Survey: More than 20% of new Ga. educators are thinking of leaving the profession

Politicians often court teachers' votes and tend to pay attention to issues that affect them. The Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE) represents 95,000 educators in the state and will play an active role in this year's legislative session. (Kaitlin Kolarik/For WABE)

A new survey of educators conducted by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE) shows more than 20% of new hires are considering leaving the profession within five years. That’s compared to 12% the year before. About 4600 school staffers — including classroom teachers, counselors and administrators — responded to the survey.

Claire Suggs, PAGE’s senior policy analyst, says most respondents said staffing shortages have stressed school resources.  

“We just heard a lot of a lot of folks saying that they’re struggling to provide kind of the level of support for their students that they really want to because of all of these extra things that they’re plugging holes in other places,” Suggs said.

One of those teachers, who only wants to be known by her first name, Nikki, is considering leaving after this school year.

“One of the biggest things that I want people to understand is that we aren’t leaving because of bad administrators or bad principals or school culture,” she said. “We are leaving because of factors outside of our buildings that impact us and our ability to help kids every day.”

She uses the pronoun “we” because she belongs to several Facebook groups of teachers considering leaving their jobs. Nikki says the pandemic made existing problems worse. State mandates influence curriculum and she says her fourth-graders struggled with that content before COVID.

“Now with the learning loss that our kids have experienced, our curriculum is still over their heads and nothing curriculum-wise has been adjusted to kind of just take into consideration that the kids have not had normal schooling in two or three years,” Nikki said.

She says that’s made a tough job even tougher.

The PAGE survey picked up on this. In addition to asking educators about obstacles they face in the workplace, the PAGE survey also asked whether they would recommend the profession to others. More than half of respondents said they wouldn’t.

Claire Suggs, with PAGE, says officials need to find new ways to strengthen the teacher pipeline.  

“We have those short-term immediate needs around substitutes and bus drivers, but then wanting to make sure that we really do have a comprehensive approach to the profession from thinking about, ‘How do we attract those young people at 18 and 19 and really support them progressively throughout their career?’” she said.

Georgia retained 91% of its teachers in 2020. But teacher turnover has been a concern nationally and locally for years. A 2015 report from the Georgia Department of Education showed almost half of new teachers in the state leave within five years. A recent national survey showed 55% of teachers are thinking of leaving earlier than they planned. Some colleges have had to suspend or close their teacher training programs due to low enrollment.

“I think a lot of educators are questioning…how long they can remain in the profession,” Suggs said. “We’re seeing higher levels of burnout.”

A majority of survey respondents who had 20 years or less experience listed burnout as one of the reasons they’re thinking of leaving.

Georgia lawmakers have taken some steps to try and beef up the pipeline. A new law lets teachers apply for a $3,000 tax credit if they agree to teach at certain schools. The legislature is also considering a bill that would let retired teachers return to classrooms while still collecting benefits.

The PAGE survey looked at a range of factors that could affect educators’ feelings about their jobs, including student loan debt, valuing their input and mentorship.