• IDRA Newsletter • February 1999

During the past 25 years, IDRA has worked with and trained more than 75,000 teachers. Throughout this tenure, we have regularly faced the vexing problem of trying to impart information and skills to teachers who have surrendered their vibrant visions for children to the lesser visions predominating in today’s schools. Teachers often tell us their initial high expectations of “making a difference” have not been met. Mountains of paperwork and other bureaucratic procedures bog down their efforts to help children learn. They feel unappreciated and unrecognized by their schools and communities. Drained of hope and feeling overwhelmed, they frequently blame students and their families for the students’ poor academic showing.

Research indicates that teachers who work with historically underachieving populations frequently seem the most desperate. They suffer burnout at disproportionately faster rates than their colleagues working in less challenging environments. They often feel devalued by the school that communicates an attitude that their students are incapable of high levels of learning despite their best efforts. Disheartened and disillusioned, they join the tens of thousands who have left the teaching profession less than five years after embarking on their careers.

Yet other teachers – of similar students and from families with similar characteristics, teaching in schools with few resources and equally burdened with paperwork – love their work and their students, feel they do make a difference, and help students succeed.

With so many factors being essentially the same, IDRA concluded there must be important factors that account for the contrast between similarly situated teachers. What we found was a prevailing campus climate in the schools of satisfied teachers: a climate characterized by enthusiastic acceptance of students, teachers, and administrators and observable mutual respect. Among teachers, collegiality and cooperation ruled workrooms, and teachers received full administrative support. We have concluded that this campus climate can be re-created for the benefit of teachers facing burn out.

IDRA’s concept of teacher renewal is based on valuing of oneself and others. IDRA conceptualized, directed, and evaluated the first teacher retention effort funded by the Texas Education Agency, which enhanced the quality and retention of minority teachers and teachers in critical shortage areas. IDRA implemented Project TNT (Teachers Need Teachers), an induction process for bilingual education teachers in which mentor teachers and beginning teachers were trained in the coaching process. Based on this experience, IDRA created a highly popular manual, Starting Today Steps to Success for Beginning Bilingual Educators, to prevent new bilingual teachers from “sinking” during the stressful first year of teaching.

As IDRA helped schools find ways of retaining their experienced teachers, IDRA also developed the Educator’s Perspective Inventory (EPI). This professional satisfaction and needs assessment instrument measures 10 facets of the professional experience, pinpointing particularly stressful aspects of an educator’s work environment.

Through the Multi-Age Early Childhood Education for Limited-English-Proficient Students research study, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, IDRA led teachers to initiate research on the effects of multi-age grouping on LEP students’ learning nd development and to develop a model for such programs based on their research.

IDRA will continue to work hand-in-hand with teachers to develop renewed vigor and enthusiasm for teaching in a context of professional collegiality, administrative support for innovation and the achievement of individual goals that results in enhanced self-respect for teachers and success for all their students. We do so with a vision of teachers reconnected to their original visions – as individuals who make significant contributions to their students’ lives, who see potential where others see only problems, and who shape the future one mind at a time.

Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©1999, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 1999 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]