Too much testing, unrealistic expectations among reasons why Georgia teachers burn out, task force finds

Members of Georgia's teacher burnout task force found five main factors that cause teachers to leave the profession. (Photo courtesy Georgia Department of Education)

A state task force on teacher burnout issued a report Thursday detailing five main reasons educators leave the profession. Georgia Schools Superintendent Richard Woods assembled the task force after a 2015 study showed that 44 percent of the state’s teachers leave within five years.

Cherie Goldman, Georgia’s 2022 Teacher of the Year, chaired the teacher burnout task force. The main factors members came up with are: testing, preserving and protecting time, pressures/unrealistic expectations, teacher voice and professional growth, and mental health and wellness.

During the pandemic, state tests weren’t used to grade schools or promote students, but Goldman says students are still being tested a lot.

“We have testing at the state level, which is kind of the high stakes testing,” she says. “But I think what’s happened now is the amount of assessment that’s happening on the district and the school level as well is kind of compounding the situation.”

That leads to some duplication, she says.

“On the district level, students are taking benchmarks three times a year in math and in reading,” Goldman says. “Those benchmark assessments can take more than one day for each subject. Then districts are also starting to provide unit assessments at the end of each unit in every subject, in addition to teacher-created tests.”

In regard to protecting teachers’ time, Goldman says the task force found educators don’t have much time to plan lessons.  

“Increasingly, that planning time is being filled with meetings,” she says. “[Teachers are] being asked to take on duties that are not normally part of their responsibilities.”

That means teachers plan lessons after school or on the weekends, she says. That leads to added pressures and unrealistic expectations, the third factor in burnout. Goldman says schools and districts are piling an increasing amount of tasks on teachers’ plates.

“If you’re going to put something on, you’ve got to take something off, and sometimes that is not happening,” she says.

The task force also found teachers need to be heard. Goldman says teachers need to be given a chance to use their voices and grow professionally to feel valued. She says they should be consulted on strategic plans and other school or district initiatives.  

“[Teachers] have a lot to contribute and every decision that is made directly impacts the classroom,” Goldman says.

The final factor, mental health and wellness, includes providing support for teachers in those areas, but also offering training so that teachers can best support their students’ mental health, Goldman says.

“That category is also about school climate in general,” she says. “It’s about the climate that we create in schools that is that is positive, that is supportive, that is uplifting for teachers, students, families, and just our greater community.”

In a statement, Woods says supporting teachers has been a priority for his administration.

“Unfortunately, we are going to lose many of those highly-qualified educators if we do not address the issues leading to burnout in the profession,” he says.

The report includes a Framework for Action to help schools and districts address the burnout factors. The Georgia Department of Education says it will work to take state-level action based on the report’s findings where possible. It will also distribute the report to local superintendents.