In the aftermath of the pandemic, many teachers expressed frustration with student behaviors and dependence on technology. As a result, hundreds resigned, citing burnout and students who became distressed if they were unable to check their phones often.
Many of those stressors remain, and an EdWeek Research Center and Merrimack College survey found one in three teachers indicated they’re likely to quit and find a new job in the next two years.
And while hundreds of teachers still left the classroom this spring, school officials are cautiously optimistic that things are improving.
“Things are starting to normalize as we’re slowly moving out of the pandemic,” said Dawn Williams, dean of Howard University’s School of Education. “What districts have been doing is using their funding to find ways to, number one, incentivize teachers to stay, incentivize new teachers to come, but then also to provide some kind of programming, even when it comes to wellness within their particular districts, to help teachers’ maintenance during the school year.”
In Montgomery County, Maryland, the state’s largest school system, 300 teachers have resigned since the start of the last school year. That’s down from the 570 who left last year. As of June 22, the school system had 313 elementary school vacancies, including full- and part-time jobs. It had 133 open middle school jobs, and 87 in high schools.
Though the number of resignations dropped, many teachers are leaving because of disruptive student behaviors. One teacher, who resigned at the end of the last school year and requested anonymity because she has family members within the school system, said school administrators attribute behavioral issues to the pandemic.
“It looks like a shopping mall within the school,” the former teacher said. “[Students are] wandering the halls, they’re filming TikTok videos in the halls, in the classrooms.”
The students, the former teacher said, routinely look at their phones and keep their headphones on during class, claiming they’re not listening to anything. Some educators in Montgomery County are also frustrated with a policy that requires teachers to give a student a minimum 50% score on a missing or incomplete assignment, unless there’s two-way communication with the student and parent.
Some teachers and students say the policy may incentivize absenteeism, MoCo360 recently reported.
The former Montgomery County teacher urged parents to “step up.”
“If I call you and say your child is doing this, and I have your kid in the background screaming, ‘I didn’t do nothing, they’re picking on me. They’re picking on me.’ Why would I pick on your child? What do I gain out of saying, ‘That kid, I’m going to pick on today?'”
Meanwhile, in D.C. Public Schools, 314 teachers, or 6.9% of the workforce, resigned in the 2022-23 year. In 2021-22, 452 teachers left.
Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said he attributes that, in part, to compensation included in a recent agreement with the Washington Teachers’ Union and the fact that over 90% of principals are returning to their schools this fall. The school system has all principal vacancies filled, he said.
To help fill other vacancies quickly, Ferebee said the school system has prioritized making offers early, and is ahead of where it was last year in the hiring process. The District has also addressed processing time, something Ferebee said “took longer than I would like” last year.
Some vacancies, he said, are also getting filled by people switching careers.
“I’m seeing more second career people, people who might have had a good tech job or might have been in banking [who] decided they want to teach math or science. That’s good for the profession,” Ferebee said.
In Fairfax County, Virginia’s largest school system, 726 educators left this year, compared to 896 last year, according to data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
In nearby Loudoun County, 511 educators retired or resigned, up from over 330 last year. Arlington Public Schools reported 94 retirements or resignations, compared to 284 last year. And in Prince William County, 762 educators left this year, compared to 841 the year before.
In Prince George’s County, Maryland, 931 teachers left between July 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023, a spokeswoman said.
While Ferebee said the college to classroom pipeline has been getting smaller, Williams, the Howard dean, said the university got about 400 applications for its elementary education programs this year, compared to 200 around this time last year. Despite concerns about pay satisfaction, she said, students are motivated in other ways by things such as “the pursuit of justice through education.”
Emerging technology has brought a learning curve, she said, but many students are drawn to the profession because of an influential teacher in their lives.
“That story hasn’t changed,” Williams said. “People are coming into the field because they were impacted by phenomenal teachers who were in the field.”