Series| Catalysts

Why do good teachers quit?

The best teachers are leaving education at a frightening pace. Can an alternative approach to education help keep them around? We created this story in partnership with Stand Together.
In partnership with

Teaching, while often recognized as one of the most rewarding professions, can also be one of the most challenging. But a new methodology that promotes hands-on learning is helping empower teachers to reimagine their classroom. 

With an ever-increasing emphasis on standardized testing, educators have begun to feel like they have less and less autonomy over their teaching. And with constantly evolving student needs, a one-size-fits-all education model no longer feels effective for preparing students for success in the real world. 

Empowered is an organization that seeks to fill the gaps left by traditional teaching models and provide educators with tools to help students discover, develop, and apply their unique abilities.

With help from Empowered, educators are being given back control of their classrooms, as well as the ability to dynamically meet individual students’ needs. 

Empowering teachers to reimagine education

Most teachers go into the profession because of an innate desire to help others and make a lasting, positive impact on students’ lives. But stagnant wages paired with a growing list of expectations are forcing many out of the profession.

Even though advanced degrees and credentialing are required to gain employment as a teacher, the median wage for teachers in the country was only $54,000 in 2017. Projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predict that between 2016 and 2026, 270,000 teachers will leave the career.

While so many are finding it too difficult to remain in the field, one teacher found it too difficult to sit on the sidelines. Melita Peeks, a teacher at Dayton Early College Academy, didn’t originally plan to become a teacher. “I worked in corporate America for 20 years,” Peeks told Freethink, “and we got a chance to tour a school. I felt pulled to becoming a teacher the day I left that building. I knew that I needed to do something else to change the students’ lives in my community.”

Peeks’ passion for teaching led her into the field, but her journey has not been easy. Taking a salary decrease to enter the profession forced her to get creative with alternative streams of income. To supplement her teaching salary, Peeks opened up Sugar Sweets by Peeks, a small home-based bakery in Trotwood, Ohio. 

Along with financial hardship, Peeks quickly found that being a teacher didn’t necessarily mean she would be free to teach as she saw fit. “Being a teacher is challenging,” she explains, “because someone else is making decisions on what you’re doing in your classroom, but you still have to get the kids to a teachable moment.”

Teachers are tasked with not just educating in their areas of expertise, but also passing on invaluable life and social skills. Perhaps most importantly, they must prepare students for tests deemed as the only indicators of intelligence, ability, and preparedness—which we know they are not.

Earning minimal compensation and with limited resources, many like Peeks feel a supreme calling to the profession but are leaving because they feel more like part of an assembly line than a valued public service.  

Empowered’s mission is to embolden a movement of teachers to transform education, building something better for millions of students.

Classrooms, as they see them, shouldn’t simply serve as glorified test prep centers and teachers shouldn’t simply serve as proctors. 

A teacher’s duty is to encourage, motivate, and inspire each student to reach their individual potential. The team at Empowered believes that the best way to do this is by promoting project-based and hands-on learning in the classroom.

What is project-based learning? This experiential learning model is a method of education which incorporates projects that are relevant and meaningful to individual students in a way that gets them actively engaged. Rather than simply filling in bubbles on a test sheet, students are taught to demonstrate their knowledge and skills by solving real-world problems. 

Students work collaboratively on projects, so while they’re building knowledge they’re also refining their ability to purposefully communicate and honing important social skills. This hands-on learning model encourages creativity and allows students to utilize their innate abilities. 

Empowered’s team believes that for a classroom to truly help students reach their potential, hands-on learning is crucial.

For students to value their education, they must first experience the value it holds. They must see that their teacher isn’t simply there to prepare them for an exam that has no tangible connection to their lives outside of school, but instead to help them build skills which will lead to success in the real world. 

The future of school is not about tests

To transform the way educators approach teaching, Empowered offers an entire community for collaboration and the sharing of new practices or projects to use in the classroom. Teachers who are part of Empowered are better equipped to help their students discover and apply their passions. 

Melita Peeks is just one example of an educator who is instilling skills in her students that will lead to more purposeful and fulfilling lives. Her student, Kiara, launched her own t-shirt business. “She is so motivational,” Kiara said of Peeks, “With her giving me that push, it drives me to keep going and to never give up.”

Peeks entered the teaching field to do just that, and she now has the tools to make this dream a reality in her classroom everyday – without getting burned out. “I believe everyone has a unique talent and gift,” Peeks said. “We have to just empower them to know that it’s there.” 

Centering an entire curriculum around a standardized test limits teachers’ ability to reach their students individually. Not every student is alike; each one has a unique background, set of abilities, and interests.

With resources that foster project-based, hands-on learning, Empowered is helping teachers build upon what their students bring to the classroom and set them up for success in the real world.

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