ATLANTA — Teachers across Georgia have been polishing up their resumes and hitting up job hunting sites.
A survey from the Professional Association of Georgia Educators found about 31% of them said they are unlikely or highly unlikely to remain in the profession for another five years.
Georgia is not the only state with a retention teacher problem — a Merrimack College survey found that only 12% of teachers said they were “very satisfied” with their jobs in 2022, down from 39% in 2012, and the Georgia Department of Education is looking for ways to persuade teachers to stay in the classroom.
At a Thursday meeting, Georgia 2022 teacher of the year Cherie Bonder Goldman presented the findings of a report intended to outline the causes and potential solutions to teacher burnout.
“(Burnout) is an organizational problem that requires an organizational solution,” said the English teacher at Savannah’s Herman E. Hesse K-8 School. “It is beyond the employees themselves as individuals. The cure for burnout requires organizational proactivity, not reactivity. It requires intentional preventative measures and strategies implemented by organizations to prevent that burnout to begin with.”
Georgia’s teacher burnout task force, which Goldman chaired, also included teacher of the year finalists from across the state with a variety of specialties and was facilitated by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government. Their report listed a number of problem areas and suggested steps for schools, districts and the state government could take to retain the state’s teachers.
In response to a 2015 report showing high attrition rates, the state Legislature reduced the number of state-mandated high-stakes assessments, but teachers still told the task force they feel forced to devote classroom time to preparing students for standardized tests required by their districts or the federal government.
“That is a common thread across many districts,” Goldman said. “District level testing is expanding, districts are performing their own benchmark testing. They have their own unit testing, they have assessments that go with various curriculum that they purchase. All of these taken together, and add (Georgia Milestones) at the end, is taking a considerable amount of instructional time.”
As with many of the panel’s findings, the problem was only exacerbated by COVID-19.
“Coming out of the pandemic, the desire to ‘return to normal’ has also come with an unrealistic expectation that student learning and achievement should immediately return to pre-pandemic levels without giving teachers the time, support, resources, and compassion to meet students at their current academic level,” the report found.
Teachers reported heavy workloads with insufficient planning time, meaning they were often forced to sacrifice their personal time to complete their work.
The median teacher in Merrimack College’s survey reported working 54 hours per week, with just 25 hours of that spent directly teaching students.
“Teachers’ planning and instructional time must be treated as sacred for our state’s academic recovery to be successful and effective going forward,” Goldman said. “The recommendations: prioritize teachers time to plan for and deliver quality instruction without being interrupted for excessive meetings, trainings or other duties. Seek ways to streamline and reduce time-intensive paperwork and processes and increase the awareness of and appreciation for the job responsibilities that teachers perform outside of instruction, such as planning, making parent contacts, grading, engaging in professional learning and completing other paperwork.”
The task force recommends schools pay stipends to teachers who take on other duties during their planning hours, ensure adequate time is given for training without disrupting planning time and seek to simplify time-intensive paperwork requirements.
The task force called for changes including reducing class sizes, providing teachers with more support for discipline issues and hiring more support staff like counselors, nurses and paraprofessionals.
Another theme expressed by the panel was a lack of control over school policy and a lack of respect, especially from parents and community members.
During the last legislative session, state lawmakers passed a number of laws presented as taking politics out of classrooms by limiting sensitive topics and making it easier for parents to inspect and object to classroom materials. In interviews and legislative hearings, Georgia teachers said they felt insulted that they were not trusted enough to plan their own lessons.
Merrimack College’s survey found that the percentage of teachers who say the community views them as professionals plummeted from 77% in 2011 to 46% in 2022.
To combat this trend, the task force recommended schools and state and local governments implement policies including building on recent pay raises by extending step increases, rewarding teachers for staying in the profession and reworking teacher evaluations to be less punitive.
“We need to talk about this together,” Goldman said. “These voices need to be listened to, understood, internalized, empathized, and we need to seize this moment to act on the tremendous opportunity that these voices offer us to bring educators back from burnout so that they can again experience the joy and the passion that comes from the privilege that we have in being teachers.
Superintendent Richard Woods pledged to consider the recommendations.
“It has always been a top priority of my administration to support those who directly support students – Georgia’s hardworking teachers,” Woods said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we are going to lose many of those highly-qualified educators if we do not address the issues leading to burnout in the profession. This report was compiled by some of Georgia’s top teachers. I encourage policymakers, district and school leaders, community members, and parents to review their recommendations and take them seriously, finding ways to implement them within their schools and communities. We will do the same at the state level.”