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Inside Teaching : October 2010
www.atra.edu.au | email@example.com REVIEWS 49 Why Great Teachers Quit By Katy Farber Published by Corwin ISBN 9 781 412 972 451 RRP $47.95 Reviewed by Steve Holden One in five teachers in the United States leave the profession in their first year, while three in five teachers quit the profession in their first five years, according to page ix of Why Great Teachers Quit. Then again, apparently, one in three leave in their first three years, but only up to 50 per cent quit in their first five years, according to pages xiii and xvii. The data, it seems, could bear a little analysis. The problem with Why Great Teachers Quit, though, is that, as Katy Farber explains, ‘This is not meant to be a research-laden, academic book. It is meant to be a fresh, in-the-trenches view.’ The in-the-trenches view is generally negative. Farber insists that she doesn’t mean to generalise, but her insistence on creating ‘composites taken from many communities, many experiences and many interviews’ has the effect of creating a generalised, and negative, picture. The benefit of this approach is that you do get unvarnished truths, but they come at a cost, since they suggest that over- worked teachers everywhere are pressured by standardised testing, poor working conditions, growing expectations, unhelpful parents, red tape and so on. Why Great Teachers Quit shows that teaching is a very hard job, but it doesn’t show why great teachers quit. Neither does it show whether the fact that teachers quit is a problem. To do that, you’d need some data addressing attrition in the profession and comparing teaching with other professions. One of the virtues of Why Great Teachers Quit is that it addresses the stereotype that teachers have it easy. I’m not sure, though, that Farber gains much traction from vignettes that suggest that other professions have it easy. It’s quite possible that, in comparison, they do, but this book can’t make that case unless it undertakes the comparisons. The shame here is that this could have been a valuable book. Many of the recommendations of the self- help variety and many of those aimed at school leaders and policymakers are useful. Chapters likewise conclude with useful ‘words of wisdom from veteran teachers,’ ‘success stories’ and ‘silver linings.’ That said, this book struggles. The default position is that every teacher who quits was a great teacher, and maybe they were, but Farber offers no evidence, beyond one tantalising reference to a review of the research by Cassandra Guarino, Lucrecia Santibañez, Glenn Daley and Dominic Brewer. REFERENCES Guarino, C., Santibañez, L., Daley, G. & Brewer, D. (2004). A review of the research literature on teacher recruitment and retention. Prepared by the RAND Corporation for the Education Commission of the States. Santa Monica, CA: RAND. Available at http://rand.org/ pubs/technical_reports/TR164/ index.html Steve Holden is the Editor of Inside Teaching.