Editor’s note: Fresh Take Georgia spoke with one current and one former Cherokee County School District teacher anonymously because they currently work in education and fear retaliation.
Burnt out and walking away from the classroom: Some teachers have had enough, leaving local school systems to face what this means for the future of public school students’ education.
The United States faces a nationwide teacher shortage and large school districts in Georgia are not immune. Teacher burnout is often cited as a reason.
“I chose to end my employment in Cherokee County partly because I did not feel valued here,” said a former Cherokee County teacher who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity. I feel like the school board talked a lot about teachers, especially those who won accolades. However, I don’t feel like I had a voice or that my opinion mattered.”
In 2022, The University of Georgia released a report commissioned by the Georgia Department of Education, ‘Teacher Burnout in Georgia: Voices from the Classroom.’ It investigated different factors promoting teacher burnout and solutions for this issue.
“Every year, Georgia is losing talented teachers to burnout,” Cherie Goldman, 2022 Georgia Teacher of the Year wrote in the report. “This is to the detriment of Georgia’s students, whose success depends on having excellent, experienced teachers in the classroom. The teachers I know don’t want to walk away… But too many of our teachers are running on empty.”
The task force that wrote the report found the main reasons for teacher burnout are the numerous required state assessments; preserving and protecting planning and instructional time; pressures and unrealistic expectations placed upon them; administrators not listening to teachers’ perspectives; and their mental health and wellness.
“I think teachers prioritizing their mental health is a major reason there is a teacher shortage,” the former Cherokee County teacher said. Teachers are notoriously overworked and underpaid. Life in a post-pandemic area has taught them that life is short and that their mental health is important too.”
Cherokee County, Georgia’s ninth-largest county, is taking its own approach to tackling this shortage and preventing teacher burnout.
“Last year, we made a real effort when we saw this report. We broke it down and our superintendent had his senior staff look at what they can do,” said Barbara Jacoby, CCSD Chief Communications Officer. “We looked at a lot of things big and small that would make it easier for teachers to be able to balance their work and their lives.”
Jacoby revealed that CCSD has an average annual teacher retention rate of 90 percent, which is comparable to its neighboring counties.
The Cobb County School District website says the school system had a 98% retention rate in 2022; however, data from the Georgia Department of Education contradicts this report. According to the GDOE Educator Pipeline Dashboard, Cobb County had a 90% teacher retention rate in 2022.
The Cherokee County School administration credits their high retention rate to the county’s favorable culture and community as well as efforts to make teachers feel valued.
“We did things like we started giving away gift cards in our employee newsletters, just looking for things big and small that would make all of our employees, especially teachers, feel valued and respected,” Jacoby said.
Although the county seems to be making efforts to combat burnout and reduce employee stress, many teachers remain frustrated with classroom circumstances.
“I have seen lots of changes in education over my 20-year career,” a current Cherokee County elementary teacher said. “Teachers were once respected by society as professionals. Today, most teachers feel undervalued and unappreciated. It is tough to work in a classroom with students who show no respect for teachers. For the sake and success of our students, I hope we can figure it out before we lose great teachers to other professions.”
In the 2023-2024 school year, Georgia faced teacher shortages in English, math and social studies at the middle and high school levels, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Shortage Areas report. The state also lacked main core subject educators in elementary schools and special education teachers in all grades.
Jacoby said that Cherokee County does not have a teacher shortage like other school systems throughout the state.
While the county prides itself on being proactive about the teacher shortage, it still faces problems regarding its teachers feeling valued and respected by the community and administration.
“The school system needs to listen to our input when making decisions and begin supporting and protecting teachers. We also just want to feel appreciated for what we do beyond the classroom for these students,” the Cherokee County elementary teacher said.