Teacher exodus

Empty Classroom
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Teacher exodus

In public school districts across the country, as beloved teachers retire each year, fresh-out-of-college neophytes take their place. Or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to go. In Virginia, however, that new crop of teachers is failing to materialize.

There are now more teachers leaving the workforce than those who are becoming licensed, according to a Virginia government report. Before the current school year, 10,900 teachers called it quits, with just 7,200 newly licensed teachers taking their place. And this isn’t because of an aging workforce: Prior to the pandemic, an average of 58% who left the teaching profession did so not to retire, but to pursue other opportunities. Now, that number is 65%.

As the Associated Press summarized, “Virginia’s teacher workforce is smaller, unhappier, and less qualified than before COVID.” It’s a compounding problem as teacher shortages make existing teachers’ jobs more difficult and less desirable.

As with the massive decline in test scores, students and their parents, now left with overworked teachers, can blame the government’s response to the pandemic. Teachers have cited low pay and increased behavioral problems among students as some of the factors contributing to their dissatisfaction. The experience of teaching isn’t what it once was because students were throttled by school closures, mask mandates, and other pandemic measures.

Once schools opened back up again, “chronic absenteeism and student behavior were major concerns,” the report found. This past school year, a whopping 20% of students were “chronically absent,” nearly double the pre-pandemic number. Students also “reported disconcertingly high levels of mental health issues during the pandemic,” according to the report.

While students wrestle with managing anxiety and math tests, school districts are struggling both to recruit and retain teachers, which doesn’t bode well for students’ future academic success.

“We all knew in our hearts and from our personal experiences that COVID had unbelievably terrible impacts on our families and on our children,” Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Rogstad Guidera said after a presentation of the report. “And now, as we all just heard, we have hard data, cold, hard data, telling us that we are in crisis.”

Where, exactly, did this crisis originate? Virginia students, like their peers across the country, endured years of intermittent school shutdowns and mask mandates. Teachers had to learn how to teach virtually and are now facing an anxiety-ridden and intellectually underdeveloped youth.

Perennial troubles, such as teacher salary and workload, certainly play a role in this crisis. But so do government mandates that started a cycle of student-teacher dissatisfaction that will compound for years to come.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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