New Hampshire teachers are quitting due to pay, politics, safety

A New Hampshire legislative committee found teachers are quitting their jobs due to pay, politics, and safety. Getty images, Maskot.

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By Katy Savage

December 6, 2023

Heidi Crumrine has taught English at Concord High School for over two decades. She’s clearly pretty good at her job: In 2018, she was named the New Hampshire teacher of the year.

Working in public education, of course, comes with its challenges. This past summer, Crumrine met with New Hampshire lawmakers to share her perspective on why the state’s schools, like others across the U.S., are having trouble filling classrooms with quality educators.

“Teachers are professionals, but they are also human,” Crumrine told the committee in June, according to a recently released report. “There comes a breaking point for them.”

In the wake of a national teaching shortage, a legislative committee found New Hampshire teachers are leaving their jobs in part due to lack of pay, lack of respect, and increased political rhetoric.

“Classroom teachers are feeling and reporting stress and concerns for consequence as a result of legislation proposed and passed in our state house,” the Nov. 30 report said. “Teachers leaving the profession most often cite the climate and culture as the biggest factor in their departure from education and NH altogether.”

The committee, led by Sen. Ruth Ward, R-Stoddard, began studying the issue in March, taking testimony from teachers, deans of colleges, superintendents, principals, and state leaders. The committee found teachers felt pressure in their jobs and were concerned about personal safety.

Crumrine told lawmakers that heightened political rhetoric has caused challenges, with teachers being called names like “groomers” and “indoctrinators.”

She said that she’s received threatening emails, and two colleagues, including a 29-year-old teacher, left the profession after being publicly shamed on Facebook.

“Why is it always on the backs of teachers to solve problems?” Crumrine asked the committee.

Patrick Keefe, the president of the Litchfield Education Association, echoed Crumrine’s statements, saying Moms for Liberty, a conservative political group that advocates against school curricula mentioning LGBTQ rights, race, ethnicity, and critical race theory, put a bounty on teachers.

“Detrimental comments and opinions are discouraging teachers,” he said.

Teachers in the report also referenced a 2021 state law, called “divisive concepts,” which prohibits school staff and public employees from advocating that a person of one race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or other protected class is superior or inferior to another. Educators may not teach that one group is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive under the law. They may not argue that one group should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment; and should not treat members of other identified groups equally.

The vague language of the law has created a culture of fear among teachers.

“Teachers have really felt a chill to their speech and have expressed concern over a lack of guidance in how that legislation impacts the classroom,” Nicole Heimarck, the executive director Reaching Higher, a left-leaning New Hampshire think tank, said in an interview.

The legislative committee report, however, claims the law has no impact on teachers.

“The law does not restrict or prohibit discussing, as part of a larger course of academic instruction, the historical existence of ideas and subjects,” the report said.

The legislative committee recommended offering teachers more instruction on how to address controversial topics while abiding by the law.

The committee’s findings mirror a spring 2023 study from Reaching Higher, which said nearly half of educators (49%) were leaving because of school climate, while 54% said they were leaving the profession because of salary.

Teacher pay in New Hampshire is the lowest of all New England states, except Maine, according to data from the New England Education Association. Starting salary for a teacher in New Hampshire is $40,478—lower than average cost of living in the state, which is $56,727.

“Many beginning teachers are unable to take jobs due to this housing shortage and the overall cost to live in New Hampshire,” the report said.

There were also concerns about equity, with wealthier towns in the state able to attract more teachers and offer them more money than rural areas.

The committee laid out several recommendations in the report, including utilizing state and federal resources for mental health support for teachers. Legislators suggested increasing teacher pay and establishing a teaching mentoring program—a topic that’s been considered in the Legislature under Sen. Bill 218.

If signed into law, Bill 218 would require school districts to provide a mentorship program for educators who are in their first three years of education, in their first year of working in a new school district or within the first year of employment in a new role.

“It was very clear that New Hampshire’s classroom teachers were the group of educators that were feeling the tension and the stress of the direction public education is headed here in New Hampshire,” Heimarck said. “They feel undervalued—that they’re not valued for their expertise and expert understanding of child development and what kids need to be successful.”

 

Author

  • Katy Savage

    Katy Savage is an award-winning reporter with more than 10 years of experience working in daily, weekly and digital news organizations as both an editor and reporter. Katy is a New England native and has a passion for telling stories about where she grew up.

CATEGORIES: EDUCATION | POLITICS

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