Laura Sahaida knew teaching kindergarten at a low-performing elementary school in the city would be a tough job — but not like this. Just six days after she started at Ashland Elementary this school year, she decided to resign.
She was leaving each day feeling defeated. She had no teacher’s aide. She couldn’t control her classroom of 21 kindergartners, most of whom had not attended preschool.
“I had lessons planned for teaching them the routines and procedures. But I couldn’t get the class to sit still for five minutes,” said Sahaida, who previously had worked in the Kirkwood and Ladue school districts.
More than 50 teachers have resigned from St. Louis Public Schools in the past 10 weeks, putting the district in the difficult position of looking for replacements when there aren’t many applicants.
Half of those resignations came after the first day of school, according to the district. They are reflective of the high number of new hires in the 72-school city system and the challenges new teachers face when teaching in a city classroom for the first time.
The district employed about 1,900 teachers in June. Teacher departures this school year are about 25 to 30 percent higher than in recent years, district figures show.
Since last spring, the district has sent recruiters as far as Michigan and Mississippi in search of talented educators who could elevate the level of instruction in the struggling city school system. They have had to replace 207 teachers who accepted an early retirement package the district offered last spring to save money. An additional 187 teachers, principals and other staff resigned at the end of the year, most to take jobs at charter schools or districts in surrounding counties.
Sahaida’s experience is typical of new hires in urban classrooms, where a greater percentage of children live in poverty and come to school with health, family and other issues on a larger level than in more affluent suburban districts. Teachers often aren’t ready for it.
“This is a pattern we see in all urban districts,” said Carole Basile, dean of the College of Education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The university is working to do a better job of training teachers for these experiences.
Based on historical data, a quarter of teachers in St. Louis Public Schools leave after the first year in its schools. In charter schools, the percentage is greater—30 percent, according to the most recent annual report by the city teachers’ pension system.