Teachers explain why they left

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The Mississippi Legislature passed this year for public school teachers, approving a $5,000 pay increase that for once lifted the state above the average salary for educators in the Southeast.

It was a good decision by lawmakers, which should not be ignored. But a report on the Mississippi Today website says many teachers left their jobs at the end of the 2021-22 school year. Interviews with a few of them make it clear that increasing salaries is just one of the many challenges facing the field of education.

Mississippi Today cited figures from the state Department of Education that said 5,800 teachers — representing 17% of the state’s education workforce — left their school districts at the end of This year.

This overestimates the turnover rate because the data does not specify whether these teachers have held jobs in different school districts, found a different job or retired. But even if only a small percentage of those teachers actually left the company, it would compound the state’s existing problem with teacher retention.

Last December, the Department of Education said the state had more than 3,000 vacancies for certified teachers, which means about 10 percent of the state’s 32,000 education jobs were either vacant, occupied by substitutes or people without the appropriate certifications.

The most relevant information in the story came from the teachers themselves, who explained why they left their jobs. Generally speaking, they felt despised and burdened with additional responsibilities. They didn’t like staff meetings that took away time to plan their lessons and were disappointed with the lack of freedom in their work – having to “teach until the test” instead of being able to try different and creative things.

A teacher, who left after seven years, put it this way: “I found myself with nothing left to give to the people who are supposed to mean the most to me. I was looking for a work-life balance that everyone is trying to capture, but no one respects teachers enough to give them.

Another teacher left a high-performing district because it was impossible for her to do her job in a timely manner: “I was no longer willing to sacrifice my free time and unpaid mental well-being for work that does not celebrate our accomplishments.

A 15-year-old teacher left her job in DeSoto County for another school district near Memphis, where she makes more money and gets paid twice a month. Mississippi teachers are paid once a month. She said a fortnightly salary would help teachers budget.

Student loans are also a factor. A group called Mississippi First reported in January that college debt is putting pressure on teachers, as it would with people in any job, to seek better-paying work. In a curious aside, this report says that 25% of teachers in F-ranked school districts owe $100,000 or more in student loans, while only 5% of those in A or B districts do.

The message is that the big pay rise has helped, but money isn’t the only problem for teachers.

The state and its school districts can address some of the other issues teachers cite.

If a few changes convince more people to stay at work in Mississippi, it will be worth it.

—Commonwealth of Greenwood, Mississippi

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