Credit: TMS illustration by Donna Grethen

Meghan Groome is director of K-12 education and Science & the City at the New York Academy of Sciences.

In his State of the State speech this week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he'll name a new education commission to recommend reforms in teacher accountability, student achievement and management efficiency. One largely overlooked fact this group should consider is that too many of our most promising teachers give up on the job early in their careers.

Many people have the misperception that teaching is a cushy gig. Teachers work 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at most, they think, have summers off and generous breaks throughout the year. The reality is a lot different. As a former classroom teacher and someone who works with teachers on a daily basis now, I can tell you that teaching is 12 months of emotionally and intellectually draining work packed into 10 months.

Every hour in the classroom requires additional hours of preparation and follow-up, lesson planning, grading and evaluation, not to mention participating in after-school programs and professional development. For most teachers, this means that their working hours readily expand and rarely contract.

This is the case even in the best schools. For those working in schools with few resources, being a good teacher not only means paying careful attention to the intellectual and emotional lives of those in your care, it can also mean trying to get heat in your classroom and toilet paper in the restrooms.

No matter how you cut it, teaching can be a burnout profession, and that is costing all of us dearly.

About a third of new teachers leave the field within the first three years, and one half leave after five years, according to researchers at Stanford and Michigan State universities. The annual national turnover rate among teachers as a whole is 13 percent per year, compared to about 11 percent for other professions. On Long Island, with its myriad districts of varying sizes, the rates range from 4 percent to 50.

A conservative national estimate of the annual cost of teacher attrition is nearly $3 billion, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based public policy organization. In addition to the general costs of recruiting and hiring, schools invest hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in valuable professional development and orientation programs, often mandated by law. When teachers leave, schools have to make the same investments over again.

Not only does it cost a lot to replace teachers, high teacher turnover is associated with lower student achievement.

Teachers leave for a long list of reasons, but it contains some repeat offenders: a mismatch between good teaching practice and accountability measures; too much chaos and too little stability in their schools; too many responsibilities for the amount of time they have in their work day; and, in some places, too little pay to make a middle-class lifestyle feasible.

Surveys of beginning teachers in New York City show that working conditions and supportive school administrators are among the most important determinants of teachers' career decisions. Teachers want a principal who listens to their ideas and colleagues with whom they can collaborate on a regular basis. These are simple, but essential things -- especially for those at the start of their careers. Researchers studying beginning teachers in Michigan found that those who described their work environments as unsupportive were about five times more likely to leave their schools before the following year.

Teachers who stick with it acknowledge the challenges, but describe a range of successful strategies: building a community of like-minded colleagues; establishing positive professional relationships with colleagues in and outside their schools; feeling supported by their school leadership; and seeking pathways for professional growth.

Focusing on these facets of school culture provides direction for policy makers and school administrators -- and one that is far more actionable than addressing the issues of the crumbling infrastructure of American schools, the current structure by which we pay teachers, and persistent achievement gaps determined by ZIP code.