Why are teachers quitting in the middle of school?

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – One of the reasons John Murden became a Richmond Public Schools teacher was to make a difference.

“I felt like I was doing something good for my life and good for my neighborhood, Murden said. “It felt like a really perfect thing to be doing in a lot of ways.”

Murden spent eight years teaching at Martin Luther King Middle School on Mosby St. in East Richmond.

“Teaching in itself is difficult. Teaching in this particular environment, probably across the whole city, is that much more difficult,” Murden recalled. “I’d get so frustrated. I’d put my backpack on and start to walk out. I’d get down the hallway and turnaround and then go ‘okay I need my job.'”

Murden stuck it out, but eventually left his teaching job for family reasons. Other teachers did not last a fraction of the time Murden did.

“I remember my first year in the hallway I was on, there were three teachers in a row that didn’t make it through the end of the school year,” he recalled.

Frustrated Teachers

Several former MLK teachers recently reached out to CBS 6 to voice their frustrations. They said they could not handle teaching there anymore.

The teachers, some of whom left in the middle of the school year, said school administration did not provide enough support. They said administrators did not do a good job disciplining students.

“The first principal I worked for gave us a lot of support with behavior and discipline. The kids responded better than,” Murden said. “More recently kids were getting in trouble with lots of stuff. Kids were getting in food fights with no repercussions. Students were threatening teachers and nothing would come of it.”

We took these concerns to newly named Richmond Schools Superintendent Dr. Dana Bedden.

Superintendent Questioned

“Is that a concern for you? You have teachers breaking down, leaving mid-year?” CBS 6 reporter Chelsea Rarrick asked Dr. Bedden.

“Is that a concern for you? You have teachers breaking down, leaving mid year?” CBS 6 reporter asked Dr. Bedden.

“Absolutely,” Dr. Bedden replied. “We want to have a high quality instruction, we want to have the best qualified people in front of our children from the first day of school to the last day of school. Anytime you get a change in a teacher it does become a challenge.”

To find out just how many teachers have left Richmond’s middle schools, Rarrick requested the city’s teacher turnover rates for the last three school years.

So far this school year, Martin Luther King Middle School has seen eight percent of its teachers leave the school. The highest turnover rate in Chesterfield County at Davis Middle School during that same time 2.6%.

“We are looking at MLK already and discussing some changes, so it’s already on the radar,” Dr. Bedden said.

Last school year, Richmond’s Boushall Middle School experienced a 29 percent turnover rate. Richmond school officials said that high turnover rate was due to the execution of an improvement plan and the turnover rate this year has come down.

“When you see X number of teachers left or a percentage of teacher left part of the conversation is why,” Dr. Bedden said. “What are the reasons? Because that number includes everybody. So that could be a person who resigned because they relocated. It could be a person who resigned in lieu of termination. It could be a person had license issues. It could be legitimate concerns that they left because they did not feel good about the environment they’re working in.”

Human impact

MLK parent Felicia Delaney said teacher turnover has had a big impact on her son. He lost two teachers so far this school year.

“He cried when his teacher left,” Delaney said. “When he heard the news he said mom please beg him to stay.”

Delaney is worried about both the short term and long term impact teacher turnover will have on her son.

“To have someone ripped away from you that you rely on. That you say ‘okay well I want to be like this gentleman when I grow up’ or ‘I want to be as successful as this gentleman when I grow up,’ to have him switched out for someone else is devastating,” Delaney said.

A recent study found teacher turnover can negatively impact student achievement, lowering math and English scores. Students at MLK Middle School have among the lowest standardized test scores in Virginia over the last three years.

“When I hear these stories about teachers who are so frustrated because the logistics of a school aren’t operating in the way it should be, and they’re leaving midyear because they just are worn out, I’m really disappointed,” Richmond School Board vice chairwoman Kristen Larson said. She said middle schools always have higher teacher turnover rates than elementary and high schools.

She said she hoped Dr. Bedden will make keeping teachers in their classrooms a number one priority.

“We know that we’re losing kids in middle schools. That a lot of families are bringing their kids to Richmond Public Schools for elementary school and leaving our system and a lot of times coming back for high school,” said Larson

Dr. Bedden admitted change cannot happen overnight, but said looking at the numbers is the start of a conversation.

“I would not jump to conclusions,” he said. “If someone left who is under performing, you’re goal is to replace them with someone who’s better performing. If we lost someone who’s performing well and it’s an issue of the culture and climate, clearly we need to find out what that issue is and get it addressed so that we can keep our most talented and effective teachers.”

Are you a Central Virginia parent, teacher or student? Click here to email us your opinion of the state of our middle schools. We may include your comments in a future newscasts.

