School safety concerns and unmanageable workloads brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have Colorado teachers reconsidering their careers.
According to a new survey conducted by the Colorado Education Association, 40% of licensed teachers across the state said they are weighing an exit from the profession after the 2020-2021 school year, as are 33% of professionals in education support roles.
That sentiment was highest among teachers ages 60 to 69 (53%), followed by those in their 50s (45%), those in their 30s (36%), and those in their 40s (35%), the organization reported.
The Colorado Education Association, a statewide union of K-12 teachers and higher education faculty, surveyed 5,000 of its members in December and released the results Thursday. The organization had not previously polled its members on this topic, so it’s unclear how the results compare to prior years.
Geographically, 38% of respondents who teach in the Denver region reported they are considering leaving the field, compared to 42% who teach in other parts of the state. Respondents also cited low pay among the top reasons they might leave.
“The member survey reinforced what we’ve known for far too long: Colorado needs to make the financial commitment to ensure all of our students and educators have the resources they need,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of CEA, in a statement. “When educators don’t feel supported, they leave. When educators leave, students suffer. It’s as simple as that.”
While CEA’s survey is new, the teacher sentiment is not. Last August, as educators prepared for a new academic year in the context of a global pandemic, many told The Denver Post they felt forced to choose between their life and their livelihood. Stress from the pandemic-laden school year has also caused an increase in turnover among superintendents, and Colorado’s four largest school districts are currently searching for leaders before the start of the 2021-2022 year.
Teri Kopack, an English teacher at Durango High School, is among those who have considered changing professions because of the compounding stressors of this academic year. That school leaders and parents don’t take teachers’ concerns seriously only adds to her frustration.
“We need to be respected and treated as professionals that we are, which means appropriate wages. It means appropriate funding for schools. It means people who are not educators not trying to tell us how to do a job that we are trained and have practice doing,” Kopack said. “It’s pretty sad when so many teachers have children and they tell children not to go into education because of lack of respect and lack of pay.”
An increased number of teachers leaving the industry combined with a decrease in the number of new professionals entering teaching could spell trouble for schools, experts have said. Though the problem is not new to Colorado, it has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Staffing is one of the biggest hindrances to hosting in-person classes, district leaders have said, because when teachers are quarantined due to a possible COVID-19 exposure, there’s no one to fill their place.
In a fall survey by the state Department of Education, most districts reported having a sufficient pool of classroom teachers, but very few said they had enough substitutes. In the Denver, northwest Colorado and southwest Colorado regions, 0% of respondents said they had a sufficient pool of subs.
CEA proposed three strategies to stave off an educator exodus, including increasing revenue to schools for academic and instructional resources; ensuring teachers’ safety through access to personal protective equipment, COVID-19 tests and vaccines; and postponing standardized testing.
“The COVID-19 pandemic certainly didn’t create the funding issues we’re seeing today but it has shone a light on the system of ‘haves and have nots’ that currently exists,” Baca-Oehlert said. “It is crucial that we give the schools, students and educators the resources they deserve so that we can provide safe, equitable schools for every student in Colorado.”
This content was originally published here.