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Teachers Leaving Jobs at Record Rate Across Country

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“It is a greater work to educate a child, in the true and larger sense of the world, than to rule a state.”

                                                                                                                     — William Ellery Channing

As we step into another year, we should also look back at the year bygone and try to understand and learn the lessons that it had to teach. 2018 was a mixed-bag year, but with more disappointments than reasons to cheer. America faced many problems, however, most of them were such whose effects shall not echo far into the future, and resilient Americans will slowly learn to deal with them. Yet there were a few whose effects shall reverberate far into the future, and in this article we will discuss one such.

The future of a nation lies in the hands of its youth and their future in the hands of their teachers. So, when teachers become disillusioned with their profession and start quitting the once revered profession, it is a clear sign that something’s wrong and that the future shall be bleak.

Frustrated by their paltry salary, sheer lack of growth opportunities and a multitude of other problems, public school teachers and other education employees in the United States are quitting their jobs at the fastest rate on record.

Over a span of 12 months ending in October, one million people had already left their jobs in public education, the fastest resignation rate since the Department of Labor began its assessment in 2001, Labor Department data showed. 

So, what’s fueling this exodus from the teaching profession?

According to the report, there are a variety of reasons. 

“Part of it was compensation,” Alice Cain, executive vice president of Teach Plus, a policy organization told the Wall Street Journal.

Wages and salaries of people engaged in public education lag behind the wages and salaries offered in jobs in the private sector. Also, a labor market driven by a low jobless rate of less than 4 percent may be enticing teachers to consider other roles that offer a better paycheck.

In the third quarter of 2018, public education workers saw their pay rise by 2.2% compared to the prior year. However, it was still below the 3.1% pay hike received by those who worked in the private sector.

"I had to quit for my sanity," said a 43-year-old Sara Jorve, who left her position in May after teaching fifth-grade math and science for 12 years.

Jorve’s was so meager that she had to seek financial assistance from her parents. A similar situation of financial helplessness is not unusual for the profession. 

US News and World Report data puts the salary of an elementary teacher at $55,800, and for high school teachers at $58,000. But remember these figures are just an average. The actual salary in many states is significantly less. For example, in Oklahoma, which comes last on the list, monetary compensation for educating and nurturing tomorrow’s America is just $40,201.

In protest against their puny salary teachers in several states, including Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, staged walkouts in 2018 demanding better wages and improved working conditions. 

But, the reality of the education budgets is not hidden from anyone. It is common knowledge that education budgets of at least 12 states are down by at least seven percent compared to 2009 numbers (after being adjusted for inflation). So, the teachers are well aware that prospects of their financial situation improving are very grim. For those who wish to better their financial condition, there is just one way out: to quit.

But financial stress is not the only reason for the exodus. The feeling that their work is not being valued and appreciated is also playing a major role in this growing resentment against the profession.

As Alice Cain said, “part (reason) of this (exodus) was that their students weren’t valued, and that the public education system in our country isn’t a priority in so many places.”

And Leisha Cowart, a local teacher aptly said, “We’re dealing with a culture that tells everybody, 'Eh do what you have to do to get by.”

Cowart said that money is not the only issue teachers face; the cultural problem they have to face is far bigger and complex.

“Teachers are expected to do more than just teach,” Cowart said. “We have kids coming to us with all sorts of backgrounds with who knows what sort of issues they deal with on a daily basis, and we’re supposed to know and meet the emotional needs, sometimes the social needs and the educational needs. That is a massive burden.”

“I’ve had students take their own lives, I’ve had students be the victim of murder, I’ve had students with violent background. Then you have to run the gamut and you take those home,” Cowart said.

According to her the only way to fix the problem immediately to open up frank communication channels with the administration so that the teacher can put forth their grievances and discuss solutions. The sheer lack of respect that they should receive from the administrators is what is driving out the teachers.

“The biggest thing that the state, the district, people can do for teachers is to value them, value their opinions,” Cowart said.

“During the recession, education was a safe place to be,” Julia Pollak, a labor economist at Zip Recruiter, told the publication.

However, she says that it is a “more boring place now” for educators who “see their friends finding exciting opportunities.”

The number of teachers going into other fields has been steadily growing for the past three years, with many taking up jobs in health care, social assistance or administrative services. 

Due to teachers quitting and with fewer university students willing to study for a profession that pays low (the number of college students studying for an education degree dropped by 35 percent between 2009 and 2014) we are slowly but certainly heading for a future where it would be difficult for schools to find and employ good teachers. And in all this melee the ultimate sufferer will be our children and our beloved country America.

The year has just begun and many would still not have finalized their new year resolution. It is an excellent time to make a resolution to support the teachers and fight for what they rightfully deserve: better pay and dignity.

“Of all the hard jobs around, one of the hardest is being a good teacher.”

—Margaret Gallagher

Author: Pradeep Banerjee