While attracting and retaining good teachers has always been difficult, the coronavirus pandemic has made the situation even more difficult as already overburdened educators are forced to take on even more responsibilities with fewer resources, according to the head of the state’s main teachers’ union.
“Teacher attrition and educator shortages in many job types were a concern before the pandemic, which only made the situation worse. At the heart of the fact that nearly half of new teachers leave within three years has been a lack of respect and support for the profession and the people in it,” Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) President Cheryl Bost told MarylandReporter.com in a statement.
Bost, who is a Baltimore County elementary school teacher, added: “Whether it is making sure educators have a voice in decisions that impact their students, professional pay, or ensuring that there are adequate resources for their work or their health, educators need to feel supported. This is an issue that critically needs focused short and long-term remedies.”
However, Bost also said she believes things are starting to look up for teachers, mainly because the implementation of Kirwan Commission reforms will “lead to long term remedies with an influx of new support, staffing, and funding for schools and educators.”
Maryland Department of Education spokesperson Lora Rakowski told MarylandReporter.com that the department does not collect data on teacher attrition and instead provided a link to a recent teacher staffing report that relays statewide personnel figures. However, after further investigation MarylandReporter.com discovered that the department does in fact collect data on teacher attrition.
The latest data covers the 2017-18 academic calendar year.
It said that 60,740 teachers were employed throughout the state and that 4,388 (6.7%) either retired or left the profession at the end of that school year. Moreover, of those educators, 284 had taught for less than one year, 1,732 for 1-5 years, 718 for 6-10 years, 495 for 11-15 years, 321 for 16-20 years, 188 for 20-25 years, 194 for 26-30 years, and 456 for more than 30 years.
Baltimore City had the highest attrition rate at 11.1%. Charles County had the second-highest attrition rate at 10.9%. Kent County had the third-highest attrition rate at 10.2%. Conversely, St. Mary’s County had the lowest attrition rate at 1.9%, followed by Talbot County at 3%, and Carroll County at 3.2%.
Given that the figures are more than 3 years old, do they still hold weight and are they still reflective of the teaching experience?
“I think that a number of things were affected by the pandemic, especially as we went to toward the virtual space. And we are going back to in-person learning,” Sen. Cory McCray, D-Baltimore City, said. “But I think that the work we have done around the Kirwan Commission solidified that we need to appreciate our teachers in the manner that we do our doctors, our nurses, and our engineers.”
McCray said having a more diverse array of teachers in the classroom is essential to restoring trust in the profession.
“More men. More black teachers. That is what you saw highlighted in the Kirwan Commission.”
Del. Matt Morgan, R-St. Mary’s, who sits on the Health and Government Operations Committee, attributed his county’s lowest in the state attrition rate to a “higher quality of life” and it being a “good place to live.”
Morgan said in St. Mary’s County “teachers are highly valued” and parents are actively engaged with the school system.
Morgan said that that in turn helps foster good “disciplinary polices,” which makes life “easier for teachers.”
Morgan said teacher attrition rates in St. Mary’s are probably even lower now because of the pandemic.
Del. Brian Chisholm, R-Anne Arundel, also sits on the Health and Government Operations Committee.
Chisholm said the attrition rate in Baltimore City is probably higher today than it was in the past both because of the pandemic and safety issues.
“Obviously violence is through the roof in Baltimore City. And a teacher probably at some point no matter what the dollar figure is may be afraid to go teach in that system or get frustrated with that system…Absolutely.”
Chisholm said demands related to ideological conformity are another reason why some teachers quit.
“I hear from rank and file teachers all the time that many of them have conservative-Republican views and they are being ostracized. They are being pushed out of the school system in many cases because they are being looked at as the problem. They are afraid to speak their minds. They are afraid to even offer an opinion. And thus they are forced out of the industry that they love.”
Richard Vatz, a professor of political persuasion at Towson University, said disciplinary and social problems are major drivers behind teacher attrition.
“The quality of life in schools with behaviorally undisciplined and unruly and non-performing students is rarely addressed by politicians, school leaders and religious and community leaders, and certainly the causes of dysfunctional studentdom is only addressed as the result of factors over which the schools have little control and no major effect: inadequate teachers.”
Vatz added: “This goes back to the problems caused by students who have by and large dysfunctional and missing parts of their family. The home sociology does not contribute to responsible student bodies, and more and more teachers recognize this and are put off by being the objects of scorn and blame. As with every other major child problem in the city and elsewhere, the answer is in an increase in intact nuclear families, an answer that no politician, but a rare few, is willing to even address.”