45 comments

  • Romaine Cheney

    This is sad. Teachers need the help. There’s questions about a homecoming parade for Russell Wilson and the other Seahawks players?? I have a vote where this money could go instead!!

  • Becky

    The Richmond Mayor is the CEO overseeing the Executive Management of the City.
    The CAO, reports directly to the Mayor, and is directly responsible for
    the day-to-day municipal operations of the city agencies and departments.
    WHY and HOW is it conceivable that these Executives ceremoniously
    get to skirt their obligations for Management and scapegoat every conceivable issue, scandal, dysfunction, and failure? Their Motto, MO/SOP is:
    “I know Nothing about Nothing in the Government, I manage. Even If
    I did, I would REFUSE to reply to those I SERVE.”
    “Blame the School Board, past and present; the Administrators past and present, and Blame the Superintendents past and present.”
    Don’t bother ME and Thee.
    Building “My Legacy of Sports for Me and My Friends & Financiers.

  • BO

    The”children” are the problem,knew a teacher that was poisoned assaulted and threatened by parents that quit because quote”it is’nt worth my life”.

  • malcolm

    the media is really asking this question?we all know what the problem is and has been for years in the city and now in the county.Its the disrespectful,lack of parenting thugs and you all know it.Its just seen as racists to say it.Our president,the naacp,the mayor keeps sweeping this under the rug but trust me it will not get better until someone changes their attitude and ways.

    • Former RPS Elementary Teacher

      Of course this is the problem! All the money in the world can’t fix what is wrong in our schools. You forgot to add horrible racist administration to your list.

  • Paula Kennedy

    There are some great teachers out there but we also have many that do not care about the students, their education, or helping them to reach their full potential. I have seen both sides and it is very frustrating as a parent to have your child try his hardest and all you hear is “we are underpaid, to many children in the classroom, parents do not discipline the children, kids are out of control.” I have an answer for the kids that mess up, boot their butts out of school and allow the children who want to learn have a chance. I am sick of being told that a bully will “outgrow” his meanness. Really? I have respect for teachers but I have seen some of their social media comments, watched them on their cell phones during class, and have seen and heard the way they speak to children. Always 2 sides to a coin.

    • SubtoTeachtoSub

      I’ve seen both sides. The teachers can’t teach discipline in the classroom if the kids have no reinforcement of same at home. I had a child in my classroom and a family member. From the way the child (whose family member had much pity on because of her “family situation”) spoke to her, I wanted to walk over and slap her and then put both of them out. You can not blame the teachers. I’d wanted to teach since I was 5 years old, but after last year, I decided that I’d rather leave the country and go to some poor, underprivileged, third-world country to teach than stay here and be frustrated by kids who just don’t care.

      No respect. Don’t blame the teachers. They didn’t come into the system that way. No one wants to be looked down upon as a slacker. When they start out, they’re (we’re) bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but with the constant beat-down, we lose hope, and thus, fade away.

  • Cindy

    Wow. Kids are kids- everywhere. I’ve taught in inner city schools and county schools.
    The bottom line is- schools can’t be run like a business. Data is at the forefront of the education movement, making us “prove” we are performing. Students aren’t data. They are all unique- they are kids- with varying circumstances. Data is difficult to gather without succumbing to a standardized testing mentality- which fails to promote creative problem solving. Children can take a standardized test, but are they learning anything?
    It’s making many of of us loose faith that anyone is listening. The worst factor is that most of the teachers really do keep the child in the forefront of education, but we are being beaten down.
    More students, more testing, less “real” life-long learning. Sad really. We can’t raise our own families or finance their collage degree. Who will be teaching in the future? What’s that minimum wage going up to?

    • unidentified

      Yes, I totally agree!! Data, Data, Data. Forget the fact they are not learning anything, make sure the data is on point. Oh and don’t for get to ‘make’ it right if you need to.

  • K

    The problem is not teachers or the schools themselves. It is also not race – though some commenters will always want to accept (or assert) that over simplified explanation for school failure. The problem is poverty and these schools are not going to do better for their students or staff until the concentrated poverty in the areas that feed into the schools is addressed. A school is a reflection of the community it serves – it does not create the problems of that community nor can it be expected to single handedly solve them.

  • unidentified

    I do think parents play a significant part in the schooling of their children,That being said, the moral of the teachers is gone and understandingly so. The teachers responsibilities are greater than just teaching and the demands are overwhelming while the pay is minimal. You get burned out. Also money is obviously mismanaged therefore programs that could be beneficial are not in place. The whole school system needs to be reconstructed. The new superintendent needs to clean up and start fresh. You will never have a fresh clean start with real improvements as long as you have the same staff who covered and continue to cover up RPS’s downfall. Is there a way I can actually talk with the superintendent?

