ATA Magazine

Finding a path forward

Concerted effort needed to avoid mass teacher exodus

I substitute in multiple schools across a range of economic communities and the needs of students are high in all.

Respondent, ATA pulse survey of teachers and school leaders

Teachers are the heart of education, but their spirit is being tested as never before. Several Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) research studies have pointed to a troubling pattern: one in three Alberta teachers regularly contemplates exiting the profession, leaving the province or retiring from teaching. Many Alberta teachers also report that, if given a chance to start anew, they would do something other than becoming a K–12 teacher.

Leaving one’s vocation often comes after long periods of struggle. In fact, our research shows that teachers who exit the profession start planning approximately two years before their departure.

In the wake of this trend, Alberta teachers find themselves at a significant crossroads, a constellation of factors brought about by an increasingly unsustainable and complex K–12 context.


In an ATA pulse research study conducted in December 2023, a majority of teachers and administrators reported an increase in the complexity and diversity of student needs in the classroom, including higher incidences of social/ emotional issues, behavioural challenges, cognitive needs, English as an additional language, socioeconomic factors and linguistic diversity.

Class sizes are reportedly getting larger while supports for students with exceptional needs are decreasing. This is leading to the belief that inclusion, while philosophically supported, is failing due to a lack of dedicated supports, resources and broader societal interventions. Further complicating matters is the rise of aggression in schools.

86% of teachers reported an increase in the complexity and diversity of student needs 56% of teachers reported a decrease in support for students with special needs
Top student complexities % of teachers reported
Social/emotional issues 83
Behavioural challenges 78
cognitive needs 63
62% of teachers reported larger class sizes compared to last year; of those 40% reported a class size larger than 30
Exit interviews

To gain deeper insights into the state of the profession, in June 2023 the ATA conducted a series of exit interviews with members who’d decided to leave teaching in Alberta or the profession entirely. The findings generally reveal a shared sentiment of dissatisfaction that spans career stages. The narrative is clear: rather than incremental changes, Alberta teachers are seeking a seismic shift in how the profession is valued and supported.

The crux of the issues appears to lie at the intersection of work satisfaction and systemic demands. Our educational system is not just about imparting knowledge; it's about nurturing future Albertans, citizens and societal leaders, and that requires a well-supported and well-funded public education system. This environment has been compromised by an incessant drive for efficiency, a lack of support for inclusive classrooms, larger and more complex classrooms, a narrowing of curricular objectives to literacy and numeracy, and a global education reform movement that often overlooks the human element.

Call to action

The current situation is not sustainable. Workforce planning, often an overlooked aspect of education in Alberta for the last decade, has emerged as a pivotal need. Below are the five interconnected actions the ATA is recommending to prevent an exodus of teachers from the profession:

  1. Reduce class sizes.

  2. Enhance support and resources.

  3. Strengthen teacher support systems.

  4. Facilitate effective curriculum implementation.

  5. Improve communication and respect.


Snapshot: Aggression in Alberta Schools

52% of teachers respondents experienced bullying or violence at work between September and November 2023
Of these: 95% reported that the aggression occurred in person 60% reported that the aggression was perpetrated by students in their own classroom
Student vs student
70% of teachers respondents observed students making demeaning or hateful remarks toward classmates over differing views
Of these reported negative remarks: 69% related to sexual orientation and gender identity 62% related to racial discrimination
50% related to COVID policies 31% related to climate-change science ATA Pulse Survey December 2023
A white male in a gray suit with a black tie.
Phil McRae

Associate Coordinator, Reasearch, ATA