Opinion: I quit teaching. Here’s what parents need to know to stop the exodus

A former Georgia teacher talks about why she left the profession. And she writes that more teachers will follow her out the door if educators continue to be left out of policy discussions.  (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

A former Georgia teacher talks about why she left the profession. And she writes that more teachers will follow her out the door if educators continue to be left out of policy discussions. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

As an educator and essayist, I have written many articles about classroom conditions in Georgia and on the national education front. To my chagrin, none of those articles bore fruit of policy change.

I don’t know if I have the breath left for the fight, nor if I have the right to speak truth to power. I left the public education system and found my mental and physical health improved exponentially. To dwell on why I didn’t stay or what factors might have prevented me from leaving would be so many sour grapes.

However, while I am no longer in that space, many of my friends and former students are still there fighting — for now.

 Jordan Kohanim

Credit: Submitted

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Credit: Submitted

The facts show many educators losing hope. Over half are considering leaving the teaching profession earlier than they had initially intended; this includes earlier-than-planned retirements as well as younger teachers.

The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education shows 35% fewer people enrolling in traditional teacher prep programs. The teaching field witnesses the highest burnout rate among all occupations in the United States, with 44% of K-12 educators frequently or always experiencing burnout.

The aftermath of the pandemic led to a reduction of 500,000 educators within the American public school system. At the beginning of 2022, 44% of public schools had open teaching positions.

One reason may be the more challenging classroom environment. More than 80% of educators reported increased behavior problems.

These facts are nothing new to our communities. Parents across Georgia are feeling the pinch of the teacher flight: fewer classes offered, larger class sizes, less personalized feedback available. Schools are spread thin, and communities are seeing it firsthand.

And yet, no one wants to hear from the teachers. If you are of the “those-whiny-teachers” crowd, this is not your safe space. If you can handle the bandage being ripped off, here are the voices of your teachers. I collected these comments from former colleagues across the state who remain in the profession and in the classroom.

In their own words:

– Trust us. Trust teachers. How much time do you think we spend documenting our every move? A third of my time is spent teaching. The rest goes to documenting my teaching and kids' behaviors. Teachers are here because we love our subjects, and we are enthusiastic about sharing it with kids. We don't have time to indoctrinate students to some media-invented liberal agenda. We're just trying to survive at this point.

– One of the biggest issues is behaviorally challenged special education students being mainstreamed into general education and co-taught classrooms with little to no extra support for teachers. One or two teachers do not have the time to give what basically amounts to one-on-one assistance to a single student to the detriment of the remaining 30-plus children in the class. Schools need to support teachers and, if necessary, move these students to a more appropriate and monitored setting for their safety and that of others. Schools have to be willing to face potential lawsuits from parents and make the tough decisions that protect school staff and students. What parents don't understand is this: Teachers want to support students in the classroom, and with proper staffing, that is possible. But without the staffing, everyone suffers — and teachers get the blame.

– You hired us because we care and then you tell us that to survive, we have to care less and less about how/what we teach. You ruin our passion and that's why I'm leaving after this year.

– It's not just the pay. It's the lack of respect.

– My school follows the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports system, which adds and subtracts points based on student behaviors. Managing the points is maddening. Since extrinsic motivation has inconsistent results, and we know we need to build intrinsic, it's very frustrating for us to meet administrative benchmarks for giving out the points.

– Online instant access to grades is one of the worst things that has ever happened to education. Stop expecting your kids to maintain an A average all semester. Stop texting them the second I put a grade in the gradebook. I doubt you had all A's all semester when you were in school.

– Yes, parents/guardians should take responsibility for what their own children read, see and hear. But leave options open for the children of others. Increasingly, teachers are just giving up on teaching novels, deciding, “We will just teach from the textbook, so we don't have to worry about ‘controversial materials.'" School districts need to let parents know their students' reading stamina is being severely affected by threats from loud folks, many of whom do not have children in public schools.

– You understand people are making money from testing your kids, then selling remedies for the low-test scores they discovered, right?

– In some schools in Georgia, teachers have taken their classroom libraries home (or, worse, given them away since that seems conceding defeat). They don't feel they would be supported by the administration (rightfully so, especially after the Katie Rinderle decisions in Cobb and at the state Board of Education) so children have less access to free reading options.

– Lack of respect from students, parents, administrators, legislators and the general public. At a Senate Education and Youth Committee hearing, a physician testified about the obscene books — taken from a Moms for Liberty list — that he had found in Cartersville libraries. Neither he nor Moms for Liberty has a degree in children's literature yet they feel qualified to testify.

– Your kids are addicted to technology, and you know it. Many of you are as well. I am here to reinforce what starts at home. You are your kid's first teacher. I am your support staff. Not the other way around.

So there you go. Listen to your teachers. I implore you — again — to recognize that this problem will not get better until you start acknowledging that these voices are valuable.

Jordan Kohanim is an Atlanta-area teacher, tutor and coach.