GRAPHIC | Avery Harrah
The teacher turnover rate continues to increase in elementary through high school.
So much so, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 8% of teachers leave the profession yearly and another 8% move to other schools, bringing the total annual turnover rate to 16%.
Jonah Fant, a business management and business administration major from Nashville, had aspired to be a teacher from a young age and intended to go into education, not the business.
“My mom has always been a teacher. I saw the entirety of all that she did, and I thought that teaching didn’t seem too bad, and I love history too,” Fant said.
After getting into high school and witnessing more of what it was like to be a teacher, Fant realized that education wasn’t the field for him.
“I saw the way grades under me were acting to their teachers,” Fant said. “I saw what the pay was and how teachers were treated, and I decided that I didn’t know if I could deal with the stress associated with that job.”
Fant says that significant changes would have to be made in order for him to want to be a teacher again.
“They don’t pay teachers enough for what they do,” Fant said. “They should get paid better, get better benefits and just be treated better.”
Dr. David Bell, director of an educator licensure and support services and professor of curriculum and instruction, has worked for Tech for 35 years but was an elementary school teacher for nine years.
While Bell enjoyed his job as a teacher, he wouldn’t have pursued teaching if things today looked like they did at the beginning of his career.
“I wouldn’t have taught,” Bell said. “Stress is a big factor. High workload. The work for the teachers today is certainly much greater than when I was teaching. The support they think they get from their administration, not everywhere but in lots of places, isn’t there.”
Bell says that making teachers feel valued in the workplace and lessening their stress could help decrease turnover.
“The education leadership programs across the state are doing a better job with principals and superintendents in terms of how you support your teachers,” Bell said. “Salary would help it, anything to make them feel more valued in the workplace, anything that we can do to reduce the workload and stress. A lot of schools are hiring more paraprofessionals and that helps because there are a lot of things they can do in the classroom and free the teacher to actually teach. “
While stress and salary are factors in teacher turnover, Bell believes that the LEARN Act will decrease turnover in Arkansas and prevent the likelihood of education majors from switching majors.
“This 50,000 dollars, at least in Arkansas, may do something to persuade them because Arkansas will move from the very bottom of the list nationally in starting salaries to fifth in the nation. Salaries are not the only thing that would make you pick a career, but you have to pay rent.”
If an education major is still considering switching their major, Bell says that he would urge them to assess if teaching would be a fulfilling career for them.
“I would say that you need to consider everything, and you need to decide what makes you feel fulfilled when you’re at the end of a day’s work,” Bell said. “I can’t say that I didn’t have bad days while I was teaching in elementary school, but I had many, many more good days than I had bad days. It’s rewarding to see some of my students now who are principals, accomplished superintendents, deputy directors at state departments, those kinds of things.”
As for Kristen Bess, an elementary education major from Benton, she is excited to go into the field.
“I just always enjoyed being around kids and just encouraging them and teaching them things,” Bess said.
While she feels ready for the career, she does have concerns.
“I guess the only thing I worry about is how to deal with troubled students or dealing with dangerous things that could happen in school, like shootings,” Bess said.
Bess is aware of the struggles that could come with teaching, but she believes the choice to teach is worth it.
“It does intimidate me, but I think it’s worth it,” Bess said. “These kids need people to encourage them. They need a person that they can look up to in their life and see that there are good people out there.”