The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Leave

The case of the disappearing (and *unusually effective*) charter school teachers

Do you dream of CRUSHING the achievement gap but aren’t sure that a 14 hour work day is right for you? Are you MAD passionate about training the next generation of test takers but worry that you lack the hand gestures to keep a large class of minority students on task? Reader: I’ve got excellent news. Thanks to our excellent and innovative friends at MATCH Education you can test drive your dream with absolutely no obligation to buy.

Meet Tough MutTer, a 10-hour “teacher obstacle course” in which would-be teachers at No Excuses charter schools run teaching drills with real-live urban high school students:

Thinking about becoming a teacher, whether through Teach For America or another path?  The job is hard and a lot of people quit.  The obstacle course is designed to test your instinctive teaching chops, emotional readiness, grit, and teamwork.  This day is a fun way to learn about yourself, and whether teaching is really your calling.  Tough MutTer is affectionately modeled on Tough Mudder.  Tough Mudder events are hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces.  Tough MutTeR is designed by Match Teacher Residency (MTR).

I will now pause to allow you to send your application to Tough@MatchEducation.org. Note: admissions preference given to juniors or seniors involved with Students for Education Reform.

Finished? Good. In case you’re wondering, Tough MutTer is for real. (The announcement was forwarded to me by a refugee from the MATCH program). But while the concept may be gimmicky, it’s also an attempt to solve a serious—and growing—problem among the No Excuses charters for which MATCH trains teachers. You see, these schools churn through teachers at an *astonishing* rate. In fact, the demand for fresh and “unusually effective” blood is so strong that MATCH has even created its own graduate school just to mint new charter teachers. But even this pipeline of excellence can’t produce enough new teachers to replace the ones who quit each year.

Unlike LIFO lifer teachers who refuse to leave their jobs no matter how unpleasant we make them, teachers at No Excuses charters have a career span of about two years. That means that a typical urban charter in Massachusetts loses between a third to a half of its teachers every year. Using an incredibly nifty new tool known as District Analysis and Review Tool I was able to document the percentage of teachers that left Boston area academies of excellence and innovation last year alone.

2012 Teacher Turnover

  • Roxbury Preparatory Charter: 50%
  • Edward Brook Charter: 49%
  • Spirit of Knowledge Charter: 47%
  • New Leadership Charter: 47%
  • Boston Preparatory Charter: 35%
  • KIPP Academy Charter Lynn: 35%
  • Boston Renaissance: 35%
  • Pioneer Charter School of Science: 35%
  • City on a Hill: 33%
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School of Excellence: 33%
  • Smith Leadership Charter: 32% (down from 58% in 2011)
  • Conservatory Lab Charter: 30% (down from 56% in 2011)
  • MATCH: 25%

Teaching their hands off
But why do these *unusually effective* teachers have such *unusually brief* careers? To answer this question, we first need to take a peak at what MATCH considers great teaching to be:



Mystery solved! According to this inspirational video, champion teachers 1) are white 2) use many hand gestures 3) inspire their students to “work harder” through the strategic use of insults, slogans and analogies in order to 4) keep the actual content of what they are teaching a closely held secret. In other words, this is a career that no actual human being with a heart could engage in for more than two years…

Mike Goldstein, chief design officer for MATCH Education.

I quit because I’m excellent
Of course not everyone agrees with my expert analysis. Mike G, otherwise known as Mike Goldstein, chief design officer for MATCH, has a different take on why no excuses schools churn through teachers:

Many of the people we attract simply do not want to be lifetime teachers. This is true of many talented folks from many sectors: they do not want any one career. Instead, we welcome talented people who basically say “I’ll give the kids everything I have for perhaps 5 years. Then I’m gone. It’s not burnout. It’s that I simply don’t want to teach 9th grade algebra my whole life. Is that of interest to your school?” No Excuses schools say yes (in a million different ways). Traditional schools say “Whatever.”

Got that? The true sign of a truly *excellent* teacher is the brevity of his or her career… By the way, if you’re a quitter for quality, MATCH has a job for you. MATCH is opening yet another charter in Boston, MATCH Next, which combines two EduShyster fave trends: no excuses and blended learning. If you’re a “current bad-ass No Excuses teacher with leadership chops” there’s a place on the MATCH dream team for you.

Send comments, questions and career ideas to tips@edushyster.com.

14 thoughts on “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Leave

  1. CDO..chief design officer. I have another acronym for you Mike, but I might get a correction and the culture I need in a special room. This should be a Saturday Night Live skit. Edushyster…you could be the Tina Fey of Ed deform blogs. Love you!

