School closures in Vermont haven’t lasted as long as those in other parts of the country, but that hasn’t eased the pressure.
Social distancing, masks and confining students to their classrooms have caused an “explosive amount of mental health needs,” from lack of focus to outright aggression, said Heather Long, a former counselor at the district of the Orange East Supervisory Union.
“I started watching more and more restrictions on children,” she said. “I felt like I couldn’t meet the needs.”
That sense of helplessness is one of the reasons Long quit his job in December — joining others who have moved away from traditional schools and shifted to alternative models of education during the pandemic. Now she runs a microschool in her New Hampshire home as part of Prenda, a network of tuition-free, small-group programs in six states. Teachers who embark on such programs find parents willing to join them.
“For the first time in their lives, they have options,” said Jennifer Carolan, a former Chicago-area teacher and now Reach Capital partner. The investment firm supports online programs and educational technology companies, such as Outschoolwith thousands of online courses, and Papera tutoring platform that states and districts have adopted using federal relief funds.
Traditional schools, Carolan said, haven’t kept pace with what teachers want in the workplace, especially flexible hours. And after “two hellish years,” some are turning to positions that personalize student learning while providing better work-life balance.
Before the pandemic, schools were losing around 16% of their teachers each year, according to federal data. This year, several polls point to dozens of burnt-out teachers who say they are considering leaving the field and anecdotal reports of mid-year departures. Data from Rand Corp. last year showed that long hours, childcare responsibilities and COVID-related health issues were the main factors.
Traditionally, about two-thirds of teachers leave the classroom moved to other jobs from K-12. Staying home to care for a child or another family member is the second most common reason. But since the pandemic, many also find private sector positions — often related to education.
With no accurate national data on teacher departures this year, experts say there is no evidence of a mass exodus.
But there are signs in some states and districts that revenue growth forecasts are well-founded. In Massachusettsfor example, turnover rates were 17% higher in fall 2021 than in 2020, and in the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, “separation announcements” teachers and other licensed staff are well above pre-pandemic levels.
The question is whether microschools and similar models will continue to be a viable alternative for those leaving district schools. Chad Alderman, policy director of Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab which tracks trends in the teaching workforce, is skeptical of their sustainability.
“If even a few kids get older or move out or just go to a different placement, that would put the microschool at risk,” he said. “Absent some sort of consistent funding stream, they would face economic pressures to become a more traditional school or go out of business.”
Last year’s data from Tyton Partners, a counseling organization, showed that many families who moved from districts to pods and microschools stuck with the model. At the start of the pandemic, some experts warned that pods and microschools would only worsen inequalities, attracting wealthy families who could afford the cost. States like Arizona and New Hampshire have since provided public funds to increase equity. And some networks emphasize diversity, like SchoolHouse — a platform that connects families with microschool teachers and attracted $8 million from investors last year.
“A Second Shot”
Some teachers looking for new options have applied for jobs with Sora Schools, a private online program now in its third year that serves 150 students, mostly on the East Coast. The school’s founders plan to expand in the fall of 2023 and eventually add in-person locations.
“The ground is fertile,” said company co-founder Garrett Smiley.
Several teachers at the school – called “experts” – have joined the program during the pandemic and it is receiving a few hundred applications for each vacancy. The candidacy of Angela Anskis, who discovered Sora on LinkedIn last summer, stood out.
She was teaching at a charter school in Philadelphia, Boys Latin, when she began considering a move. The school – and other public schools where she worked – did not offer students the choice to study what interested them, she said. After school reopened, she found herself writing the same history, civics and geography lesson plans she had always had.
“Once you teach the same thing over and over again, it’s hard to be passionate,” she said. “I would dread going to school. I thought that was part of being an adult.
Anskis always wanted to be a teacher. In kindergarten, she drew pictures of her future class. But upon returning to school after distance learning, she felt stuck and considered quitting school altogether. Sora, she said, gave her a “second blow.”
Sora educators are allowed to focus full-time on curriculum design or work directly with students — a difference that appeals to teachers tired of spending nights and weekends on lesson plans, Smiley said. . Experts teach six-week “expeditions” – in-depth dives into topics in multiple areas.
A humanities expert, Anskis taught a unit on fashion history and mixed English and current affairs in an expedition on forbidden books. Class discussions focused on “And Tango Makes Three,” about two male penguins raising a chick, and “Maus,” a Holocast graphic novel that was recently released. removed from classrooms in a Tennessee district. The students researched why certain groups might be opposed to the books and read the banned titles with their parents’ permission.
Classes are small – 10 to 12 students – and Anskis said she can walk around whenever she wants.
“I have so much more control over my life,” she said.
But not all teachers who have left the classroom during the pandemic have sought out new opportunities. Some felt evicted.
Shatera Weaver was the Dean of Culture at Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School, a New York public school in Queens, where she worked as a counselor for middle and high school students.
Originally granted an exemption from the city’s vaccination mandate because she has sickle cell anemia, Weaver learned in October that her housing would not be renewed. She was one of 1,400 New York employees put on leave without pay because they were not vaccinated.
Now she designs the curriculum for EL Education, a non-profit organization that provides English language arts materials and teacher training. She also teaches yoga for a non-profit organization and strangely finds herself leading movement classes for young children at a public school.
“I was quite unhappy. I miss my meaningful work and feel guilty leaving – even though it was out of my control,” she said. “I don’t like working from home. I miss the in-person connection and collaboration.
Weaver hopes to join those who have started new schools and wants to design a public or private program for black students — “kind of like an HBCU, but the elementary school version.”
Teachers in the alternative models said they valued the freedom to bring their own interests and personality to teaching. Long, New Hampshire, took her six students — including her two children — on a winter ski trip. Its program includes outdoor excursions to write about science and nature.
“I feel passionate about being able to try new things and not be put down,” she said.
This fall, she joins a former middle school science teacher to expand the program to 15 children. And she refers other teachers to information sessions on Prenda, which the state supports through school district grants.
“I don’t want to turn families away,” she said, “and I don’t want to be Prenda’s monopoly in town.”
Join The 74 and VELA Education Fund for a virtual conversation about why teachers are leaving the classroom to launch non-traditional education programs on Wednesday, June 15 at 1 p.m. ET. register here.
Disclosure: The Walton Family Foundation funds 74 and the VELA Education Fund, which supported Prenda.