  • Tony

    Y’all haven’t seen nothing yet, take a walk through George Wythe High School…it’s a TRUE mess and it’s not a learning environment, it’s a jungle!!! There is no learning going on whatsoever and the students run the entire school! It’s sad and scary and I will never have my child in a school environment like that. A lot of cleaning up needs to be done, but no one has been able to take on the challenge of doing so.

  • Ralph Mills

    The kids are not taught respect in their own homes. They come to school with the attitude of “you can not tell me what to do”. I’ve been in RVA middle schools and witnessed students screaming at the top of their lungs at the teachers and principals. A student at Thomas Jefferson assaulted a teacher. The police where called. Before the police arrived the principal took the kid out of school and drove him home in his own car. The teacher wanted to press charges then was “advised” to just let it go by administration. These are not isolated events. The high schools have what are called “walkers”. These are kids that are disruptive in the class room. They do not want to be there so they are allowed to walk the hall ways all day just so they want start trouble. This is the environment the teachers work in in RVA. I’ve seen parents scream at teachers and administrators very much akin to what you see on Jerry Springer. I’ve seen principals try to physically block police from entering the school to handle a student assaulting a teacher only to back down when advised he’d be arrested for obstruction. The admins care more about covering up the problems in an effort to look good vs dealing with the problems. That puts the teachers at risk. This is why they are quiting!
    Pay attention the next time you see a RVA bus drop off high schoolers in the afternoon. Hardley any of the kids have any books with them when they go home. You can’t make them want to learn. That comes from proper up bringing at home!

  • MAT

    Very sad situation that continues to be ignored, I believe education starts at home and it includes teaching respect. This world of ‘not MY kid’, and sense of entitlement that so many people pass on to their children is unraveling society. Fell sorry for my children, and those to come next, it will just keep getting worse.

  • Robo

    Ok the problems are clear. Some students that do not want to or can not learn. Parents that have a hard enough time being a human being let alone a parent.
    What are the solutions?
    Not sure, very complex.

  • Common Sense

    Teachers are frustrated in Henrico & Hanover counties as well at the overwhelming expectations. I heard someone mention the other day that administrators get paid higher salaries due to their added responsbilities. Well, teachers in our area have had responsiblities added over the last five years, but not the increase in pay. Some teachers actually make less money today than they did in 2008. Teachers are leaving due increased workloads and not enough pay. Class sizes are much bigger than counties reveal. Most class sizes are 24 or higher, yet most counties will say class sizes are under 20. The twisting of facts and figures are finally catching up to these school systems and the kids are paying for it.

    • unidentified

      you can not blame the President or democrats for a failing school system. This school system has always had issues, even when Bush was in office. So lets me realistic. smh

    • SS

      My pay was frozen and I have not had a raise in 6 years. I am making less now than I did 2 years ago. That all started to come about during the recession….which is totally on Bush. However, this is not a dem. or rep. issue. Everyone has kids in schools, it is a bipartisan issue. I just wish all politicians would get their heads out of the sand and HELP ME so I can help the children!!!

  • Ms. Kiv

    What makes them an animal and they are just as human as you are. Stop the ignorance and spend a day in their shoes. King of the jungle.

  • A Richmond City Elementary School Teacher

    This is not just a middle-school problem. Elementary school teachers are bullied, demeaned, and treated with little respect as well. We are blamed for all of the problems with the students, even though we can’t fix behavior problems, lack of parent support, lack of drive to succeed, parental incarceration, violence, and POVERTY!! The city does nothing to retain experienced teachers, or to support new teachers. It is literally a sink or swim situation. And, as a 16 year teacher in Richmond City, I have seen plenty of people sink. I have also seen a plethora of talent walk out the door to teach in other school systems. RICHMOND CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS IS BROKEN, AND THEY WILL NOT ADDRESS THE REAL ISSUES TO FIX THE PROBLEMS!!

  • A teacher in RPS

    I truly hope CBS 6 continues to dig into this story. There is so much going on underneath the surface of RPS. Teachers are afraid to speak out because of repercussions. Things are horrible in most schools. The true stories would horrify the public.

