40% of Colorado teachers say they're thinking about quitting. What about Pueblo teachers?

Joe McQueen
The Pueblo Chieftain

A recent report from the Colorado Education Association found nearly 40% of teachers across the state are considering leaving the profession after the 2020-21 academic year.

The report found the main sources of teacher dissatisfaction are the increasing workload, current working conditions during the pandemic and low salaries.

"I'm not all that surprised. School districts in Colorado are chronically underfunded. District 70 is at the bottom of that list," said Amy Spock, president of Pueblo County Education Association, the union that represents teachers at D70.

"We (Colorado) are well under the national average for teacher pay. We are also well underfunded compared to other states."

Older teachers were found to be more likely consider leaving after this year, as 53% of teachers ages 60-69 years old said they were considering leaving, and 45% of teachers ages 50-59 years said they're considering a career change as well, according to the report.

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The lack of state funding for Colorado's public schools has greatly accelerated the workload for teachers. Spock said as a result of the funding cuts, classroom sizes have increased. Elementary classes are up to nearly 30 students each and secondary classes are getting up to 35 students or more.

"The class-size workload is overwhelming," Spock said. "That's been a huge learning curve for teachers this year from remote learning."

Working conditions during COVID-19 restrictions are also a major concern for educators. Having to teach in-person while wearing personal protective equipment and also worrying about their personal health has made work more difficult for teachers.

"They've found it's too hard to maintain this type of workload and work under these conditions," said Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association. "We've been underfunding our schools in Colorado for more than a decade. An entire generation of students have gone through our public schools in an underfunded system."

CEA's report lays out three strategies it proposes state lawmakers adopt to address teachers' concerns:

  • Increasing revenue by raising the corporate tax and buying down the multibillion-dollar budget stabilization factor, where education funding is cut in order to balance the state budget.
  • Ensuring that schools are safe to return to and that educators are vaccinated and have personal protective equipment available to them.
  • Postponing standardized tests since many students are learning online and don't have the same access to prepare for exams like they did before the pandemic.

The politics of education and the public's changing perception has also greatly impacted teachers morale and interest in doing the job, according to the survey. Mike Maes, president of the Pueblo Education Association, said that public education has become a political football in our country.

"We're not looking for real solutions at the political level and the legislature, we're not looking to take care of the budget deficit with the negative budget factor. It's stressful for us," said Maes.

Standardized testing has also become a major issue in education. Annual test scores have increasingly played a larger role when it comes to evaluating teachers' job performance.

Mike Lonsberry, who teaches social studies at Pueblo's East High School, said studies have consistently shown that standardized tests are not an effective way of measuring teacher performance or efficacy.

"There are pro, for-profit entities out there that lobby really hard and try to shove those types of systems down on us," said Lonsberry.

Lonsberry, who has taught at East for six years, said the pandemic has created much concern about returning classes to in-person learning. He believes the school should not be in-person until it's completely safe to do so.

"I have to split my time trying to watch the hallways, making sure people are social distancing while getting my room prepped, making sure nothing is going bad," he said. "On top of that, you have to adapt everything you teach to an asynchronous platform."

Pueblo School District 60 responded saying the district has diligently followed guidelines implemented by the CDC and will continue to work closely with the county department of public health and environment on restrictions meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

"We have done our best to support our teachers with various technologies and professional development. Our schools are taking every precaution to make them as safe as possible for all staff and students. We value and appreciate all our teachers and staff," said Dalton Sprouse, D60 spokesperson, in an email.

MORE: How CSU Pueblo quickly adapted to helping its students and faculty amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Chieftain Education Reporter Joe McQueen can be reached at jmcqueen@gannett.com or on Twitter @jmcqueennews