New Hampshire Teachers Report Quitting Over School Climate, Low Pay
The survey asked 590 educators, paraprofessionals, and administrators how they felt about their jobs, and what factors might prompt them to leave.
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Michael Whaland knows New Hampshire’s teacher staffing challenges better than most: He wrote his dissertation about it.
As part of his doctor of education degree at Plymouth State University in 2020, Whaland, a former teacher, spent months studying schools in rural New Hampshire to find out why some schools saw teachers leave and others saw them stay.
“I was noticing early in my career that, hey, a lot of people I started with aren’t here anymore, and (thought) what’s going on?” he said in an interview.
Now, Whaland is a superintendent of School Administrative Unit 13, covering the towns of Madison, Tamworth, and Freedom. And the staffing headaches are no longer theoretical. While two of his three schools are currently fully staffed, the shortage of paraprofessionals and support staff often requires teachers to take on additional work to bridge the gaps.
“It’s a daily check-in with your principals and just talking with them about how can we make sure that the student is getting what they need?” he said.
The problem has persisted across the state. New Hampshire teachers are increasingly leaving the profession due to increased stress, concerns about school culture, and a desire for more pay, a survey this year has found.
Now, lawmakers are mulling solutions to get more to stay.
The survey, conducted by Reaching Higher New Hampshire, a left-leaning think tank, and Woman Educators Leading Learning, a network of educators, found that teachers believe their profession has been “devalued,” particularly after the tumult of COVID-19 and rising political challenges.
“Their open responses specifically cited the political rhetoric in our state, attacks from top brass leaders, the lack of support that they were feeling in the reality of the classrooms, and (the) divisive concepts (law),” Reaching Higher Executive Director Nicole Heimarck told lawmakers on Monday.
“They specifically said the fear of consequences that they would face as educators as a result of divisive concepts,” she added, referring to a 2021 law that restricts teachers from advocating for certain concepts relating to race and gender.
This month, senators and representatives on the Committee to Study New Hampshire Teacher Shortages and Recruitment Incentives are preparing a report to list the challenges for teachers and make recommendations. The Reaching Higher survey will be a consideration for that report.
Administered in spring 2022, the survey asked 590 elementary, middle, and high school teachers, paraprofessionals, and administrators how they felt about their jobs, and what factors might prompt them to leave. The survey, which was conducted online, was not randomized and not necessarily representative of the state.
Of all the respondents, 39 percent said that the school’s “climate” was a top concern, while 32 percent cited a perceived lack of administrative support and 28 percent pointed to low pay.
Among the teachers who are leaving their jobs, their top concerns differed. Those leaving New Hampshire but staying in teaching were most disturbed by the climate of their school district or local school board. Those leaving the profession entirely cited frustrations with their pay.
“If it’s like this now, I can’t imagine what this profession will look like in 25-30 years when I expect to retire,” one respondent said, according to the report. “I would say entitlement and behavior of families and students is the biggest factor and the reason why many of the teachers I know are very unhappy.”
Many teachers – especially those staying in the profession but leaving the state – said they felt a lack of support from their local communities and their school boards. They felt more support from the schools they worked in, the survey revealed.
Among paraeducators, meanwhile, 100 percent said the low salary was a top reason for leaving.
Many teachers surveyed said they were departing. While 34 percent of respondents said they were not leaving their position, 14 percent said they were moving to another school district but staying in New Hampshire; 13 percent were looking to transfer to a different job in education; 12 percent were leaving the profession; 12 percent were changing their roles within their district; 10 percent were retiring; 3 percent were leaving the state; and 1 percent were going to a private school.
The report’s authors recommended that schools work to provide competitive pay, build up mentorship programs to encourage teachers to stay, and pursue more diverse candidates. They also recommended that the state provide financial help to teachers who need it, including scholarships and grants.
In his own research project, Whaland stopped trying to find an answer to why some teachers leave school districts. A more interesting question, he said, is why others choose to stay.
Focusing on rural schools in the Upper Valley, the North Country, and the Lakes Region, Whaland found that teachers are much more likely to stay when they feel supported by both their school and the community – even in jobs that don’t pay well.
That support can manifest in a number of forms, Whaland said, from residents appearing to support their schools and teachers at town meeting, to parents engaging with their parent-teacher organization, to community members holding shared events between the school and the rest of the town.
In one case, a teacher in the Upper Valley told Whaland that they had turned down an opportunity to get a major pay raise because of the positive culture they already experienced.
“They could go next door for about $20,000 more and they chose to stay where they are because they love that school, because they love the people there,” Whaland said.
Members of the study committee are considering a wide swath of concerns around teaching jobs. While the number of teacher credential renewals is relatively high, the number of teachers is not, and teacher preparation programs in the state have produced fewer graduates in recent years, an early draft of the committee’s report states.
The average pay for a first-year teacher in New Hampshire – $43,764 according to Salary.com – is around $20,000 lower than the average salary in the state, the committee said. And due to disparities in school funding, school districts in wealthier towns are able to offer teachers higher salaries, creating a drain for poorer towns.
Meanwhile, the committee plans to explore how the recent politicization of school issues around COVID protocols, LGBTQ rights, diversity efforts, and classroom materials and books has contributed to teachers’ unease.
The study committee has met for several years; it was first chaired by former Sen. Jay Kahn, a Keene Democrat, and is now led by Sen. Ruth Ward, a Stoddard Republican. While the report, due Nov. 1, will lay out some of the causes of the state’s teacher shortage, many say a simple legislative solution may be tougher.
“When I was a high school senior, I took a protractor, put it on the map, and drew a big circle,” said Rep. Oliver Ford, a Chester Republican. “I would not apply to a college inside that circle. I wanted to go away; I wanted to see the world from another perspective from the one I grew up in. But I went back. You go back for something that makes it attractive, something that says, ‘We’re doing good things here, it’s interesting here, there’s a future here.’”
Lawmakers are considering one approach: a teacher loan forgiveness program for New Hampshire residents who are enrolled in teaching programs. House Bill 623 would help provide $10,000 to eligible students over two years – provided that they teach for five consecutive years in a school that the state Department of Education has identified as having a critical teacher shortage.
That bill has been retained by the House Education Committee, which will vote on a recommendation later this year.
The Senate is also holding on to a bill from the 2023 session – Senate Bill 217 – which would create a “rural and underserved area educator program” to give loan forgiveness to teachers at schools affected by critical educator shortages. The teachers would need to be working at schools identified by the Department of Education as rural and economically disadvantaged. The bill would put aside $3 million over two years; educators would be entitled to up to $12,000 in reimbursement on their existing loans if they stayed in the district for four years.
“The whole purpose is to try and address this issue of teacher shortage,” said Rep. Rick Ladd, a Haverhill Republican and chairman of the House Education Committee. “The shortage is starting right off – we have over half of (students) going outside the state and not returning.”
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