  • Current RPS Elementary teacher

    I cant wait to leave. I am an award winning educator. I am treated with utter disrespect by my administration. JUST TODAY, I went to my principal, asked for advice and support and was told, “you gotta stop talking about the problem and fix it. get that data UP UP UP”… I told her I didnt know what to do and was asking for help and she said “Just do it.” Um, thanks for the help? THIS IS WHY WE QUIT.
    I work in a very very low income area, I have supposedly the “rough of the rough” but guesss what? I dont have issue with children. I love them, they love me, I take the time to care about them and let them know. They learn from me, they are behind from years of teachers who didnt take care of them and do their job. But I cant do it alone. I cant. I love the kids but I ABSOLUTELY must leave because of the administration being so unsupportive, unqualified and ridiculous.

  • Oak Grove Teacher

    Oak Grove Elementary in RPS has lost 9% of its teachers since September. The principal demands so much but provides no tangible support.

  • Chesterfield teacher

    Teaching in Chesterfield county is just as frustrating as the teachers are seeing in RPS. Administation is very unsupportive, with unachievable expectations of the teachers. We are held accountable for behavior of children rather than the parents and because of this little teaching can be done; as well as the curriculum strictly teaches to the test and limits the learning opportunities for students. At my school alone, around 20 teachers left before the school year even started. I think CBS 6 should continue to look into this problem, as our children’s education is being greatly affected.

  • RVA Teacher

    We are afraid for our voices to be heard. We would be axed and jobless if we revealed the horror stories that happen on a daily basis. The people in charge are earning nearly six figures (or higher) and have brushed the problems aside. As long as things are going the way they have been for years, they can continue to quietly rake in the big bucks while our children and communities suffer (but ultimately at the tax payers expense)!

    Wake up citizens of Richmond. Hold these people accountable for improving our schools or get them removed from their positions!

  • teacher

    Yes, Chesterfield is just as bad. The demands put upon teachers is ridiculous. Disruptive students have to stay in the classroom, and be…disruptive. Administrators are in their office “looking at the data” but demanding teachers build those relationships with the kids. class sizes of 40 in science and history makes it difficult to build relationships. Next year, students will be provided with chrome books…they can’t even remember a pencil or notebook to class and we are asking them to bring a charged chromebook. And yes, teachers are not going to speak up, because we need our jobs, to pay our bills and buy school supplies for our own children. I love the students, I love to teach, but I abhor the additional duties that do nothing to improve the status of the students.

  • Concerned Advocate

    As an advocate for our kids in Richmond Public Schools and a graduate of an RPS School, I believe there are many challenges the school system face.Everything is so political and who suffers at the end of the day are the kids. It starts from the top and comes on down through the system. THE HIDDEN AND PERSONAL AGENDAS. The taxpayers money is not focused on saving our underprivileged kids, it is focused on revitalization of the city.The newly built jail facility is being built as these students are steadily not receiving the support they need to be productive citizens and the administrators and teachers are underpaid and definitely not receiving the support they need.There are many good administrators and teachers in our schools who really care about our kids and these are the ones day in and day out who make the personal choices and efforts to stay in the system because of the well-being of our kids and they love what they do.They go the extra mile.These kids are not dumb or stupid, they are very smart and can tell who the REAL TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATORS are who care about them. Some of these kids have just as much book sense as street sense.Just because a teacher has a degree in education does not mean they are the appropriate fit in every school. You can talk all day about disciplining the kids but what about the administrators who have their own agendas? To make themselves look better. How does a child miss 70+ days of school. Where is the accountability? One day we are focused on the drop out rate of RPS while the next the students are constantly being expelled from the schools or have faced expulsion. What some administrators and teachers fail to realize is everyone has a life story and all these kids life story may not be not be a crystal stair. Do you really think all of these kids are the way they are because want to be? They are a product of their environment just like we are products of our environments but that does not mean they do not want better, They just need the help and the consistent and constant help as they face the daily challenges in their lives.School zones are changed and you have the majority of our at-risk students at certain schools all together. Set up for failure! The kids act the way they do because it is a learned behavior from home unfortunately. Regardless of your level or position in the City of Richmond, let’s realize this is our future and “It takes a village to raise a child”. You can not make decisions sitting behind your desk. You have to get out and not just visit the schools but also the communities knocking on doors. Let’s not talk about, let’s be about it! Our kids don’t always want to see the police in negative situations in their neighborhoods. They love to see positive faces of those giving back to the community and those who care about them. Let’s support our teachers and administrators who care and love what they do and help save our kids. You will feel a great sense of gratification! Lastly, let’s look at the system at The Alternative School which is set up for our kids to be failures automatically who are placed there. TOTALLY PATHETIC!

    • Keep this Dialogue Going

      The whole street smart commentary is code for “thug.” RPS needs for its kids to simply be smart, or willing to conform to basic standards. Since when is performance based on teachers being cheerleaders. Yes…teachers should be supportive, but some things are simply intrinsic..like..say..having a desire to learn. There is little room to blame the school system for what PARENTS AND COMMUNITIES should be doing. Stop disallowing black kids the opportunity to take personal responsibility by rendering them helpless. Make them work for it, or watch them falter!!

