This American Life: Irreplaceables Edition

This week at TNTP, we’re thinking about America’s Irreplaceables—those teachers who are so skilled in helping students learn, they are virtually impossible to replace. Yet, as we documented in our study of the same name, these transformative teachers are too often ignored and undervalued.

Take Jason Pittman, an elementary-school science teacher in Alexandria, VA, who recently revealed his plans to quit teaching after a decade in the classroom, on NPR’s “This American Life.”

Jason seems a clear example of the kind of teacher we should be desperate to keep. Since leaving the tech industry to become a teacher, he has won awards from the National Science Teachers Association and the American Geosciences Institute. He has helped run the science fair and special science focus nights, and maintained the school’s science lab website. He was chosen to be the teacher on an expedition led by the researcher who discovered the Titantic. On top of all that, he also raised money to build the school’s garden, which was visited by First Lady Michelle Obama (that's them, along with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, in a photo his school posted online).

Why is he leaving? He says he can’t afford to stay. As Pittman told NPR, not only has he not had a raise in years, he has had to fundraise with a local non-profit in order to cover the cost of his salary, after his position was cut from the official district budget five years ago.

“It gets me a little choked up,” he said. “I want to be here. I want to do this job. [But] I'm at a point where I want to be able to pay a mortgage and have a car payment.”

If we want to keep more Irreplaceables in our schools, we should start by paying them like true professionals. In our study, we argue that the best should be able to make six figures in six years, or the market equivalent in lower cost-of-living areas. That sounds costly, until you consider how much schools like Jason’s lose when their Irreplaceables walk out the door.

Click here for the full interview. And to read more about how we can keep our best teachers on the job, check out The Irreplaceables and our resource guide for principals.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

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