More than 1,000 Montgomery County Public Schools teachers resigned or retired in the last year, a 38% increase from the year prior, according to district data.
Between Sept. 1, 2021, and July 7, 2022, 1,070 MCPS teachers resigned or retired, compared to 775 during the same time period the prior year.
With a teaching workforce of about 14,000, the number reported this school year equals about 7.6% of the total, over the course of the year. There was not a surge in resignations or retirements at the end of the year, MCPS data show, but rather slightly larger totals most months.
Jennifer Martin, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, the union that represents teachers, said there are “real problems on the horizon” for MCPS if the staffing problems are not addressed.
Martin cautioned about the expected increase in resignations and retirements in May, at the time saying about 800 teachers had said they intended to leave the district.
Concerns about teacher burnout increased as stressors caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic escalated over the past year, such as addressing missed learning during online classes and also a rise in behavior and mental health problems among students, as well as losing planning time to cover classes for absent teachers.
Teachers held a handful of protests and other events throughout the school year, urging the district to compensate them for extra work and do more to hire staff members to fill vacancies.
MCPS spokesman Chris Cram said there were 393 teacher vacancies in MCPS as of July 7. One-third of the openings were for special education teachers. At the end of June, a shortage of special education teachers forced about 175 students in a summer program to move to a virtual model at the last-minute.
It was difficult to convince many educators to take on summer courses because they need time to “recharge,” Tomas Rivera-Figueroa, MCPS supervisor in the Office of Recruitment, said in an interview last week.
“We’re finding that to be a difficult task this year because teachers want to take the time, and they don’t want to be working, and they want to regenerate which will hopefully alleviate some of the tension and we’ll see them stay in the profession,” Rivera-Figueroa said.
There were an additional 422 open support staff positions, which include jobs such as bus drivers, food service workers and office staff. Some bus routes to summer school programs have not been able to run in the past week due to a shortage of drivers, according to notices posted on the MCPS website.
The pandemic has caused new recruitment challenges, Rivera-Figueroa said, but largely just “accelerated what was already an issue.”
“We were already in crisis when it came to certificated teachers entering the profession — that was already a trend five or six years in the making of our schools of education becoming smaller and smaller,” Rivera-Figueroa said. “So there aren’t as many young people that are interested in becoming teachers as there once was and I think that the pandemic caused more of those young people to reevaluate their situation.”
MCPS has broadened its recruitment efforts in recent years beyond the immediate local area, realizing that the pool of qualified candidates across the country is shrinking, Rivera-Figueroa said.
Madeline Hanington — an MCPS recruitment specialist, former MCPS Teacher of the Year and Milken Educator Award winner — said the district recently created an “internal referral program” for employees to recommend people who are interested in working for MCPS.
MCPS has invested in both in-person and virtual job fairs and events, and drill down into online analytics that show demographics about who’s visiting recruitment webpages.
Still, Rivera-Figueroa and Hanington said they can’t be certain all of the current vacancies will be filled when classes resume at the end of August.
“I wish I could tell you guaranteed we’re going to fill this all up and it’s going to be great,” Hanington said. “But we’re working hard and we’re going to do our best.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com