When Francesca Alonso was hired as a teacher in 2018, she never imagined that she would leave the profession a few short years later.
Alonso worked in the DeKalb County school district as a special education teacher for pre-K students. From the beginning, she said she received little support from administrators, needed to supplement her own curriculum and had only one paraprofessional to aid her in the classroom despite being promised three. Additionally, Alonso recounted, her students became more physically violent as time went on.
Overwhelmed by the demands, Alonso left teaching in the summer of 2022. She isn’t alone – teachers across Georgia have been resigning from the profession for many of the same reasons.
While there is no statewide data on teacher shortages, a number of districts have said they are lacking teachers, according to news reports. The state is attempting to solve the problem by boosting the pay for K-12 educators. Gov. Brian Kemp included a $2,000 a year pay increase in his budget for the 2024 fiscal year, which begins July 1. It’s the second straight year Kemp, with support from the state legislature, has increased teacher pay.
Kemp, a Republican, said in his 2023 State of the State address that because of this raise, the average teacher salary in Georgia will now be over $7,000 higher than the average in the Southeast.
Teachers like Alonso say it’s a good first step – but there are other core issues with the education system that aren’t being addressed.
Alonso’s complaints are echoed by teachers across the state, according to a yearly survey by Georgia’s largest teacher advocacy group, the Professional Association of Georgia Educators. PAGE found that out of 5,600 educators, 29% of those surveyed indicated that they would not remain in the profession for another five years, citing burnout, salary, student behavior, and school leadership as reasons for departure.
PAGE Director of Legislative Services Margaret Ciccarelli said the pay raise could help alleviate the teacher shortage but agrees it isn’t a silver bullet.
“Working conditions are important,” Ciccarelli said. “That kind of burnout component is another thing that’s driving attrition.”
Kym Barrett is a kindergarten teacher in DeKalb County, and she has experienced many of the same problems in the field as Alonso. In Barrett’s experience, the increasing workload is another reason people are walking away from the profession. Barrett said that more and more responsibility is being put on teachers’ shoulders without any time to understand or prepare for their new duties.
Barrett agrees with Alonso that while paying people more is never a bad idea, there needs to be a systemic change in the way the profession operates.
“In order for teachers to do all that is being asked of them, we would need to have more support,” Barrett said.
As the state budget awaits Kemp’s signature, Alonso said that she supports the raises for teachers included in the proposal because she believes that salary increases are an important part of combating the shortage. In her personal experience, however, a pay raise wouldn’t have kept her from leaving.
“If I had support from my principal, all of my administration, then I probably would’ve stayed,” said Alonso.