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For teachers, add inflation to the causes of burnout

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A female teacher stands at the side of a laptop cart in a classroom while one of her students pulls a computer off the shelves.

Teachers and other education workers are up against pandemic burnout, understaffed schools and wages that aren’t keeping up with inflation. Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

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A recent study by Education Week found that job satisfaction among teachers is at its lowest level ever. And more than half of those recently surveyed by the National Educators Association said they’re more likely to leave their jobs earlier than they planned. Why? Teachers and other education workers are up against pandemic burnout, understaffed schools and wages that aren’t keeping up with inflation.

And that’s on top of the fact that teacher pay was already relatively low.

“We have a lot of data that show that teachers are underpaid relative to peers with comparable educational attainment, and that their salaries have not grown over time,” said Emma García, a senior researcher with the Learning Policy Institute.

It’s a pattern that Lakeisha Patterson recognizes. She’s a third grade language arts teacher at a school outside of Houston.

“With rising cost of living, and we’re not seeing increases, or significant increases, in salaries — that is part of what’s leading to a teacher shortage or a teacher exodus,” Patterson said.

But choosing to leave the classroom behind isn’t easy.

“When you’re forced to make decisions between ‘Do I stay in the profession that I love, or do I, for my physical and mental health, leave because I can no longer sustain this?'” Patterson said.

She added that some districts have boosted starting salaries for new teachers, but veteran teachers are missing out on those higher wages. “We should also look at how are we compensating our teachers who have put in the most time, the most effort into our students, who have been loyal to the communities that they’ve served for 10, 15, 20 years.”

Patterson said part of the solution is how much teachers are paid. But also, “a part of that is just gratitude for the work that we do. A part of that is respect — respect that we are doing the very best for our kiddos.”

Otherwise she fears that experienced educators will continue leaving the field.

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