Teachers are leaving the profession due to COVID-19 stresses
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It’s easy to see why Phoenix, Arizona-based English teacher Elise Villescaz, 34, decided to go into education.
“I grew up in the classrooms of my mom, my aunts, my grandma, so I was around that educator power,” Villescaz said. But when Villescaz told her mother she was following in their footsteps, she didn’t get the reaction she was expecting.
“She cried, and not happy tears,” Villescaz said. “One of her primary concerns was my financial future. She wanted more for me because she knew what was ahead if I went into education.”
Despite her mother’s warnings, Villescaz went into teaching. She took part in the state’s 2018 Red for Ed movement, which fought for better teacher pay. But nothing prepared her for the pressure teachers felt when asked to return to schools before COVID-19 vaccines were available and the challenges of remote and in-person teaching in a pandemic. It drove Villescaz not to renew her teaching contract for this school year.
“Choosing to be a teacher was the best decision I ever made and leaving has been the most heartbreaking,” she said through tears.
Villescaz is not alone. Teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic has put educators nationwide in difficult situations. The stress and health concerns led many teachers to leave their jobs.
Close to 1,400 teachers in Arizona severed their employment within the first few months of the school year, according to a report by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association (ASPAA). More than one-third of educators cited the pandemic as their primary reason for leaving. A June study by the RAND Corporation found that COVID-related stress was a big driver for teacher turnover nationwide.
“We’re very concerned about the high levels of frequent job-related stress and the high levels of symptoms of depression and burnout that teachers are reporting,” said RAND researcher Elizabeth Steiner.
In Arizona, however, the pandemic did not significantly change the size of its teaching workforce, according to a July report by the Arizona Department of Education. That’s consistent with what education workforce expert Richard Ingersoll with the University of Pennsylvania has seen nationally.
“Typically we find that employees across the economy tend to quit less during economic downtimes,” he said. “There’s a lot of indications that in fact, during the pandemic, teacher turnover and teacher retirements may have even gone down.”
Ingersoll thinks that could change if the economy continues to improve and teachers continue to feel under stress.
As for Villescaz, she’s not sure when or if she will ever return to the classroom, but hopes she can. “There’s no work that can inspire me and sustain me quite like teaching has,” she said.
For now, she’s going back to school to train as a paralegal.
Correction (Aug. 25, 2021): A caption mispelling Elise Villescaz’s name has been corrected.
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