by Colleen Flaherty
Marvin Feil is a former public school teacher from New Jersey. He, alongside educators across the country, is facing a work environment that’s causing more teachers to leave the profession than ever before.
“The larger classes and lack of supplies and equipment have demoralized many education professionals,” said Feil. “When I stopped teaching, my blood pressure dropped a lot because I no longer had to deal with the insane pressures many teachers face every day.”
“I love to teach, but I would never recommend teaching in a public school to anyone.”
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According to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF), teacher attrition has grown by 50 percent over the last fifteen years. Educators leave the profession now at a rate of 16.8 percent. Over 30 percent of young teachers leave the profession within the first five years.
Without the proper funding and support for public schools, hiring and retaining quality teachers will become even more difficult, and this trend will end up costing taxpayers even more. According to a 2007 study by NCTAF, the national cost of public school teacher turnover is estimated at $7.3 billion a year. On top of that, if Congress doesn’t pass a budget deal by the end of the year, 8 percent, across-the-board cuts go into effect with a $5 billion cut from education.
Tiffany McEachern is a teacher at an inner-city school in North Carolina. In urban schools, the teacher turnover rate is over 20 percent. In many severely under-funded schools and districts, the teacher dropout rate is actually higher than the student dropout rate.
“If cuts are made to education, we can see massive job loss and decreasing test scores due to lack of resources, increased class sizes and a lack of the needed teachers to support all students with varying abilities,” said McEachern.
While the pressure of teaching without adequate resources has become overwhelming for many educators, McEachern maintains that it’s more than just a funding problem.
“I think it’s more of a societal issue that we’re facing. Teachers and education, in general, are not valued,” said McEachern. “Until these societal views change, teachers are going to continue to leave the profession and seek careers in which they are valued. It’s not the teaching or the students that frustrates us, it’s how we’re treated and looked upon by the rest of the community.”
Lori Oliver-Tierney is a grade school teacher from Mariposa, California. She used to have 20 students, a budget for supplies and a teacher’s aide in a second grade class. Now, she teaches 31 students in a class with second and third graders, doesn’t have an aide and spends about $100 monthly out of pocket for school supplies.
“I now teach in conditions that used to be called intolerable and nowadays are called common,” said Oliver-Tierney. “With the cuts that have happened in the last 5 to 10 years, I have had five of my personal friends retire early from the teaching profession. Not because of the kids, but because of the stress and health problems related to it, large class sizes and the amount of hours we spend far and above our contract hours.”
“I love the kids still, but after 26 years of teaching, I am thinking of calling it quits.”
Shelia Fossen is a retired teacher from Colorado who now volunteers in her younger friends’ classrooms.
“I am appalled at the lack of resources teachers have today,” said Fossen. “I felt honored, respected, and empowered as a professional when I started teaching. I am saddened as I walk into this toxic environment.”
Fossen has seen massive cuts in the district where she volunteers. The teachers have been asked to do more without even receiving cost of living raises.
“They have actually had their pay decreased the last two years. These are the people giving 125 percent on a daily basis and it’s sad. They are working with our most precious and valuable resource, our children.”
What does this mean for the future of the teaching profession? David Tjaden is the chairperson of the NEA Student Program, a membership that includes 60,000 future educators in all 50 states. Tjaden isn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet.
“I am very hopeful for the future of the teaching profession. In campuses across the country, I see teacher prep programs filled with NEA-Student Program members who are motivated by altruism and a desire to attend to every need of their students.”
While the students Tjaden works with are capable and driven, he said changes must be made in education policy to make the profession a better place for quality teachers.
“This passion for teaching and making the world a better place cannot and will not fix the turnover rate by itself. It will take a conscious effort by all players to truly invest in our teachers, students, and public education. This starts with policy and adequately funding public education by state and local policymakers.”
“Every year states and school districts are gifted with a new batch of energized, passionate, and excited young educators. Let’s invest in them and allow them to help their students change the world.”