Georgia teachers running on empty. Here’s why

Georgia teachers are struggling to cope with the impacts of the pandemic on education to the point that many are likely to leave teaching, according to a new report from the Georgia Department of Education.

“The teachers I know don’t want to walk away … but too many teachers I know are running on empty,” Cherie Bonder Goldman, the 2022 Georgia teacher of the year, wrote at the start of the report.

The task force behind the report conducted focus groups with teachers across Georgia last winter.

About a third of educators said they were unlikely to remain in the profession for the next five years, according to a survey cited in the report. 

Georgia should reduce the emphasis on test scores as a marker of teacher success, the new report contends.

“There were so many tests from every angle, district and state required, that the students were numb,” said one middle school science teacher quoted in the report. “These scores fall on us.”

“The unspoken message that if a student isn’t successful then it’s the teacher’s fault needs to go away,” an elementary school teacher added. “There are so many factors outside of a teacher’s control that impact student achievement.”

Georgia recently received permission from the federal Department of Education to collect less data on school performance for the third year in a row.

Teachers also need time and support to help their students return to pre-pandemic levels of engagement and performance, the report contends.

“Coming out of the pandemic, the desire to ‘return to normal’ has also come with an unrealistic expectation … without giving teachers the time, support, resources, and compassion to meet students at their current level,” the report notes.

The state Department of Education recently said it would use 2022 data, rather than pre-pandemic data, to evaluate school improvement going forward.

Class sizes should be reduced so teachers can “meet the individual needs of students,” the report said.

The report also recommends hiring additional school support staff, including counselors and psychologists, school nurses, and paraprofessionals.

School systems should streamline paperwork and reduce unnecessary meetings so teachers have more time to focus on teaching, the report states.

“The workload is nearly impossible to tackle during the hours we are actually at the school,” said an elementary school teacher. “So many of us have to ‘volunteer’ our time simply to do what is required of us.”

Gov. Brian Kemp and the General Assembly gave teachers a $3,000 pay raise in 2019 and provided another $2,000 this year. Teachers and support staff also received bonuses totaling $3,000 during the pandemic. 

But teachers still need more pay if they are to battle burnout and remain in the profession, the report contends.

Georgia should “fund step raises at every stage of a teacher’s career” to encourage teachers to stay in the profession. The state should also protect teacher health-care and retirement benefits, according to the report.

“Teachers always seem to go above and beyond their call of teaching but are hardly compensated or acknowledged for their efforts,” one high school math teacher told the task force.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams recently said she would revise the teacher pay scale so that all teachers make at least $50,000 a year. Her revised pay scale would increase teacher pay across the board.

Those who are making decisions about what teachers do should either be teachers themselves or have significant recent classroom experience, the report states.

“So many decisions are made regarding what should be happening in a classroom by people who are no longer in a classroom and have been out for a long time, or by people who have never been in a classroom,” one elementary teacher quoted in the report states.

Finally, like all other Georgia workers, teachers need mental health support and work-life balance.

“Recognize that teachers are people … and treat them accordingly,” the report recommends.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.


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