  • Nancy

    Let’s address the elephant in the room. Teachers who quit mid-year out of frustration have been driven to the edge by a lack of discipline and support from administration in that discipline. Parents raise the children before middle school…teachers do their best but it is hard to “fix” 10-14 years of unruly behavior with no consequences.

  • SubtoTeachtoSub

    I just saw an ee card on Facebook which was rather timely: “Maybe if we overpaid our teachers and underpaid our Pop stars, there would be better education and less bad music.” Value

  • Keep this Dialogue Going

    To fully address the bevy of issues noted in this forum would take forever. To be clear, Richmond City Schools is inundated with problems because the communities that it serves are problem-ridden. I get so sick of citizens suggesting that the educators in RPS are inferior. Please believe me when I say that there are great teachers in this school system. What we do not have in great supply are visionaries. We want to continue doing the same old stuff and expect different results. Understand that the biggest problems in RPS are based on extreme discipline problems, lack of parental/community support, disconnects between home and school, and FUNDAMENTAL APATHY AND LACK OF BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE on the part of students.

    RPS students and families often feel entitled. This is a school system where there is little buy in. Parents do not pay for school lunch, don’t pay fees, and expect the school to provide everything from filler paper and pencils. Students are often unmotivated and parents want teachers to do it all, but that does not include trying to instill values or attempting to discipline. Many of the students in RPS are grossly deficient, mostly because little of substance takes place in their homes. This is not intended to be a judgment, it is instead an observation. I would estimate that in any RPS middle or high school, half of the student population reads several grade levels below their assigned grade. The outside world criticizes our standardized test results, but when an eighth grader reads on a fourth grade level, what kind of results do you expect. This is VERY common.

    In terms of advancement, there are too many principals and assistant principals who are yes men and women, or who garnered their positions through nepotism. Richmond does not give its most intelligent, spirited employees opportunities for advancement. There seems to a fear of truly intelligent candidates. I guess the people at the top want to ensure that building level leaders are no intellectual competition for them. They also want to make them so indebted to them that they will follow blindly directives that do nothing to progress the cause of change.

    RPS would rather have a serial killer in the classroom than admit true numbers on violence and disruptions in the school. How do we address this? We pay for a security audit. Why??? Everyone knows that the schools are unsafe. Everyone knows that things need to change. Richmond needs a serious alternative education program that will remove disruptive, at-risk students. These kids should then get the highest quality education in the area, best technology and teachers that are top notch and well compensated. Then let teachers and administrators do their best work for the many great RPS students who are truly deficient, and fully willing to make the strides to change their futures. Until this school system admits that the asylum is being run by the patients, little will ever change, and RPS will crumble.

    • current rps elementary employee

      “In terms of advancement…” I never read anything more true in my life than what I read in that paragraph. I was passed up for a leadership position because I speak my mind and am not afraid to say no if it doesn’t help children. (Well, that and I’m not in a sorority)
      The person they gave the job to is a sheep who will say yes to everything and doesn’t want to burn bridges. I’ll burn all the bridges if it helps kids but here I am ready to walk out.

      • Teacher

        What it boils down to is that it is a partnership between all interested parties and it is unfair to place the burden on any one party, in this case the teachers. How can teachers or administrators do their part when they are unable to find a working number or voicemail that takes messages? How can the administration provide students with the world class education that is available in RPS if they fear reprisals for issuing consequences for behaviors that violate school policy? What message does it send to students when their parents come to the school and yell at school personnel because their child got suspended or some other consequence (can’t attend prom, can’t play sports, etc)? Everyone’s priority should be the education of the children that pass through the doors of a school but this wil be hard to do unless all parties work together.

    • Former RPS Teacher

      @ Keep this Dialogue Going…. Your comment about there being great teachers in Richmond was very true. Heck, everything you said about (too many of our) students and their families is true too. But what was most profound was your entire third paragraph. There is a fear of new ideas! Visionaries seem to be intimidating for many of Richmond’s leaders. I must say though, I have confidence in this new school board, and I am optimistic about our new superintendent. And YES, we MUST keep the dialogue happening in order for change to occur. (-Former MLK teacher)

  • KDD

    I have been a teacher in Richmond for 20 plus years. It is normal for students to drop the F word, or call the girls Bit…. The cussing in the classroom is unbelievable. All I can say is for YOU, the public, to come to Armstrong and see for yourself. Get a visitors pass and stay awhile.

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