Last month, the Hawaii Department of Education reported an alarming spike in teacher turnover.
Comparing the 2021-2022 school year to the 2017-2018 school year, turnover is up 12.3%, an increase largely driven by teachers leaving. Nearly three times as many teachers resigned than retired after last school year.
For many, it came as a surprise to hear why teachers were leaving. Instead of pay, which has historically and notoriously been overmatched by Hawaii’s cost of living, the teachers who left cited work environment and student behavior.
Considered together, that sounds a lot like burnout.
Hawaii’s teachers aren’t alone; a National Education Association survey last year found that 55% of educators are thinking about leaving the profession earlier than they had planned. Though we often think of burnout as the result of being perpetually overworked, that’s not the whole picture.
Burnout also means being confronted with challenges that seem insurmountable, immovable. It’s a concoction of helplessness and hopelessness, a belief that things are the way they are because of forces beyond your control, and there is nothing you can do to make it better.
Both low salaries and burnout correspond to teacher shortage and turnover, the two biggest problems in education today. They are related issues — high turnover discourages people from entering the profession, and the shortage means there are fewer replacements for the teachers who leave — but they are separate issues, and their solutions are distinct.
It’s worth parsing them…