    I applied….I sent two sentences:

    I want to become a Stepford robot teacher. Is this where I apply?

  2. You are my new idol, edushyster, my new ideal. Wow. Are these people sincere in this BS? There must be a lot of $$$ somewhere for someone in this charter school business …. with a straight face someone presented that video & I guess that guy really wrote that book. Snapping your fingers at your students? Really? Are they DOGS???????

    • I actually thought of the Seaworld or aquarium shows where they hand gesture and click to get the seals and dolphins to flip and jump for fish. The kids should wear Shamu hats.

  3. And for us premium members, what whine* box should we take along on our Tough MutTer course?

    * That started as an honest typo, but it’s too appropriate to change it.

  4. 5. Make them sit in rows-no collaboration in these classrooms.
    6. Stand in front of the class because it’s about your teaching and not their learning.

  5. I like Lemov’s techniques, and I think his taxonomy is a contribution to our profession. Like anything else, I think the problem is when schools take a reductive approach and focus ONLY on his taxonomy, assuming that anyone who uses those techniques in a clearly-identifiable way is “effective.” Lemov’s taxonomy is primarily about management and objectives, but those are just the first steps of effective teaching. Real teaching is about helping students find meaningful ways to learn and connect to the course content. Hand gestures might facilitate teaching the content, but they’re not a substitute for content instruction.

  6. I am thrilled to see this. This fits perfectly with a series I did on Steven Brill (who came to my city promoting the KIPP model) on my blog. A teacher there who worked at such a school said he thought it worked great, but that he thought the model was unsustainable because the teachers can’t keep it up for more than about five years.

    I’m very glad to see some “data,” (as if we needed it to verify what we already knew). But I’m glad to see it nonetheless.

    The video clip was also informative.
    Here’s the link to my post on Brill.
    http://www.edu-truth.com/2011/11/steven-brill-vol-2-unsustainable-kipp.html

  7. What strikes me is this attitude that it’s actually better to have people teach a few years, then find another (probably more lucrative) job in the private sector. I guess I’m one of those bad lifer teachers, but it took me 5 years to get good and another 20 years to become great. I figure in another 10-20 years I’ll be either godlike or with God.

  8. “Unlike LIFO lifer teachers who refuse to leave their jobs no matter how unpleasant we make them…”

    LOVE that line. Too bad it’s also so very true.

    By their reckoning I must really suck as a teacher: this is my 27th year in teaching. Those who are in it for a few years lack the calling (and the passion) for this profession. Good riddance.

  9. While I am actually an advocate for the existence of charter schools (philosophically, at least), I am loving your blog!!! Hi-larious writing style matched with insightful, powerful critiques.

    To the other commenters: To be fair (having now worked in the traditional system for a number of years), let’s not pretend that the traditional public system is always a shining beacon of ethics, integrity, or efficacy either. While they may not promote burnout at the same rate, traditional publics can be weak on accountability at the individual teacher level and on organization. And while charters (to reference a different post) are often caught creaming from the top, I’ve seen traditional public’s push students out with the same determination as these charters- just using different methods. I suspect if Edushyster set her/his mind to it, they would be able to leverage a lot of quality critiques at traditional public education as well. The back and forth from both sides distracts from the much larger fact that neither is doing a great job at meeting the demands of staying competitive (educationally) internationally.

    Aaaaaaaanyway, funny, quality stuff here!

    • Thanks for your kind comments. Actually, I’ve got a plan in the works to start another blog to “leverage quality critiques at traditional public education”–I’m going to call it Shooting Fish in a Barrel. Just kidding…

      You’re absolutely right about public schools “learning” from charters. With public schools under increasing pressure to put up or be shut down, the incentives to push out kids who are a net drag on test scores are huge. I actually write about this corrupting influence on charters and public schools–although as you can tell, I have a special luv for our academies of innovation and excellence… Let me know if you have story ideas for me. tips@edushyster.com

      • Shooting Fish in a Barrel. That’s hilarious. Commenter just got schooled. Not enough critiques out there of public schools? Really? He’s just mad because the DoE, StudentsFirst, all the foundations, state legislators and governors, and Education Nation aren’t funny at all when they skewer public schools. Yes, what we really need in America today is someone brave enough to look at public education with a critical eye! LMAO.

        • If only there were some money to be made in such skewering, I’d be the first to leap on the horse! btw: I am no longer a snarky anonymous edublogger but a leverager of quality critiques and don’t you forget it!