BERNARD COLUMN: Georgia’s teachers- under-appreciated?

Published 10:30 am Friday, February 10, 2023

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By Jack Bernard

Bernard is a retired corporate executive

We are at risk of losing many of these highly qualified educators if we do not take a careful look at the factors contributing to burnout in the profession.”-Richard Woods, State School Superintendent (6/22)   

My wife was a Georgia country girl, raised on a farm in middle Georgia. Her father’s first cousin was the county Superintendent of Schools, and her uncle was a principal in the North Georgia hills. I remember her father, an electrician and plumber, telling me many times that teaching is “an honorable profession.” 

I agree. In fact, my daughter, son-in-law, brother and sister-in-law are all Georgia public school teachers. But despite what many people incorrectly believe, it is not an easy job. 

With 3,112 openings, Georgia has one of the highest numbers of teacher vacancies in the nation. Of the 37 states reporting, only Florida has more teacher vacancies ( Georgia is currently in a pitched battle for teachers with surrounding states which also have vacancies (the South has more openings than any region). Many of them pay better than Georgia. 

Are Georgia’s teachers happy with their profession? A recent report suggests that they are not.

And this appears to be a long-standing problem, pre-dating the pandemic which just made things much worse. A 2015 study surveyed over 50,000 teachers and found the new teacher attrition rate to be a startling 44%. 

It also discovered that two thirds of current teachers would not recommend going into the teaching profession to high school graduates. As for the “why,” the report identified three key factors- a. poor teacher evaluation methodologies, b. over-emphasis on misguided testing, and c. lack of teacher participation in key decision making. 

The state did respond by restructuring its testing/evaluation system, providing teacher raises and funding for supplies, and adding an active teacher to the State Board of Education (as an ex-officio member). These positive actions were welcome. But insufficient to address the growing teacher retention problem. 

So, what are the existing issues? The State School Superintendent, Richard Woods, had the wisdom to establish a Task Force on Teacher Burnout, composed of ten of the top teachers in the state and other key parties. The UGA Institute of Government was assigned to assist them. Their survey and report stated that a key factor is burnout.

I found this report to be an excellent evaluation of where we stand regarding teacher satisfaction and retention. It also makes a multitude of recommendations as to actions to correct our deficiencies. Recommendations including items like- reducing class size, cutting down on bureaucracy and redundancies, providing extra pay for added tasks, adding support staff, having higher pay based on longevity throughout a teacher’s career, supporting increased teacher input, assisting teachers with mentoring when needed, and strengthening existing mental health programs for both students and teachers. 

Instead of sending checks back to residents, in effect buying their votes, our surplus needs to be utilized to lessen the rate of attrition of our public-school teachers. Unless we have dedicated, well-qualified educators, our children will continue to suffer.