High turnover rates for teachers in Alaska and Lower 48

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Studies shows that across the entirety of the United States, there is a growing demand for teachers. The problem is that not as many people want to be teachers these days according to research from the University Alaska Anchorage.

Researchers like Dayna Defeo, the Director of the Center for Alaska Education Policy Research at UAA, say the current turnover rate for teachers in Alaska is high.

She said according to calculations that REL-Northwest made put turnover here around 22%.

“Enrollments are down in teacher preparation programs, so we’re graduating fewer teachers,” she said, “and the economy in the Lower 48 is really good, meaning that they’re able to not only hire more teachers, but offer competitive salaries.”

Defeo said here in Alaska we’re also not producing as many teachers, but budget problems make it even more difficult to hold on to the ones we do have.

She also notes that when the economy is good, there are more, higher paying jobs, than most teaching positions offer.

There are many more issues in regard to teacher turnover when it comes to keeping them here in the last frontier. While not as many teachers are graduating from here, most of the new teachers in the state are from the Lower 48.

We asked two teachers in rural Alaska what they think about these trends, and why they think so many teachers leave.

Colin Stewart is a Career and Technical Coordinator for the Lower Kuskokwim School District. He says he showed up there nine years ago and was a teacher in the classroom for the first four.

Stewart said he loves his job and plans on being there a while, but he’s seen a lot of people burn out.

“Your first year of teaching is hard anywhere, and we get a lot of new teachers who are young and still really tight with their families,” he said, “People just have a hard time with the homesickness, and that’s why we lose a lot of them is separation from the family.”

He also noted that Alaska used to have higher paying salaries and better benefits in the past, which isn’t the case anymore.

George Guyver is originally from Colorado, and is a K-12 art teacher. He’s been teaching in Shishmaref for about three months now. He admits he gets a little homesick from time to time. However, the last two teaching jobs he’s had have been in Taiwan and Kuwait, so he’s used to being away from family.

“So far I really like it,” he said, “I guess for me one of the real challenges is going to be when it gets darker and colder.”

He said the isolation feeling on the island of Shishmaref is also something to get used to.

Even though there’s a lot of contributions to why there’s a low supply of teachers and a large demand, Guyver said there’s a lot to learn by teaching in a place like Alaska.

“As a teacher from a different area, you’re coming with all these rich experiences of your own,” he said, “but you’re going to a rich culture as well, so I encourage you to come for not just teaching what you know, but there’s a lot to take away.”

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