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Feeling burned out, many teachers are calling it quits

Two teachers sit side by side in chairs with the woman on the left and the man on the right.
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VPM News Focal Point
Many teachers are putting in long hours for a job with low wages and increasingly high burnout. Teacher attrition is a growing concern.

Teaching has long been a challenging but noble profession attracting bright minds to educate youth. But in a post-pandemic world, many teachers are struggling to stay in a profession that requires them to do more with dwindling resources. 


GILBERT HALL: I had made the decision first.

BILLY SHIELDS: Meet the Halls, Gilbert and Tedra. Over most of the past decade, what brought both of them joy was teaching in public schools in the greater Richmond area.

TEDRA HALL: Every day was interesting. A lot of my students were quirky like me and so that was always really fun. We could just be weird together.

GILBERT HALL: When I was in high school, I had two really great history teachers, both my AP European history teacher and my AP US history teacher who really challenged me to go above and beyond what I was capable of.

BILLY SHIELDS: Teaching school has long been a tough, but rewarding job but teacher attrition is now a growing concern in Virginia classrooms. The Halls both left the profession about a year ago each for different reasons.

GILBERT HALL: Things just got in the way of it, in many ways is the simplest way to put it. Just so many other things with school that started to make that job difficult and that role difficult.

BILLY SHIELDS: In Tedra's case, she obtained a promotion to a role as an innovative learning coach, a grant funded role in schools involving problem solving in technology.

TEDRA HALL: So, I received the promotion to be an ILC [Innovative Learning Coach] and then two weeks before school started, I got a phone call saying that there was a teacher shortage and I was needed in to teach second grade.

BILLY SHIELDS: With no experience in elementary ed, she was told she would have to teach second grade in two weeks.

TEDRA HALL: I resigned actually. It broke my heart to do so, there was no adjustment on what I would be able to do but that was the only offer that I had was to take that.

BILLY SHIELDS: Doing more with fewer resources, learning loss brought on by the pandemic, deteriorating morale. It's all a familiar refrain to Jesse Senechal of VCU's Department of Education. He also heads up a public school partnership called the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium.

JESSE SENECHAL: I think if you look at the reasons that teachers leave, I think it often relates to the burden and workload. There's too much.

BILLY SHIELDS: And for a teacher in Virginia schools, especially, Senechal says, salaries are an issue. According to the National Education Association, Virginia ranks 22nd in the country in average teacher pay.

JESSE SENECHAL: Compensation's part of it, a lot of teachers leave because they just can't afford to be teachers anymore.

BILLY SHIELDS: Senechal would know, he taught at Armstrong High after moving back here from Chicago. His salary was about $20,000 less in Virginia.

JESSE SENECHAL: I took a tremendous pay cut and that was one of the reasons for getting out of the teaching profession. It was like, ‘I got a kid, I've got another kid coming, I need to figure out,’ and my wife was a teacher too. She moved, she was teaching in Henrico Public Schools and we both said we need to get other careers.

BILLY SHIELDS: Another factor he points to in the public school system is increasing focus on standards of learning and standardized tests at a time when the pandemic pushed so many kids to the back of the class.

JESSE SENECHAL: And the fact that so many of their students are coming in very far below level and the curriculum has not been adapted for that. And so, there's a real gap between where the students are, what the curriculum's telling them to do, and it almost creates an untenable situation where they're being really pushed. You got to get these kids up to level. We got to raise our reading scores, we've got to do this. So, there's a lot of pressure around like higher academic achievement.

BILLY SHIELDS: Back to the Halls, Gilbert now works in tech.

GILBERT HALL: I have recently moved to a software support role, actually, I took some of my interest and love for IT and information technology and I've now moved to a more supportive role in that respect in the private sector.

BILLY SHIELDS: Tedra works in insurance.

TEDRA HALL: Teacher skills are super transferrable.

BILLY SHIELDS: When they think about what it was like to put their heart into the classroom, both of them say they now have time to enjoy weekends, evenings, and holidays but there's a certain connection they miss.

BILLY SHIELDS: What do you miss?

TEDRA HALL: The kids. I still go to events that I'm invited to. I still try to keep up with them.

BILLY SHIELDS: For the Halls, it's time for supper, a meal that they now enjoy and plan much more often than when they were writing lesson plans. On this night, Gilbert's cooking orange chicken.

Billy Shields is a multimedia journalist with VPM News Focal Point.
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