A student raises his hand to get his teacher’s attention inside Hampstead Hill Academy on 8/29/22. Monday was the first day back to school for Baltimore City students.

About half of Baltimore City teachers are satisfied with their jobs and many say they are motivated to stay in the city because of their love for and dedication to their students, according to a survey of teachers by the Fund for Educational Excellence.

But teachers also told the Fund they are feeling overwhelmed by new paperwork demands as well as student mental health issues stemming from isolation during the pandemic. About a quarter of teachers said they were unsure about whether they would return for the 2023-24 school year.

The survey of 427 teachers in 132 schools was conducted between June 3 and July 12. The survey included a a sample of the total pool of teachers in the city.

The Fund, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that works to improve the school system, issues major reports every few years. The current report is a snapshot of a much larger analysis on teacher retention that will be released next year.

The Fund’s president, Roger Schulman, said teacher retention is a critical issue for the school system and the Fund wanted to test teacher attitudes about their city school experience. The survey exposed deep concerns, he said, among teachers about whether they would leave after the current school year. In the past, the school system has lost about 10% of its workforce each year, so if a quarter of teachers left in one year, it would be a blow to stability. A predicted exodus of teachers across the nation wasn’t seen this year in the state.

“It’s been interesting to see that the resignation didn’t pan out the way people thought it might,” he said, but at the same time it is noteworthy that such a large percentage of Baltimore teachers are considering leaving the profession at a time there are fewer people entering teaching. “Listening to what a teacher has to say about what keeps them and what drives them away … is really important and urgent,” Schulman said.

The survey found that young teachers were more likely to say they were dissatisfied with their jobs than were veteran teachers; high school and early elementary teachers were more satisfied than elementary teachers were. About 45% of city teachers are Black, and they are slightly more satisfied with their jobs than teachers as a whole. Only 15% of Black teachers across all grade levels said they were dissatisfied with their jobs, while 25% of middle school teachers in general said they were dissatisfied.

In a statement, the school system said the Fund’s preliminary conclusions will help “our efforts to recruit, develop, and retain our teachers.” The report, the school system said, affirms “the clear feedback we have heard from our teachers in internal surveys over the last two school years: they needed personal wholeness support in returning to in-person teaching with more time for professional development and peer collaboration.”

The Fund asked a series of open-ended questions about what motivates educators to stay or to leave their jobs. The teachers were given space to express in writing answers to those questions.

Corrie Schoenberg, senior program director for the Fund’s analysis and engagement work, said it was heartening to hear teachers express the love they have for their students as a primary reason why they stay — as strong as compensation or other factors. “Some teachers feel an obligation to see students reach their full potential and they want to inspire them to be successful. They care a great deal about their students’ lives and the role they play as educators in providing them with opportunities,” the report said.

City teachers also said they stay in part because they would have to take a pay cut if they left to join another school system.

City teachers are paid under a system that is based not just on the years of teaching experience but also on merit and extra service to the school. Surrounding counties base pay on years of service and education. The better pay also made some city teachers feel chained to their current jobs as well, according to Schoenberg.

School leaders — primarily principals — were a factor in motivating teachers to stay and to leave. Some teachers expressed how important the school administration is to making them feel valued. They described the administrators as transparent and as supportive.

In fact, in some schools few teachers left after last year, according to the school system.

On the other hand, teachers who didn’t feel that same support and thought their leaders were likely to have unrealistic expectations were more likely to leave.

In the last couple of years, teachers have been asked to create student learning plans, which are individual plans for each student. Teachers said the plans put a strain on them and that they were too time-consuming.

In addition, teachers said the violent, disruptive behavior was a significant problem last school year and they worried about what they would see when they returned this school year. Black teachers, in particular, said students should be held more accountable for poor behavior and that they believed there were too few meaningful consequences.

The school system said it has begun to implement strategies to help teachers. “The feedback from our teachers indicates these strategies are working, and we will explore innovative ways to support teachers.”

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