Teachers leave their jobs in record numbers

It’s a job some decide is perfect for them from a young age. They pursue a degree in college. After graduation, they’re eager for their first chance to prove themselves. Then, after just a few years in the field, something feels wrong. It’s not quite what they expected. They get frustrated, disillusioned. Some of them might be in the front of a classroom right now.

They’re teachers, they’re irritated and they’re leaving their posts in Brevard County and across the nation now more than ever.

“There’s only so long where people will remain in a profession where they’re demeaned, demoralized and distanced from the most important decisions,” English teacher Heather Deel said. “Teachers have little say in salary, evaluation, assessments we are required to give, yet ultimately we are responsible for choices someone else forced on us. I can’t think of any other profession that tolerates it, and the only reason we do are the students.”

Deel isn’t the only one who’s voiced her frustration. Teachers throughout the county are seeking reform on various issues they face every day, such as low salary, teaching six out of seven class periods, rigid teaching standards and new evaluation methods, among others.

For some educators, these matters were enough for them to leave their jobs for good. According to Brevard Public Schools, in the 2013-2014 school year, 341 out of 4,950 teachers resigned or were not re-appointed to their jobs.

School Board member Misty Belford said teachers have cited various reasons for leaving their jobs.

“Those that have shared, referenced frustrations with the system, health issues, stress and failure in leadership,” she said. “Almost all have readily shared that it has nothing to do with their students, as they love their students and wish they did not feel the need to leave.”

Some former teachers channeled their frustration with the profession and formed a new group for educators, Brevard Teachers for Change. Kim Hunt, who last taught at Space Coast Jr./Sr. High School, and Dana DeSantis from Manatee Elementary School, along with Debbie Burger and Milly Sessions formed the group to support teachers, both current and former, and to affect change at the district level. The group also formed because of “frustration” with Brevard Federation of Teachers’ lack of negotiation for teachers, they said.

“We’ve met a lot of like-minded teachers across the county and we formed groups and started talking,” Hunt said. “We’ve given support to so many teachers around this county. Even if I’m not in the classroom, we made a difference.”

Virginia Hayes, a former teacher from Space Coast and member of the group, said the way teachers are being treated is wrong, which is why she helped form Brevard Teachers for Change.

“We don’t feel society as a whole or the district respects us, because if they did respect us, we would be able to come to the table with our ideas and be listened to, and we don’t get that,” Hayes said.

In Hayes’ case, the school district’s decision to have teachers instruct six out of seven class periods a day led to her eventual resignation.

“I was department chair, and after the whole six-out-of-seven thing, I resigned as department chair, because I can’t stand in front of these teachers and be the positive role model they want me to be, because I’m [angry],” she said.

Teachers in various schools around the county are also displeased with the lack of a significant pay raise, and some have resigned on the grounds of low pay. Despite being responsible for negotiating teacher salary with the district, Richard Smith, president of Brevard’s teacher union, Brevard Federation of Teachers of which 50 percent of teachers are members of, says they cannot be held completely accountable for the low pay. The state legislature cutting funding is one issue, but a bigger issue may be in union participation.

“The union is the members and so when someone says the union isn’t doing enough, what I say to them is ‘are you doing enough?’ Some union members are, and some are not,” he said. “If there were more union members doing something, things would be better.”

For those who have left the profession, one thing—unlike paperwork or low salary—is missed.

“We miss the kids,” Hunt said. “We miss the part of knowing that we played a part in that child’s education and you were important to that child.”