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Why One Milwaukee Teacher Left the Classroom

Brian Hart/Flickr

Earlier this week, the Public Policy Forum released a report detailing the shrinking numbers in Milwaukee’s teaching workforce. Here’s a refresher: More teachers across Greater Milwaukee are leaving their jobs than ever before. On top of that, fewer students are going into the teaching profession. The next logical question, is why?

Meet Mary.

Mary taught in Milwaukee for 18 years. She’s worked in regular and special education classrooms, with a special focus on and passion for literacy. We're not using her full name because she still does some work for her former district. 

This past year, Mary left her teaching job – for a variety of reasons, like many of her colleagues. 

"It's gotten to the point, because of all the changes in the education system, that I couldn't be successful anymore," she recounts.

Mary says administrative changes had started to make her job much harder in the last few years. A lot of her planning time was taken away, between shortened lunch hours and a reorganized prep schedule, plus two additional, two-hour staff meetings per week, and a stack of additional paperwork. 

Then there was the issue of class size. Mary says budget changes meant she was in charge of more kids.

"It's often said that class size doesn't make a difference, but if you're working with children who are struggling, [they] need instruction that is tailored to them, and they need time," she explains.

Changing expectations also made Mary feel like she didn't have much control over how she was teaching her students. For example, she says, more restrictive assessment requirements mean teachers can't always give the tests they want to, to identify kids' learning deficiencies.

That's a common sentiment among other former educators, too, according to Public Policy Forum researcher Joe Yeado. In his report, Yeado writes that teachers are encountering a number of structural changes to their job, including the adoption of new academic standards, new state assessment exams, accountability metrics, and performance-based compensation in some districts.

Read: Milwaukee Has A Problem Attracting and Retaining Teachers

"For some teachers," he writes, "these changes added pressure and stress, which contributed to feeling burnt out and seeking another career."

Mary says for teachers, all of the changes can lead to a lot of judgment. And, she adds, that public perception sometimes seeps into the interactions and relationships between teachers and school administration.

"I really don't understand how they want us to make this work -- big class sizes, no time, and all this paperwork and assessment," Mary says. "I really don't understand how they think we can do this."

Mary adds that she knows she's not alone.

"I'm quite amazed at how many teachers are tired, and making changes," she says. "This is happening everywhere, where teachers are overloaded with all of these requirements."

Here are some of the most common reasons teachers throughout Metro Milwaukee cited for leaving their posts, according to a survey of human resource officers at school districts in the Public Policy Forum study:

Credit infogr.am
Data: Public Policy Forum research

For now, Mary is able to keep doing what she loves by helping her nieces and nephews learn to read. She still loves to teach, and says she would still encourage young people to pursue work in the classroom. 

"Maybe it will change someday, but right now it's very difficult."