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Many North Dakota teachers weigh leaving profession, union survey says

On top of teacher burnout, 53% of educators are also experiencing at least "some pressure" from politicians and parents to teach in a way that's "less controversial," according to the poll.

Fargo Public Schools students line up to board bus in September 2020.jpg
Fargo Public Schools students line up to board bus in September 2020. C.S. Hagen / The Forum
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BISMARCK — A recent survey by North Dakota's largest teachers union found more educators in the state are feeling unappreciated, disrespected, overworked and a general sense of frustration about their profession amid the COVID-19 pandemic and "relentless attacks" from politicians.

More K-12 teachers are leaving or considering leaving their job, and in a survey conducted earlier this month by North Dakota United, which represents more than 11,500 public school teachers, only 41% of 1,100 respondents said they see themselves remaining a teacher until retirement — a dramatic decline from the 90% who said they would when they were first hired.

"When you take all of this as a whole, what we're seeing is a great deal of frustration on the part of teachers caused by things that they don't have any control over," North Dakota United President Nick Archuleta told The Forum. "I think that not very far down the road that can create some very real issues for education in North Dakota."

Teacher retention is a major concern this year, Archuleta said, and 74% of teachers believe it will continue to be an issue during the 2022-23 school year, according to the survey. All school districts in North Dakota are seeing a shortage of educators and substitute teachers, he said.

Fargo Public Schools saw 141 resignations between July 2021 to January of this year, which is nearly double the number of resignations the district had a year ago, according to data from the Fargo Public Schools Human Resource Office . Eleven teachers resigned between July 2021 to January 2022, and nearly 50% more educational support staff quit in that time period compared to the previous year.

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On top of teacher burnout, 53% of educators are also experiencing at least "some pressure" from politicians and parents to teach in a way that's "less controversial," according to the poll. Archuleta said this was not surprising given the rhetoric coming from some of the state's lawmakers.

During the North Dakota Legislature's special session last November, the vast majority of lawmakers voted in support of a bill banning the teaching of critical race theory. Legislators acknowledged the college-level theory was not being taught in North Dakota K-12 schools. However, they said the bill was needed as a preventative measure.

Archuleta said teachers were caught in the middle of the controversy, and the stress is weighing on them.

"Teachers go into education because they really want to make a positive impact on the lives of these kids, not to become a political football," he said. "It's not what they signed up for, and they shouldn't have been in the middle of a manufactured political scrum, because it's really not an issue in schools."

In the poll conducted earlier this month, only 40% of teachers said they felt appreciated, which is a 55% decline from a 2019 survey that asked the same question.

Going forward, Archuleta said North Dakota needs legislative action that specifically supports teachers and positively increases the public perception of the teacher profession.

"Teaching is still a notable profession and among the most important in our country," Archuleta said. "We need to appreciate teachers for all that they do."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTAEDUCATION
Michelle (she/her, English speaker) is a Bismarck-based journalist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities.
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