A lot has been said about the stress teachers have been placed under because of the pandemic, but new data from districts across the country suggests it is driving teachers to leave the profession altogether.
In Providence, Rhode Island, the school district says it lost 10% of its teachers this past summer. In Michigan, the retirement rate for teachers across the state jumped 44% between 2019 and this year. In Fort Worth, Texas, the vacancy rate across district schools throttled 450% percent in that same time, according to district data.
“It’s October and it feels like May as far as the tired, will to make it through to the next week,” said Amie Baca-Olhert, president of the Colorado Education Association (CEA), Colorado’s largest teacher’s union with more than 30,000 members. “Our educators are tired, they are stressed out, and their workloads have significantly increased.”
In February, the CEA conducted a survey of its members and found 40% were considering quitting over the COVID-19 pandemic. The main reason cited was concerns over health and safety.
“I was definitely concerned. More so for my family members than myself,” said Madeline Balgavy, a former teacher for one of Arkansas’ public middle schools. “I was like, ‘I don’t think I can go back. I feel so disrespected, so completely not cared for.’”
Balgavy worked as a teacher for nearly 10 years before quitting her job in December and becoming a real estate agent.
“For me, it was just I’ve got one life to live and I’m going to take this risk and it’s working out for me so far,” she said about her decision.
Nationwide, there is not a single database that tracks this information. Rather, to get a full picture of the state of teachers in education, you have to look at individual district data, which is why Mark Sass, director of TeachPlus Colorado, a national teacher advocacy group, says he is not convinced teachers are quitting in unprecedented droves due to the pandemic.
“Anxiety certainly is higher these days, but I think it’s kind of getting to a place now where we’ve been comfortable with it and we’ve been able to adapt,” he said.
The fear that more teachers are leaving schools because of COVID-19, however, adds to a concerning trend that has been occurring for the last few years.
In 2015, the Learning Policy Institute did a study that estimated the national teacher shortage that year was around 110,000, a number LPI expected to jump to 300,000 by the year 2025, and this was well before COVID was even a thought.
“I know one of the concerns we have is there are a lot of teachers who are of retirement age who could leave,” said Sass.