Low student achievement and soaring attrition rates plague public schools in poor communities throughout the United States, where most teachers quit within the first five years of their careers. Temp Keller recognizes, rewards, and supports effective teachers, opening the way for hundreds to devote their lives to the pursuit of quality education for students in need.
A nova ideia
Numerous creative and inspired programs have risen in the past few decades to provide effective curriculum and recruit motivated teachers for low-income public schools in the United States. Unfortunately, very few of them offer support and recognition to urban teachers past their first two years on the job. As a result, burnout is high even among teachers committed to serving poor communities, and public schools find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of high turnover and endless recruiting needs. While most people know the inspirational power that truly great teachers can have, the United States public education system repeatedly fails to retain such teachers in the schools that need them the most.
Temp Keller founded Resources for Indispensable Schools and Educators (RISE) to fill this critical gap and address the underlying factors that drive teacher attrition. The RISE network identifies, recognizes, and supports teachers who demonstrate that they can make concrete improvement in student achievement. The network provides its members with the tools and encouragement they need to continue their service to poor neighborhoods. The organization matches members with low-income schools that are prescreened to ensure administrative support, and even provides financial rewards to help teachers supply their classrooms with needed resources. Finally, RISE serves as a professional network for its teachers, providing a forum for the exchange of ideas and best practices.
Generations of Americans have depended upon public education to advance themselves from poverty. But without effective teachers, schools in poor neighborhoods can become little more than warehouses for society’s dispossessed children. Just as career success depends on good education, good education depends upon the presence of quality teachers. Effective schools and committed teachers are the key to any program for economic and social development in poor neighborhoods.
As it stands, the American public school system does very little to support and nurture effective teachers. A shocking number of teachers in low-income communities leave after their first few years of service, well before the high point of their teaching careers. Nationally, over 50 percent of teachers in poor neighborhood schools leave the classroom within five years to teach in more affluent areas or pursue a new career altogether. A Chicago study found that 73 percent of the city’s new teachers had left by the end of their fifth year. Data suggest that the most effective teachers, those that have the greatest impact on student learning, leave the profession at the highest rates. The exodus of effective teachers from poor public schools is the primary driver of teacher shortages in these schools, and it effectively sentences the country’s neediest children to low-quality education and a lifetime of fewer opportunities.
Popular solutions to teacher shortages in low-income communities work solely on the recruitment side of the problem. Groups like Teach for America do a fine job of recruiting teachers, but their recruits rarely remain in low-income schools for more than five years. Three controlling factors drive the high attrition rate among urban teachers. First, they often find themselves in unsupportive work environments, where teachers receive inadequate support from administrations and have no say in school decision making. Second is the factor of money: inadequate supplies in underfunded schools lead committed teachers to spend their own modest salaries to secure basic classroom materials for their students. Third, many teachers feel a sense of isolation in their work, and have limited exposure to new ideas to improve student learning.
To date, the teacher retention problem has been addressed with a series of scattershot programs. Some teacher training programs provide their alumni with limited support after graduation, and some states provide incentives and resources to teachers in “hard-to-staff” schools. States and districts preparing and supporting teachers in their first two years in the classroom, but there is currently no national movement to retain quality teachers after their second year. As a result, poor communities throughout the United States lack the talented and experienced teachers they need to secure safe and prosperous futures for their children.
Through his RISE network, Temp Keller pursues a three-pronged strategy to directly address the causes of teacher attrition in poor public schools. The first program in this strategy connects effective teachers who are frustrated with their current schools to pre-screened schools that actively nurture a skilled faculty. Teachers applying to the RISE network must demonstrate their effectiveness through a year’s growth in student performance, and schools applying to receive RISE teachers must undergo a vetting process to confirm that they support teachers and include them in decision-making processes. Where unsupportive administrators and inept bureaucracies might normally drive talented teachers away from low-income schools entirely, RISE ensures that these teachers will continue to serve the students who need them most.
Through his second major program, Temp positions RISE to ease the burden of out-of-pocket expenses that committed teachers spend on classroom materials. They recognize demonstrated growth in student achievement with RISE Rewards, certificates that teachers can redeem for a wide range of classroom supplies. The Rewards program leverages the online retail and delivery infrastructure created by the citizen group Adopt-a-Classroom to make it easy for RISE members to find high-quality, affordable classroom supplies. Only RISE teachers who opt to stay in their current schools are eligible for rewards, providing an incentive for teachers to continue their service to low-income neighborhoods.
The third major component of the RISE strategy is a program that builds a strong network of innovative teachers that share ideas and resources across the country. This program began even before the incorporation of RISE: starting in 2000, Temp worked under the name of the CharterTeach Organization to award teaching fellowships to 18 experienced and effective teachers, forging with them a solid, supportive, professional community. Since then, this community has grown to include more than 450 RISE members working in over 50 schools. The RISE network gives effective teachers the social and intellectual support they need to serve their schools past the standard five-year washout period, securing quality education—and all the opportunities that come with it for low-income students.
Temp holds his father as his greatest teacher, inspiration, and advisor. He also credits his high school English teacher, Mr. Bulak, with impressing on him that the purpose of study was not merely to master the material but to master the practice of thinking. Inspired by this vision of education, Temp decided to become a teacher. His first job threw him without significant support into a resource-poor classroom in East Palo Alto, CA, where he was underprepared to meet the extreme needs of his students. During his years at Palo Alto, Temp realized that sending children to schools that fail the majority of their students is essentially the same as sentencing those children to a life of diminished opportunities.
Resolved to secure better opportunities for children like his students, Temp left his position in East Palo Alto. With his colleague Kristen Groos he founded CharterTeach in 2000. As RISE grows from the seed of his former organization, Temp continues to refine his strategies to combat teacher attrition in low-income schools and ensure that America’s neediest children receive the high-quality education they deserve.