NORWALK – Teachers accounted for nearly 75% of departures from public schools in the city over the past year and two-thirds said they quit for personal reasons, according to surveys administered by the local union education.

‘I resigned from my post this year and am leaving Norwalk. When I informed my administration that I was looking to leave they didn’t seem to care,’ a teacher commented during the check-in inquiry of summer 2022 administered by the local education union, the Norwalk Federation of Teachers, which represents nearly 1,000 certified teachers.

Other school system issues identified by 250 educators who participated in the survey included a lack of support from their building and district leaders, being left out of the decision-making process, feeling micromanaged, having little or no time to schedule classes, and being overwhelmed, according to surveys obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media Group.

“It’s been intense, unforgiving, exhausting and unlike any other district,” the teachers’ union, led by President Mary Yordon, said in the introduction to the survey results. “Effective professional relationships are built on trust, collaboration, communication and appropriate goals. .. We are treated as if we were useless.

Norwalk Public Schools saw a 25% increase in teacher quits in the 2021-22 school year, data shows. In 2021-22, 67 teachers resigned compared to 50 in 2020-21. A total of 95 district employees quit in the past school year and 40 school employees, including 33 teachers, retired, the data showed.

Yordon argued that teachers may find greater stability in other school districts where building administrators are more established, and teachers are less likely to transfer to positions where they have less experience, such as change level in elementary schools.

Over the past decade, Norwalk has had four superintendents, and last year the central office underwent a complete overhaul and hired a number of new people for administrative positions. One of those positions, that of Educational Administrator for Specialized Learning, was vacated again in March. The position remains open and now has a new title.

“We’ve had huge turnover under the last two administrations. … It impacts the remaining people,” Yordon said. “Anytime you have to know the priorities of a new administration, it’s very stressful.”

Teachers leaving Norwalk may find new jobs, but issues identified in the local school district are also being reported by educators across the country. A survey published by the National Education Association in January, 90% of teachers believe that burnout is a serious problem (67% think it is a very serious problem).

In his 2022 Trends in K-12 Education, Hanover Research, which works with more than 350 school districts nationwide, reported that 77 percent of teachers feel “somewhat” or “extremely” stressed. This almost matched what NFT had found in its survey with 76% of teachers feeling “completely overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do to be successful in my job”.

The pandemic has not helped. Yordon said most Norwalk teachers are “working hard” to stay in school and take the necessary precautions to stay healthy. But not everyone could risk being exposed, and some teachers resigned or took leave.

“COVID meant anyone with a physical vulnerability, and who could afford it, left,” Yordon said. “It really pulled the ranks.”

Schools are asking teachers to cover lessons for colleagues quarantined due to a lack of substitute teachers. Teachers are on the front line in tackling student learning loss, and many teachers at Norwalk have spent the past year implementing new curriculum in multiple subjects.

“We were promised that the initiatives will slow down. Math, Science and ELA all had new resources, strategies required last year, and we were told that we would be given space and room to learn and develop comprehensive strategies in the lesson plans. On the other hand, we are now rolling out a big initiative (multilingual learners) in the fall. We heard the promises, now we want to see them,” Yordon said.

Staff professional development related to the new curriculum and new initiatives is one of the areas where teachers reported positive feedback, both in the NFT survey and in internal surveys conducted by the central office.

The district reported that 61 percent of teachers were overall satisfied with professional learning opportunities in the past school year. A higher rate found building-based sessions more beneficial than district-wide sessions, and teachers valued the time to collaborate with colleagues.

How the District Responds

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Robert Pennington said a college art teacher said her professional development “was so inspiring” because they “focused on using media and materials to reach our students and how to connect to our new program”.

In the June survey, 47% of NFT members said the professional learning provided was helpful and 23% agreed it was excellent. Those ratings were up 9% and 3%, respectively, from last October.

Not all feedback to the district was positive. Many teachers didn’t think a writing-focused learning session was helpful, and Pennington said it was a note they would take to improve future professional development days.

“We constantly seek feedback when planning our professional development. We keep track of it,” Pennington said.

Norwalk Superintendent Alexandra Estrella also plans to expand opportunities for feedback by introducing teacher roundtables this year. She held similar roundtables this year with directors and deputy directors to learn more about what works and what can be improved.

“It would allow my whole team to engage in the listening process so that we at the firm can discuss it further. We can start using it to transform and improve what we do,” Estrella said.

Even before the pandemic, schools across the country were seeing a trend of teachers leaving the profession and a lack of new educators to replace them.

According to a 2016 study by the Learning Policy Institute, the teacher attrition rate hovered around 8% over the previous decade and was much higher for new teachers and those working in very poor schools and districts. Between 2009 and 2014, teacher training enrollment rates fell from 691,000 to 451,000, a reduction of 35%.

Connecticut Teacher Shortage are highest in the areas of English as a second language, science, math, world languages, special education, and support staff like library and media specialists and psychologists.

Norwalk Public Schools has 83 vacancies in its elementary, middle and high schools and is hiring teachers, coaches, library specialists and counselors. The district also has 54 open positions in its specialized learning department.

The negative effects of administrative turnover was something Estrella heard a lot from teachers and staff during her early visits to schools. With her recent contract extension, Estrella hopes to bring some stability to the district to “raise the next generation of leaders and future citizens.”

“My goal is to be here long term because I believe in what we can do at Norwalk. The job is not easy and the pandemic has only exacerbated things that were difficult to begin with,” Estrella said.

“I am committed to doing the work for Norwalk students and look forward to collaborating with the team,” she said. “That means everyone who works in food service, supports the upkeep of our buildings, helps facilitate transportation, including our bus drivers, and our educators, teachers, paraeducators, and leaders. It takes a village.

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