What to Know
The I-Team distributed a self-selected survey among teacher unions across the region and garnered nearly 5,000 responses
More than 80% of those surveyed acknowledged they've considered leaving the profession within the last two years
Nearly 40% cited stress associated with demands on teachers as one of the biggest hurdles in remaining in teaching
Students will soon leave school for the summer, but many school districts are bracing for high numbers of teachers to leave the classroom for good.
It's a national problem felt just as acutely in the D.C. metro region, the News4 I-Team has learned. A review of internal records and reports from Virginia, Maryland and D.C. found widespread worry among education administrators about looming teacher shortages, with one local district calling the problem "devastating."
A June 2018 report by the Maryland State Department of Education said teacher turnover remains a "persistent problem," while an October 2017 report by an advisory committee on teacher shortages in Virginia said it has "worsened" as more teachers leave the profession and fewer enroll in teacher preparation programs.
"We have not lifted up the role of teachers the same way in this society for the last 25 years that we should have," Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand told News4. "It's taken a toll."
The problem is widespread. Nationally, about 8% of teachers leave the profession each year — the majority for reasons other than retirement — while yet another 8% depart for other schools, according to a 2017 analysis by the education nonprofit Learning Policy Institute.
Staffing reports obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show some local school districts losing between 8 and 13% of their teachers in one year's time, though it's unclear how many retired, left the profession or departed for other school districts.
In Fairfax County, Virginia, and Frederick County, Maryland, for instance, about 11% of teachers left the district after the 2017-2018 school year, according to a News4 analysis. The number was even higher in Washington, D.C., where government records show more than 13% of DC Public Schools teachers departed the same year.
That's a sign of improvement for the District, however, which saw nearly 18% depart after the 2016-2017 school year, data shows. Combined with the number of public school charter educators, that number has been as high as 25% in recent years, according to a 2018 report commissioned by the D.C. State Board of Education.
In a February state board of education meeting, president Ruth Wattenberg said the rate of teachers leaving District schools is "staggering." She noted the turnover rate after five years is as high as 70% — eclipsing other urban districts across the country.
"The education literature is clear about the problems such turnover causes for our kids and the quality of education they receive," she said in the meeting. "It's a problem that must be fixed."
Survey: Respondents Cite Stress, Lack of Support, Student Behavior and Salary as Concerns
In a bid to better understand what's fueling the broader trend, the I-Team distributed a self-selected survey among teacher unions across the region and garnered nearly 5,000 responses.
More than 80% of those surveyed acknowledged they've considered leaving the profession within the last two years. That figure was nearly evenly distributed among new, mid-career and experienced teachers with decades of experience.
Nearly 40% cited stress associated with demands on teachers as one of the biggest hurdles in remaining in teaching, while another 28% said lack of support and student behavioral issues were to blame. About 13% said salary was a concern.
Some indicated "all of the above" issues are contributing factors.
What's more, nearly all said growing class size is a factor, while teachers also told the I-Team that student mobile phone use, pressure from testing requirements and general lack of respect for teachers is a major reason for turnover.
"For me it was the red tape and the politics of the school system, and I think that started with lack of support," said former Loudoun County teacher Keri Mounts, who left her first grade teaching job after three years.
Her husband, Jared Mounts, taught a variety of jobs — from driver's education to health and physical education — at James Wood High School in Winchester for 17 years.
Jared Mounts said a desire to help with his family's companies mostly fueled his decision to leave the classroom but acknowledged other factors were at play, such as salary stagnation. He said he took on several coaching positions and side jobs to help make ends meet.
"You shouldn't have to be forced to take yourself out of the classroom to be able to make a living," he said.
A smaller number surveyed — about 6% — said trouble maintaining a healthy work and life balance is a hurdle to remaining in the job.
Heather Sayler, a former math teacher at Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick County, Maryland, left a few years ago to start a farm with her husband and spend more time with her children.
"I taught for 12 years, and I think that if I could have figured out a way to leave work at work, I would have figured it out in that period of time," she said.
What Some School Districts Are Doing to Retain Educators
Fairfax County and Frederick County Public Schools in Virginia and Prince George's and Frederick County Public Schools in Maryland are among those to approve pay increases in an attempt to retain teachers.
But Brabrand, the Fairfax County superintendent, said pay is only one factor.
"Pay can get teachers in. But strong working conditions, a professional supportive environment by the school principal and, frankly, by the school superintendent and central office staff, is what will get teachers to stay," he said.
That rings true for Tatyanna Thomas, a first year teacher at Sully Elementary in Sterling, Virginia. She was recruited during a job fair and says the school's administration, as well as its mentoring program, have been invaluable in helping her manage the demands of her fifth grade class.
"You have a solid team. You have support where needed, and that's what keeps me going," she said.
Asked about her future plans, Thomas said: "I see myself doing this until I retire."
Brabrand said his district is also signing "contracts" with graduating high school students to encourage them to return to Fairfax County as licensed teachers after college.v
"It's really getting kids to lock in on the idea that coming back and serving their community as a teacher is a noble thing," he said. "Growing our own is a big part."
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Katie Leslie, shot by Jeff Piper and Steve Jones, and edited by Jeff Piper. NBC Data Editor Ron Campbell contributed to this report.