TENNESSEE, USA — A study from the Professional Educators of Tennessee shows around 22% of teachers across Tennessee said they don't plan to stay in education — a fifth of the state's workforce for teaching children. More than 80% of teachers in the study also said teacher morale was the biggest challenge facing educators.
The association conducts the annual survey of teachers every fall. For years, the top complaint is usually student discipline. This year, for the first time, low teacher morale was the number one reason why some teachers want to leave their profession.
JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, said the pandemic has taken a hit on teachers' morale, partly due to teachers having to constantly switch from in-person to virtual learning.
"It just becomes a balancing act that teachers just cannot keep up with the workload," Bowman said.
The survey also shows that most teachers want better pay for their work and said they work beyond the expected 40-hour workweeks just to make sure children are given good lessons and to keep up with the state's expectations of them.
Former Campbell County teacher Jessica Childress said the burnout got to her. She left the profession on August 1.
"You would see my car in the parking lot at 6 or 7 o'clock. My kids would be with me while I was getting stuff ready for lessons or papers," Childress said. "Then, of course, that would spill into the weekend."
Childress said she always dreamed of being a teacher, but she decided to prioritize her and her family.
"It was getting to the point where the stress and toll it takes on an educator's family, it was getting to be too much," Childress said.
Many teachers spoke out in the survey, leaving over 500 anonymous comments on why they believe teacher morale is low.
"The teacher is afraid that if they speak out they will lose their job or won't be recommended or someone will say something bad about them," Bowman said.
Bowman said his organization wants to see change at the state level.
"Education is the one profession that shapes all others. If our teachers are leaving the field, I fear what's going to happen," Bowman said. "This crisis is going to snowball."
Teachers said they want to see better mental health support in school. They also went on to say there isn't enough time in the school day to get everything done.