May 6, 2013 4:40 PM by Erin Steuber

Teacher Exodus Part 1: Why Are So Many Leaving the Classroom?

Resigning, or retiring, it's a common theme for teachers this school year, and it's no secret it's happening in droves from Lafayette Parish. But the problem is widespread.

Looking at resignations and retirements across Acadiana, 697 teachers have left the classroom this past year, and that's not including St. Mary and Evangeline parishes, who don't track their numbers. In Lafayette, 217 teachers have left. Vermilion Parish is second, with 135, nearly triple the amount that left last year. Then comes St. Landry, Iberia, Acadia, St. Martin and Jeff Davis parishes. And the year isn't over yet.

The question is, why are so many experienced teachers leaving the classroom?

After walking the halls at Iberia Middle School for 12 years, Principal Michael Bonin says this year, will be his last.

"At this point I don't think anything could make me stay. It gets to the point where you look in the mirror, and the job's not fun anymore. It's not what it was when you started, and you don't like the job anymore. So when it gets to that point, it's time to go," said Bonin.

Over his 31 years in education, Bonin has worn many hats, from coach to principal, and with just 15 days left, he reflects on the his career and changes along the way. He says teaching used to be about mentoring students, now it's about justifying everything you do.

"A lot of times those things are hard to stomach. Eventually our jobs will be on the line if test scores don't continue to rise," said Bonin. "It's not fair. It kinda takes the wind out of teachers sails and kinda makes 'em want to do like me, and get out while they can."

And that's exactly what's been happening throughout Acadiana. Vermilion Parish ranks second only to Lafayette, 135 to 217 respectively.

"We know that there are several issues, some of which are retirement, it's just that time in their career," said Vermilion Superintendent, Jerome Puyau. "But we've seen an increased amount of teachers leaving before 20 years, which is alarming to us."

Puyau says teachers may not be out of the woods yet when it comes to state changes. On the horizon for next year: A new state mandated curriculum, rigorous for both teachers and students.

"We possibly could see the same thing again next year, with teachers that would be thinking about entering into retirement. But we're going to do everything possible to stop that. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We really feel that this first year had its growing pains," said Puyau.

But those growing pains have meant the end of several hundred life long careers.

"I'm tired of being accountable for things we have no control over," said Bonin. "I've enjoyed my years as a coach, teacher, principal also, and I wish all the up and coming new teachers the best of luck. I hope things do change for them as time goes, and I hope things get easier for them."

"Whatever tools we can put in place right now, and whatever support we can give our teachers, is going to help keep our more experienced teachers in place," said Puyau. "If they feel they are valued, that we value their experience, and what they bring to the table, then if I can show them that we value that, then they will stay."


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