More Lafayette Parish teachers leaving the classroom early

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Edgar Martin Middle School Teachers Jennifer Guillory, left, and Abby Breaux are part of a group of Lafayette Parish teachers who organized a Facebook page for teachers to share solutions to issues they face in the classroom.
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Edgar Martin Middle School Teachers Jennifer Guillory, left, and Abby Breaux are part of a group of Lafayette Parish teachers who organized a Facebook page for teachers to share solutions to issues they face in the classroom.

The school year hasn’t ended yet, but more Lafayette Parish school system teachers are leaving the classroom early based on the number of resignations and retirements logged through mid-March.

In the first six months of the school year, at least 130 Lafayette Parish school system teachers resigned, with the majority citing relocation, transfers, jobs outside of teaching or teaching conditions as the reasons for their departure.

The figure is nearly four times the number who resigned during the same time frame last year. Last year, by February, only 36 teachers had resigned, said Bruce Leininger, the district’s human resources director.

In addition, 69 teachers as of March 19 had either retired or submitted retirement papers for exits effective through June — and more are expected before the school year ends, