EDUCATION + SCHOOLS

Teachers — going, going, gone. But where are the replacements?

Aug 7, 2023, 6:00 PM | Updated: Aug 13, 2023, 7:55 pm

a classroom...

What has been learned about COVID-19 and school closures three years later. Photo credit: Getty Images

SALT LAKE  CITY — For every two teachers that leave the classroom, there is now only one replacement educator. 

About 44% of U.S. teachers leave within the first five years on the job, according to teachercareercoach.com. For Utah, that number may be even higher.

“Within the first five years, 45 to 50% of our educators are leaving the profession,” said  Renee Pinkney, president of the Utah Education Association.

Jason Brown, vice president of Envision Utah, joins KSL NewsRadio’s Dave Noriega and Leah Murray, who is also host of KSL@Night to discuss why Utah teachers are leaving and how to keep them in the classroom.

Brown said the Utah State Board of Education conducts exit surveys every year to ask teachers why they are leaving the profession. 

“Among the top reasons is always stress and burnout and emotional exhaustion,” he said.

Another reason educators are leaving their jobs, Brown said, is compensation. 

“If we want these careers and professions to be esteemed, we need to compensate them in a way that shows that they’re esteemed,” Brown said.

Burnout

Student mental health issues also contribute to teacher burnout, he said.

“There’s not the infrastructure of support within our schools to deal with that. And so teachers have the weight of students’ problems being put on them. It gets hard and it gets emotionally exhausting and it leads to a lot of burnout,” Brown said.

Leah said she hadn’t realized before how insidious the mission creep of public school teaching can be.

“It’s like I came here to be a math teacher and now I’m like a therapist.”

Teachers not being replaced

Every year about 3,000 teachers leave the classroom, according to Envision Utah. Some retire, some move to administration, some leave for family or other reasons. But only about 1,500 new teachers graduate college with a degree in education.

“We’re falling short year after year in terms of getting the teachers, the well-trained teachers that we need into the classroom,” Brown said.

Lack of teaching degrees has consequences

Only about 59% of new teachers have teaching degrees, as documented by Envision Utah. Of course, this does not necessarily mean they’re bad teachers, but they’re entering the classroom with less experience and less training. They require more mentorship and support. They tend to leave the teaching profession at much higher rates, and their students perform worse on standardized tests on average than students of teachers who have education degrees.

Leah asked if there was one event or cause that Brown could cite that triggered the exodus of teachers leaving their profession within five years.

“Is there some variable you can point to? Is it COVID? (Or), is it something else?”

He said the expectation was teachers would leave during COVID.

“We surprisingly didn’t see as many teachers leaving the profession during or right after COVID as we expected,” Brown said. “In fact, a lot of people seem like they didn’t want to leave on the COVID note. And so maybe delayed their retirement a little bit.

“But we have — for at least more than a decade of the data that I’m most familiar with — we have seen this 40 to 50% of teachers leaving the profession every year and not graduating quite as many teachers as leave the profession,” he said.

Related reading:

Is there still a teacher shortage in Utah?

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 

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Teachers — going, going, gone. But where are the replacements?