I’ve taught English at Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford for six years. We currently have five math teachers for grades 6-12, and during my tenure, I’ve seen eight other math teachers come and go. Some left for other opportunities. Some left because they were unprepared for the demands of this job; at least one left teaching all together. Three left mid-year, forcing us to use a long-term sub while we looked for a suitable replacement.
Imagine you are one of our students. Freshmen year you have a math teacher who leaves part way through the year, you have a sub for a while, and then you get a new teacher who must figure out what the curriculum is, where you are in the curriculum, and where you should be. Your sophomore year, the very same thing happens. Junior year, your teacher stays the entire year, but is ineffective. Then you take the SATs.
My students’ experience illustrates what the research tells us: urban districts have higher rates of teacher turnover, and teachers there are more likely to be uncertified or undercertified and to have fewer years of experience. Grade 7-12 math is a perennial teacher shortage area, so finding well-qualified math teachers is difficult, and they usually take jobs in the suburban districts, which can generally offer more stability and do their hiring earlier in the year. This means kids who need the most educational supports are likely to have the least qualified teachers. No wonder the achievement gap grows over time.
I’ve got these math teachers on my mind because my juniors got their SAT scores yesterday. Every student to whom I spoke was disappointed. My students are feeling like failures, but the fact is we have failed them.
Two years ago, when my current juniors were freshmen, we were in the news because some students from Farmington chanted “SAT scores” as our girls’ basketball team was beating them. I wonder what the math teacher turnover rate has been in Farmington over the last six years. I wonder how qualified the math teachers in Farmington are, are they certified, do they have a degree in math, how many years of experience do they have, how long have they been teaching their curriculum?
To be clear, I don’t blame the math teachers for my students’ scores. I also don’t blame my principal, who is doing the very best she can with the circumstances she is given. Rather, I blame the system that put those teachers in front of those kids. We’ve allowed this dysfunctional system to exist for far too long. It is crippling our kids and our future.
Lisa Loomis-Davern is a teacher in Hartford and a member of the Middletown Board of Education.