Tulsa representative holds study on teacher retention and retirement

October 15, 2021 | Headlines

OKLAHOMA CITY — State Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa, held an interim study Wednesday on teacher retention, retirement, and ways Oklahoma can prevent teachers from leaving the state or the profession. 

The Teacher Recruitment, Teacher Turnover and Projected Shortages in the Oklahoma Public School Workforce Study featured testimony from school administrators, educators and education advocates worried about the current and future shortage of classroom teachers.

“The teacher pipeline is one of the critical issues we can address in the 2022 legislative session,” Waldron said. “We have seen record numbers of retirements. We are facing a chronic shortage of applicants for teaching positions, and we are certifying more and more teachers on an emergency basis. This is unsustainable.”

Teacher retirements over the last four months have outpaced the same months in the previous four years. The much-needed raise in 2018 has allowed some teachers to retire at a higher rate this year than previously, however, stress and external expectations are also driving factors of the retirement increase.

“Some have anticipated that there would be a large number of teacher retirements this year following the teacher walkout after teachers were given a significant raise compared to previous years,” said Sabra Tucker, executive director of the Oklahoma Retired Educators Association. “People have said, ‘I have stayed three years and I am going to go ahead and take my retirement.’

“But mostly what I heard from people is that ‘my health is not worth staying in the classroom. As much as I love teaching and students, I do not love all the stress of being in the classroom with unrealistic expectations and more and more demands than I have ever had before in my entire career.’”

As teacher retirements grow, there has been moderately positive news regarding teachers who don’t qualify for retirement, but turnover for twelve different subjects is trending higher than previous years.

“While we have seen an uptick in teacher retirements, there have been fewer people are leaving due to other reasons,” said Carolyn Thompson, the deputy chief of staff for the Oklahoma State Department of Education. “The year over year turnover rate was higher than the state average for 12 subjects. Ten of those are middle school. We obviously have a middle school problem.”

The study also heard testimony from public school administrators who have shown success in hiring and retaining teachers. 

“Recruitment alone is just a small part of our challenge if we are going to sustain a quality workforce in public education,” said Dr. Jason Brunk, the assistant superintendent of human resources for Yukon Public Schools. “Compensation, training, support once they enter the profession, all of those things are important.”

Waldron hopes the study can add to the momentum created by public education advocates to shore up and protect Oklahoma’s education workforce.

“This isn’t a problem that is going away,” Waldron said. “It will get worse the longer we as legislators don’t act to solve it. I am humbled and encouraged by the House Common Education Committee, under the leadership of Chair Rhonda Baker, for taking this issue seriously. It’s not often that a subject has three different studies dedicated to it in the same year. There is a problem. We must work together to fix it.” 

Rep. John Waldron can be reached at (405)557-7410 or email john.waldron@okhouse.gov