Despite worries that the pandemic would alienate many teachers and exacerbate a teacher shortage in the state, more Utah teachers have stayed in their jobs this year than they have in the past five years, according to data from the State Board of Education of the ‘Utah.
Malia Hite, educator licensing coordinator at USBE, said the retention rate between 2019-20 school years and current school years was 93%, compared to 90-91% in previous years.
“It’s important,” Hite said. “The theory that everyone leaves is actually not supported by data at all.”
Teachers left the profession during the pandemic. A February USBE investigation of public school districts found more than 1,000 retired teachers in the 2019-2020 school year and nearly 2,400 resigned, although these numbers are comparable to previous years and it is not known how many of them are directly linked to the pandemic.
Yet many teachers have at least considered leaving Over the past year, the adaptation to online learning, the increased online and in-person teaching workload, and concerns about COVID-19 enrollment in the classroom have added more than stress than ever. Some districts were also more affected than others, so the aggregate data does not take into account the large variations between schools.
As the economy recovers, some experts to predict other resignations could still come. Hite said education is often tied to how the economy is doing, which could explain the higher retention rate this year. When times are tough, she says, more people look to start or stay in teaching because it is stable work with great benefits.
In contrast, when the economy is doing well, people often opt for other opportunities that pay more.
However, Heidi Matthews, president of the Utah Education Association, is not convinced that teachers in Utah are staying in their roles as much as the data suggests.
She said she personally knew several teachers who are leaving the district where she was teaching, and others who have moved on to part-time teaching to manage other things in their lives. She also fears that more resignations will occur if teachers do not receive more support.
According to Matthews, low wages are a starting factor, but it is not the main factor. Workload and stress – which lead to lower job satisfaction – contribute more.
“Teaching is really fun, especially when you care about your subject, you have the opportunity to communicate with the kids,” she said. “But what I hear from so many of our educators is that that joy and energy that is so much a part of who they are has not been present in the pandemic.”
With the arrival of federal funding and the end of the pandemic, she hopes schools can use the summer to bring some of the joy back to teaching. She said teachers should have more voice in decisions that affect their schools – which she said have often been left out over the past year – and more autonomy in their classrooms.
If that can happen, she said more teachers would regain their passion for the job and be more likely to stay.