‘Breaking Point’ – DC-area school systems grapple with teacher quits


As DC-area school systems work to grow students and recover from the pandemic, many are losing educators who describe themselves as burnt out and taking a break.

Bobbie Verdegaal taught at the same DC school for seven years, but she said she recently hit her limit.

Before the pandemic, she taught science and more recently worked as an educational coach. But so many teachers had resigned that school leaders asked him to return to the classroom to teach sixth form science for part of the 2021-22 year.

Students came back from months of virtual learning increasingly distracted, she said. They had trouble concentrating, and even though they were allowed to keep their cell phones on their desks while they finished their homework, they were upset that they couldn’t check their screens every few minutes.

There has also been an increase in fights between students, Verdegaal said. The children insulted her more often and the changes in behavior were more noticeable when she walked the hall and worked during breakfast and lunch.

“The lack of respect that teachers have to deal with on a daily basis from students – it really wears you down…it’s going to drive a lot of teachers to their breaking point,” Verdegaal said. “Why do we use such disrespectful language towards our teachers? Why are teachers cursed? Why are we threatened by TikTok video trends? »

Verdegaal, 38, said she was not close to retirement and considered herself a lifelong educator. But in February she told her manager she would not be returning next year. That same week, the school librarian and two other teachers said they also had no plans to return. Verdegaal said it seemed like so many teachers were leaving that she was just another on the list.

As school systems work to grow students and recover from the pandemic, many are losing educators such as Verdegaal, who describe themselves as burnt out and taking a break. The resignations leave counties in a rush to fill vacancies before the start of the next school year.

Across the DC region, some jurisdictions are reporting an increase in teacher quits, citing burnout due to the pandemic and a reduction in the number of students pursuing careers in education. To fill these vacancies, they are considering creative ways to recruit young teachers.

A A National Education Association survey released earlier this year found that 55% of educators nationwide are considering leaving the profession sooner than expected.

And Dawn Williams, dean of Howard University’s School of Education, said the university is noticing that fewer students who pursue a career in education are going into teaching. Some become psychologists, counselors or social workers.

“It’s a worrying trend,” Williams said. “It is all the more disturbing that we are starting to see a significant deviation from the field of teaching which has been exasperated by the pandemic.”

‘Mental Stress’

At a work session this week, members of the Fairfax County School Board discussed ways to market teaching as a career path and attract new teachers.

Nearly 900 teachers resigned in 2022, about 200 more than in 2021, according to school system data obtained by OMCP through a Freedom of Information Act request. This is the highest number of teachers to quit in the county in the past five years.

While teacher retirements in Virginia’s largest school system have remained mostly flat, quits have surged. In 2018 and 2019, more than 600 teachers left the county. In 2020, 460 resigned. In 2021, 716 resigned. Data are limited to teachers and reading instructors and do not include librarians or guidance counsellors.

Michelle Reid, during her first month as superintendent, said some potential teachers were reluctant to take jobs in the county due to a lack of affordable housing, according to the school system’s human resources department. She said she hopes to work with the oversight board to meet this challenge.

Last year at this time, the county had about 520 vacancies. It currently has more than 830, county officials said.

Fairfax County officials said neighboring jurisdictions are also experiencing similar challenges.

In Loudoun County, for one thing, attrition data for licensed teachers increased in 2020-21. It has lost 370 teachers in 2020-21, and more than 330 so far for the 2021-22 school year. In the 2018-19 school year, 334 teachers quit, according to county data.

The schools of Arlington recorded 284 resignations and retirements in total, a spokesperson said.

Prince William County schools did not respond to OMCP’s request for data on retirements and resignations.

DC Public Schools also saw an increase in the number of teachers leaving the city. From January 2022 to early July, 372 teachers resigned. Between January 2021 and June 2021, about 250 teachers resigned, a spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said in a statement that the city’s progress in hiring new teachers is ahead of what it was this time last year.

Chandler Gennard, a teacher for 21 years, including six in DC, is returning to the school system next year after considering other options.

“I’m an elementary school music teacher,” Gennard said. “But we had absent staff or unhired staff, and I had to go and cover a lesson at the minute. It would be a random class that I hadn’t prepared anything for. It’s just the mental stress of it.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, the state’s largest school system, a spokesperson said nearly 400 of its vacancies are for teachers, and about a third of those vacancies are for special education teachers.

However, the county hasn’t seen a big increase in teacher quits in the past four fiscal years, according to county data. More than 570 teachers resigned between July 2021 and June 2022. More than 600 left the previous year.

Madeline Hanington, county recruiting specialist, said the top reasons for quitting are retirement, personal reasons, new employment, family responsibilities and relocation.

“A lot of students love the world of computing and technology, so how are we going to compete to attract those students to MCPS?” Hanington said. “It has to be with a salary and all the incentives we can offer.”

In neighboring Prince George’s County, out of 10,000 teachers, about 180 have retired and more than 550 have quit, a spokeswoman told OMCP.

“Teaching is hard”

Tomas Rivera-Figueroa, supervisor of the Montgomery County recruiting office, said universities haven’t produced as many teachers in recent years as they have in the past, making it difficult to fill vacancies.

So instead of just focusing on DC-area universities, he said, the county is expanding its reach.

Hanington, also in Montgomery County, said in many cases, students surveyed indicate they may not want to pursue a career in education due to low pay.

County officials changed their approach, attending in-person events more often than virtual events, as they noticed that virtual recruiting events did not attract as large an attendance. They recently traveled to Texas and New Mexico to recruit bilingual teachers, Rivera-Figueroa said.

“Teaching is hard,” Rivera-Figueroa said. “For a lot of young people, they do this analysis of the costs of getting a bachelor’s degree and the return on that investment… Our salaries tend to be higher. But when you compare our salaries to other jobs in this field, which require the same level of education, is it comparable? »

Williams, of Howard University, said universities can help by creating pipelines to local school systems, and some jurisdictions have education academies so students can learn about careers in education.

She said it was essential that educators and universities help inspire people to enter the teaching profession, and compensation is part of that.

“It’s not equal access across the United States,” Williams said; “Each school district is able to set its own pay scale. But we have to look at education; we need to professionalize it to a higher level or we won’t be able to attract and retain the base of what helps us stay as a strong nation.

“The sales pitch around teaching needs to change,” said Fairfax County School Board member Karl Frisch. “We’re talking about (how) we can’t pay you what you deserve, you’ll kind of be respected – depending on who you talk to. It won’t be easy, but you’re going to love the kids, right? It’s not really a sales pitch. We are working as a school system to address these issues.


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