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"Teachers are miserable." Across New Orleans, schools are grappling with teacher

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Teachers giving up planning periods to cover empty desks. Schools with an increasing number of “long-term” substitute teachers. An administrator returning to the classroom.

As school districts in the New Orleans area begin their fourth grade under the impact of the pandemic, many school districts are working to fill an increasing number of teacher vacancies, signaling pandemic-related turnover.

“Shortage is very real and exists,” said Doris Voitier, superintendent of St. Bernard Parish, who began the school year with a vacant teaching position for the first time in her tenure. “Over the past two years, we have seen many teachers retire or looking for other careers. Fewer people want to be in teaching.”

It’s too early to know the full picture of this year’s shortage — state education department teacher numbers are generally more than a year behind — but interviews with educators in the New Orleans metropolitan area are the only St. Bernard Louisiana State Education Superintendent Cade Bramley told the House Board of Education in April that there are about 2,500 certified teacher vacancies statewide, with about 50,000 public school students. said to have an impact on

“The teachers are miserable, unhappy, and hanging on a string,” said Connie Van Sant, who resigned last year after 21 years teaching eighth grade English in Jefferson Parish. “The pandemic has cast an ugly light on an already bad situation.”

Haines High School students gather outside homeroom on the first day of school in Jefferson Parish on Monday, August 8, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Shortage varies by parish

Louisiana’s story mirrors a national teacher shortage, with many leaving teachers blaming burnout. More than half of teachers surveyed by the National Education Association in January said they would quit teaching earlier than planned due to the pandemic.

In Orleans Parish, an all-charter district with looser rules for hiring teachers than surrounding parishes, the shortage is consistent with declining student enrollment, which means fewer teachers are needed this year. Meaning, New Schools for New Orleans, an educational non-profit organization.

But in some suburban areas the situation is bleaker. Over the past three years, teacher vacancies have skyrocketed in Jefferson Parish, the state’s largest public school district with 47,500 students. As of July 2020, there were 29 vacant seats. A year later there were 139. This year he had 204 vacancies in July. And in the first week of school, 197 teacher slots remained open.

James Gray, superintendent of schools for the Jefferson Diocese, said: “What we thought would take another five to 10 years to compare the number of people attending school and the rate of dropouts has been exacerbated by the pandemic. ‘ said.

Jefferson’s public schools employ approximately 3,000 teachers.


Elfrieda Flint hears students say what they want to learn in science class during the first week of school at the Alice M. Hart Charter School in New Orleans on Thursday, August 4, 2022. com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

St. Tammany has 80 vacancies at the beginning of the school year, mostly in special education positions, a higher number than in the previous year, spokesperson Meredith Mendez said. The district filled an additional 235 spots over the summer. It employs approximately 2,600 teachers.

According to the New Schools for New Orleans annual teacher survey, last year saw an increase in the number of teachers who said they were planning to leave the profession, citing reasons such as low pay and school leadership.

Between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years, 29% of city teachers did not return to work. That number increased slightly over the next few years, but since the first pandemic year he has dropped to 20%.

This year, New Schools estimates that the turnover rate has returned to 30% based on annual teacher surveys and data reported by individual school recruiters.

But the “saving grace” is New Orleans’ decline in enrollment, which fell from 49,071 students in 2019 to 46,395 last year.

Larry Carter, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and School Workers, said other factors, such as school safety, were also at work. he said.


Students walk into the Alice M. Hart Charter School in New Orleans on Thursday, August 4, 2022. (Photo by Sophia Germer,, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Van Sant, a former Jefferson Parish English teacher, said a loss of respect over time, coupled with reduced resources and additional duties, created an “abusive relationship.” She is unsure of her future plans.

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Roxy Wilson, who taught drama at a charter school in New Orleans, said the stress of the pandemic and Hurricane Ida forced her to resign.

“Ask anyone, I love my students dearly,” she said.

poor children are worse

Both nationally and regionally, Jarrell said the biggest indicator of teacher decline is student socioeconomic status.

That pattern seems to have already unfolded before the pandemic hit statewide. For example, at his LH Marrero Middle School in Jefferson Parish, nearly all students are believed to be economically disadvantaged, but the most recent data available, his 2017 teacher His retention rate was less than 60%. Meanwhile, only one-third of economically disadvantaged students at Metairie Academy of Advanced Studies, he 88% of teachers returned to work in 2017.

Teachers who leave are often in the middle of their five years of teaching, Jarrell said. Teacher turnover declines in fifth grade.

“I don’t think it’s realistic to have lifelong teachers in an entire school, but when more than 50% of teachers quit in the first five years, it never stabilizes,” says Jarrell.


Superintendent Frank Javier and School Board President Brandon Harrell visited Abita Elementary School during Smart Start Days in St. Tammany Parish on the first day of the school week on August 8.

Lauren LeDuff-King, assistant principal at Warren Easton Charter School in New Orleans, which has higher retention rates than many charter schools, says teacher turnover can be destabilizing for students who often rely on school as a safe environment. said to generate.

“Some of these teachers are safe people,” she said.


Many school districts are looking to “grow their own programs” to bring people with college degrees but no education into the classroom. We are working to get our teachers certified.

“Teach St. Bernard” is the first such program and has created 30 jobs so far, Voitier said. In his first class at Teach St. Tammany he has over 20 teachers. Also in Jefferson Parish’s in-house certification program called EMBARK, in the first group he trains 17 teachers.


Monday, August 8, 2022, the first day of classes at Abita Springs Elementary School in Abita Springs, Louisiana.

Local districts also raised salaries.

Plaquemines Parish offers subsidized rent for teachers in district-owned apartments.

“Our parish is 65 miles long and it’s hard to get teachers unless you live there, so something had to be done,” said Plaquemins Public School System’s director of human resources. Monica Wertz said. classroom after high turnover at their school last year.

State Superintendent Bramley said the answer to the shortage may lie in the flexibility of the school system as an employer. For example, if a school is having trouble hiring a chemistry or physics teacher, a chemist working in the local community could drop by for a few hours, he said. Alternatively, with advanced technology, schools should consider virtual options.

“And we have to do a better job of retention, which has been an issue for a long time, so we need to explore the conditions,” he said.

Jeff Adelson, Joni Hess, and Blake Paterson contributed to the report.