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    Tuesday, June 18, 2024

    Union, state officials sound alarm as 74% of their teachers look to leave: ‘This is an emergency situation’

    Representatives of the Connecticut Education Association and elected officials from the Connecticut General Assembly gathered in Hartford on Tuesday to discuss a bipartisan path toward reducing teacher burnout and turnover in the state after a new survey found that three out of four educators are looking to leave the profession.

    The newly released CEA report, which surveyed 5,656 kindergarten through 12th-grade educators between Oct. 18 and 25, found that 74% were “more likely to retire or leave education earlier” than planned compared to a few years ago.

    “I don’t know how much more of a siren I can wail on the sense of urgency around this issue,” CEA President Kate Dias said. “We cannot wait until 100% of educators are looking to leave the profession before we act.”

    Dias said that increased student needs, standardized testing burdens, low salaries, mounting paperwork, unnecessary professional development, political attacks on teachers, and a rising staff deficit causing educators to teach more classes to more students have compounded the levels of stress and burnout experienced by teachers across the state since the pandemic.

    “Last fall, we were devastated at the statistic that 38% of our educators were looking at leaving the profession early,” Dias said. “Here we are today, with 74% looking to leave. ... We don’t have another year to figure this out. We don’t have another opportunity. We’re at 74% of our teachers looking to leave.”

    According to the data, three out of five teachers polled said that the state’s public schools are headed in the wrong direction. 72% were dissatisfied with current working conditions. And 98% said that stress and burnout was their top issue.

    Dias said that for years high turnover has plagued Connecticut’s underfunded urban districts, where teachers educate the highest-need students and earn salaries $20,000-$40,000 less than colleagues in wealthier towns. But, for the first time, Dias said the phenomenon has trickled down to some of the state’s top-funded districts.

    “I’m talking to my colleagues in Fairfield and in Greenwich and they’re looking at consistent turnover that’s happening right now,” Dias said. “In Greenwich, they had 20 resignations in this last month alone. ... Five years ago, teachers didn’t really leave in November. They didn’t. So the fact that you’re seeing turnover now is really a strong indicator that people are hurting.”

    State Rep.-elect Kevin Brown of Vernon’s 56th district, who also teaches high school civics, described the state’s current education system as “not sustainable.”

    “This is an emergency situation, and we have to treat it as such,” Brown said. “As a high school teacher, every day I go in and I face class sizes that are bigger than they should be. We face resources that are not as much as they should be. I’ve had myself to cover classes for other teachers who for whatever reason have to be absent, we don’t have enough substitutes in the district to cover that. It’s not a sustainable model.”

    Brown admitted that even he has considered finding a new job.

    “I would be lying if I didn’t say that I myself am part of that 74% that thought about leaving this profession. Which is sad because we get into [teaching] because we care, because we believe in the future of this country and state, and we’re doing it for the right reasons,” Brown said.

    CEA Executive Don Williams compared the current situation to the 1980s. The crisis then caused legislators to pass the Education Enhancement Act, raising teacher salaries in 1986.

    “We are seeing the pipeline, the teachers of the future, that pipeline narrow and dry up, and we have to take action now to fix them. Back in the 1980s, Republicans and Democrats worked together to solve the problem that faced them at that time. Today, the crisis is bigger, the challenge is greater, but we can solve this problem. And with a bipartisan effort, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, parents, boards of education, the legislature and the governor, we will solve this problem and lift up public education in Connecticut,” Williams said.

    The CEA advocated for reducing time-consuming nonteaching duties, increasing salaries, streamlining teacher evaluations, providing more support and prep time, and allowing for more teacher creativity and autonomy in the classroom to preserve existing staff and attract new educators and minimize vacancies which Williams said remain in the hundreds.

    State Rep. Kathy Kennedy of the 119th District said that the legislature must act now.

    “It’s time to come together in a bipartisan manner to resolve this,” Kennedy said. “By helping our teachers, we’re helping our children.”

    Sate Rep. Mary Welander of the 119th district agreed.

    “We have for too long been asking teachers to do more with less,” Welander said. “Our teachers are some of the toughest people that I have ever met. And if they are saying they need help and they need support, we need to believe them and we need to believe them now.”

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