Work intensification and lack of balance are driving Alberta teachers out of their chosen profession, suggests a recent ATA study.
Conducted in June 2023, the study identified five main reasons why teachers are choosing to leave teaching:
- work intensification
- lack of inclusion supports
- moral distress and compromises
- public discourse and culture wars
- parental conflict
“I left teaching this year after five years,” said one study participant. “The workload of teaching, plus overwhelming class sizes and student behaviour, as well as little to no prep time, made my physical and mental health suffer significantly.”
Entitled Exiting the Teaching Profession in Alberta, the study pinpointed 65 teachers who were either on the verge of leaving the profession or had already left. From this group, researchers conducted exit interviews with a representative sampling of 12 teachers.
The most pressing issue identified in the study was work intensification, largely driven by the size and complexity of classes. Respondents pointed out that large class sizes and little to no prep time means it’s impossible for teachers to meet the needs of all students.
“I empathize with the kids who are struggling, and we don’t have the resources,” said a rural junior high school teacher with fewer than 10 years of experience. “I don’t have the capacity to help them. I am watching them not succeed knowing that it’s my job to help them. Those are the kids I care about the most, but…”
More experienced teachers also cited workload as a significant issue.
“Every year workload has increased,” said a high school teacher with more than 15 years experience. “When I started my career, I averaged 48 hours per week. Now I’m in the 60s. I don’t have weekends, six to 12 hours grading, Sunday four to six hours, before and after school. I never have a chance to have a life.”
Study participants pointed out that they are experiencing a “vicious cycle” in which they are experiencing less of what they love about teaching while also facing increasing challenges. Among these challenges are a rise in administrative demands and difficult interactions with parents.
Respondents acknowledged that there are no easy solutions to the complex challenges that exist within the public education system, but they did offer some thoughts.
“I think a good starting point is classroom caps. Smaller classes mean everything can get better. We’d have more time to accommodate [needs]. If it’s 45 kids in a classroom with no prep, I would have left the profession,” said one participant.
“Some respondents foresee the need for drastic changes, such as teacher job actions or immediate reductions in extracurricular activities, to enhance classroom environments and professional working conditions,” the report states.
Although the study’s sample size is small, the findings align with other ATA surveys and are likely a good indicator of how many teachers feel, said ATA president Jason Schilling.
“Teachers feel they’re being attacked from all directions,” he said. “Overwhelming class sizes, high workloads, zero down time, negative public discourse and chronic underfunding are forcing teachers to re-evaluate their career paths.”
Schilling agreed that reducing class sizes is key to addressing the issues identified by this latest study. If nothing changes, he warned that Alberta could see a teacher shortage, decreases in programming, reduced viability of rural schools and a diminished teaching profession.
“This is a call to action,” Schilling said. “The government, school boards, parents, community agencies and the ATA must join forces to flip the system, to create an environment where teachers are valued and supported.” ❚
The study surveyed 65 teachers who had previously stated they were on the verge of leaving teaching in Alberta.
Will you be exiting the profession of teaching or leaving the province of Alberta at the end of this school year?
Which of the following are/were drivers for your decision to leave the teaching profession in Alberta?
Top 10 reasons
Conditions of professional practice (workload/balance) 90.6%
Political environment (government rhetoric/job security/funding cuts) 85.9%
Inability to meet all the students’ needs in my class or school 81.3%
The changes to curriculum and other new requirements in Alberta 59.4%
Frustration with parental expectations 45.3%
Loss of autonomy in my work 42.2%
Concerns about aggression in schools 35.9%
The challenging experience of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic 28.1%
Health considerations 26.6%
Low pay 25.0%
How long have/had you been thinking about leaving either the teaching profession or teaching in Alberta?
Less than 6 months 1.6%
6 months to a year 18.8%
1 to 2 years 39.1%
2 years or more 35.9%
Report: Exiting the Teaching Profession in Alberta
Exit interviews with departing teachers determined that there are five main reasons why Alberta teachers are leaving the profession.
Teachers are overwhelmed with their workloads, often feeling the tasks don’t directly benefit students and, in terms of student assessments, have become bureaucratic and are of low value but high impact in terms of work intensification.
Lack of inclusion supports
While inclusive classrooms are philosophically and theoretically supported, their execution in practice is seen as challenging and poorly supported across most Alberta schools and school communities.
Moral distress and compromises
Many exiting teachers expressed sorrow and frustration over compromises they feel they have had to make to remain in the profession of teaching in Alberta. This is seen in other Association research as an outcome of growing moral distress.
Public discourse and culture wars
The negative public discourse on teaching and public education has teachers and school leaders feeling besieged.
Teachers want more school leadership and administrative support, especially support for confrontational relationships with parents and/or communities that don’t support teachers.
This study’s report is being finalized and will be available on the ATA website at teachers.ab.ca.