedback all factor into it. Research has identified that weak administrative support leaves teachers feeling unsatisfied and isolated in their work, which ultimately leads to burnout and high teacher turnover. Therefore, in order to keep quality educators in the classroom, the leadership in schools must also be developed and sustained.
One recommendation to combat this issue is for administrators to be visible and approachable to teachers. By consistently being approachable, accessible, and present throughout the school day, teachers may feel more comfortable with asking for support, talking about pressing issues, and collaborating with the leadership team. Similarly, just as educators strive to differentiate lessons to meet all student needs, administrators should also tailor their support for individual teachers. Teacher needs vary greatly: where a first-year teacher might need assistance with classroom management tactics, a veteran teacher may thrive with more autonomy and leadership opportunities.
Autonomy among teachers is understood as the degree to which teachers have control over their work environment and have personal decision-making authority. Professional autonomy can encompass anything from teachers arranging their classroom as they like to planning their own assessments. Research indicates that autonomy is strongly associated with teacher empowerment, job satisfaction, and retention. For instance, one study indicated that teachers with relatively low autonomy reported having lower job satisfaction than their teacher counterparts who had more autonomy. The same study found that autonomy was linked with how manageable teachers think their workload is, as well as how relevant they find their professional development and goal-setting.
Therefore, in order to ensure that administrators are doing the best that they can to keep their quality teachers, they must acknowledge teachers’ agency in their day-to-day work. One study recommended that an effective method for increasing teacher autonomy is for school leaders and administrators to consider teachers’ opinions when making decisions, school policies, and matters that directly affect them. Running differentiated professional development training based on need, giving teachers the space to develop their lessons independently, and allowing teachers to decide how they set their yearly professional goals can create a greater sense of autonomy over their careers and professional growth and thus, improve job satisfaction and retention.
I have seen several of these factors play out in my own experience. For the past four years, I worked as a special education teacher at schools that serve predominantly Latinx and Black communities. I entered the teaching profession in 2018 as a Teach for America corps member, bright-eyed and excited for the opportunity to join the workforce as a first-generation Filipino-American. However, by the end of my second year, I found myself overwhelmed by the work I signed up for. High student caseloads, lack of coaching and support, and a deflated salary left me and my colleagues feeling unsure about our commitment.
During my years in the classroom, I worked under both supportive and non-supportive administrations. In one of my schools, administrators checked in with me often. They were approachable and easy to talk to, there was a sense of comfort in asking for help when I needed it from them, and they always found time to follow up on the progress I had made toward my goals. On the other hand, another school had administrators who were hard to approach, rarely checked in on me, and ultimately made me feel isolated and unsatisfied in my job.
By the time I started my 4th year, many of the teachers I’d met and worked with had left the profession. After looking into the reason why so many of my colleagues left, I discovered that the low retention and high attrition rates that I witnessed weren’t just an insular experience in my schools, but a nationwide issue. Instinctually, as I looked inward at my personal experience, I thought deeply about the factors that made me feel inclined towards leaving the profession and ranked them based on what had more impact on my decision. I also spoke with friends and colleagues who were or are teachers about the factors that influenced their decision to leave or stay in the profession. For the majority of those individuals, including myself, the lack of support from and collaboration with school leadership was the main reason behind the desire or decision to leave. While not a representative survey, those few teachers’ experiences mimicked what most research indicates as the number one factor contributing to teacher turnover.