Originally created 12/11/97

Teachers dropping out



ATLANTA -- More than a third of new Georgia teachers drop out of the profession within five years, leading to shortages in some key areas, members of the University System Board of Regents were told Wednesday.

That, in turn, leaves other instructors teaching subjects they are unqualified to teach.

"Most of us wouldn't want our daughters taught 11th grade trigonometry by someone who doesn't even have a (college) minor in math. It turns out millions of our sons and daughters are in that situation," said Richard Ingersoll, a University of Georgia sociology professor who has studied out-of-field teaching nationally.

The Board of Regents is in the midst of a year-long study of teacher recruitment, education and retention aimed at improving the quality of instructors in Georgia classrooms.

Surveys show Georgia teachers are as well-educated as national counterparts. About half have at least a master's degree.

Many are teaching classes outside of their field of study. For instance, in Georgia, two-thirds of high school physical science teachers do not hold a degree in that subject. The same is true for nearly half of history teachers and almost a quarter of math teachers.

However, he said, regents shouldn't necessarily blame the state's colleges of education.

In fact, White County School Superintendent James Jenkins told the board his new teachers are the best prepared he's seen in his 40 years in education.

"The problem is a mismatch between what students study in college and then what they are asked to teach in school," Ingersoll said.

One reason: high attrition rates among young teachers.

Tom Hall, director of technology and support services for the Georgia Professional Practices Commission, said 17 percent of new teachers quit after the first year, while 35 percent do so within five years.

The problem is even more acute in secondary schools. For new instructors teaching eighth grade and up, the five-year attrition rate is 41 percent.

Richmond County does not track how many of its teachers who quit have less than five years experience in the profession, said Robert Bush, the school system's personnel director.

Of the 128 teachers who left Richmond County schools last year, 16 cited personal reasons, nine said they were pursuing another career and five said they were going back to school. The system cannot say how many years of experience those teachers had, however.

"I mostly hear the burnout factor when they're anxious for a change" to a new school or new grade level or new duties -- but not quitting teaching, Dr. Bush said.

The reasons most often cited for leaving the profession in Georgia are job dissatisfaction and the desire to pursue another career, according to Ingersoll's research. Only about 8 percent of teachers leaving the profession in Georgia are retiring.

"Most hiring is simply to replace those who have just left," Ingersoll said. "Most don't leave because of retirement."

The dissatisfaction of young teachers is due to several factors, including moderate pay, not having enough say-so in schools and student discipline problems.

Professional education organizations need to step up their efforts to mentor young teachers to help them stay in the profession, said Donald Schneider, director of the University of Georgia's school of teacher education. Colleges have too much on their hands getting would-be teachers learned in the basics to worry about steeling the future educators against burnout, Dr. Schneider said.

"In many cases, the kinds of things and day to day pressures they feel are not necessarily things that we can prepare them for," he said. "That's why there are professional organizations."

Barbara Christmas, president of Georgia's largest teacher organization, Professional Association of Georgia Educators, spoke to the regents Wednesday, acknowledging, "It's an exciting time for first-year teachers, but it's also a challenging time."

Christmas said dealing with disruptive students and less-than-supportive parents are among the most difficult hurdles facing young teachers.

That led Board Chairman S. William Clark of Waycross to wonder if college education majors should receive instruction in maintaining discipline.

"Clearly this is a big problem. Do we need to send them to a class in boot camp operations?" Clark asked.

Staff Writer Kelly Daniel contributed to this article.

Teacher comparisons

How Georgia compares to the nation in the percentage of teachers who are teaching courses in which they did not major or minor in college:

  • English
  • National average, 22 percent

    Georgia average, 22 percent

  • Math
  • National average, 28 percent

    Georgia average, 23 percent

  • Science
  • National average, 18 percent

    Georgia average, 18 percent

  • Life science
  • National average, 31 percent

    Georgia average, 27 percent

  • Physical science
  • National average, 55 percent

    Georgia average, 66 percent

  • Social studies
  • National average, 18 percent

    Georgia average, 14 percent

  • History
  • National average, 52 percent

    Georgia average, 49 percent

    Source: Board of Regents