Does Virginia’s mass exodus of teachers reflect the state of education? Let’s hope not

The state's teachers point to low morale and low satisfaction since the start of the pandemic as their primary reason for leaving, driven by several factors including lack of respect and student behavior.

“We’re short-staffed” is a prominent theme that plagues not only America’s businesses but its K-12 schools as teachers continue to cite inadequate pay, lack of respect and poor working conditions among an extensive list of reasons as to why they’re leaving the profession.

Nowadays, educators are expected to go above and beyond their contracted duties with little to no compensation for their work, a daunting reality considering that their extra efforts often come out of their own pockets.

Recently, the National Education Association asked its members how much they spend on classroom supplies. Here are a few responses that shed some light on the generosity of our current teachers.

“At least $200 on snacks alone,” said one teacher. “Many kids come with snacks but I have super severe food allergies in my room and I have anxiety, so I’d rather my students take from an allergy-approved stockpile than unknowingly bring something in that’s gonna put another kid into shock.”

“Throughout each year, I spent at least $1,000—online subscriptions, books for the classroom library, storage bins, winter hats and mittens, and snacks,” said another.

Unfortunately, the generosity of America’s teachers isn’t enough to keep them going in a field that’s become increasingly difficult to manage, and that’s especially true for Virginia’s educators. According to a report released this week from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the state is losing more teachers than its bringing in. Based on the data, 10,900 teachers left the profession before the school year and only 7,208 educators with first-time licenses were hired.

Virginia’s teachers point to low morale and low satisfaction since the start of the pandemic as their primary reason for leaving, driven by several factors:

  • 56% of teachers surveyed said the challenging student population and their behavior is “a very serious issue.”
  • 52% cited low pay.
  • Nearly half (47%) said they lack respect from parents and the public.
  • 40% had trouble managing the workload due to being short-staffed.

In addition to the state’s struggles in maintaining staff, the pool of eligible teachers is also shrinking.

“Divisions also expressed concern about the declining quality of teacher applicants during the pandemic,” the report reads. “Nearly all divisions surveyed (98%) indicated that an inadequate applicant pool for open positions was among their biggest challenges to meeting staffing needs.”

According to one division human resources director who was quoted in the report, “I’m surprised when we get an application from a fully qualified teacher.”

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While Virginia’s most recently released data portends a grim future for its schools, they’re not alone. Texas recently found that an overwhelming majority (70%) of its educators are “seriously” considering abandoning the profession for good. In 2018, that percentage was 53%.

“Lingering stress from the pandemic is a factor, but it isn’t the only one,” The Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina said in a statement. “Inadequate pay, political attacks on educators and the failure of state leaders to protect the health and safety of students and school employees also have combined to drive down the morale of teachers to the lowest level in recent memory and endanger our public school systems.”

Teacher vacancies have also risen in South Carolina as there were more than 1,100 openings at the start of the school year. Unsurprisingly, according to a recent Teacher Exit Survey, their reasons for leaving are quite similar.

“When asked to indicate the importance among multiple reasons for leaving, school discipline problems during the most recent school year were indicated with the greatest frequency with 44% of teachers indicating this as very or extremely important,” according to the survey.

In addition, respondents said they desire connection with their communities and supportive leadership.

As districts continue through the school year, it’s important that leaders give their educators a voice, and more importantly, let that voice be heard, according to NEA President Becky Pringle.

“We’ve got to think about those solutions from an overarching place of elevating the education profession in a way that demonstrates the respect our educators need and deserve,” she said in a recent webinar addressing teacher shortages.

Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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