One out of two school leaders say their stress level is so high that they are considering a career change or retirement, a new survey of principals shows – the latest damning statistic to bolster the projected exodus from the K-12 space as a third year of pandemic learning gets underway.
According to the survey, released by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, 38% of middle and high school principals are planning to leave in the next three years, 24% are planning to leave in the next two to three years and 14% are planning to leave within a year.
“Principals in every state are facing enormous challenges resulting in significant stress with no end in sight,” says Ryan Merriwether, principal of North Junior High School in Evansville, Indiana, and also a member of the survey design team, which drew findings from more than 1,000 principals and vice principals surveyed online between June 5 and June 23.
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The results mirror sentiments among educators, more than half of whom have reported in various surveys that they’re planning to leave the profession, and come in the wake of major disruptions to the U.S. public school system driven by COVID-19 and a rapidly changing economic, political and social landscape.
The uptick in stress is largely a result of the teacher and staff shortages being reported by school districts across the country – one that’s not being driven by employees leaving positions so much as it is by schools adding new positions to help students recoup months of lost learning and to stem a burgeoning mental health crisis. Without a pipeline of talent from which to hire, some school districts are starting the new academic year with hundreds of openings.
The survey shows that 73% of school leaders said staffing shortages are a problem, with principals themselves having to take on teaching roles, help serve food in cafeterias and even drive school buses.
But their increasing levels of stress go beyond additional daily duties and staff shortages. The majority of school leaders, 70%, reported that they have personally been threatened or attacked, physically or verbally during the past year. Almost half of all school leaders reported being verbally attacked this past year either in person or online, while 15% of them said that they had been physically attacked.
In addition, half of principals also reported that student behavior is worse than before the pandemic, with the majority concerned about online bullying, in-person and physical bullying and drug use in their school.
Belying their own day-to-day experiences, however, the survey also showed how few believe they are meeting the needs of the students who need the most support: Just 26% “strongly agree” that they are meeting the needs of English learners and 28% said the same for LGBTQ students. For low-income students and students of color, 40% of principals reported that they “strongly agree” that they are meeting their needs.
“The survey results make clear,” Merriwether says, “that while we love working with students and teachers, our conditions are unsustainable and if left unaddressed, could result in principal shortages that will be difficult to overcome.”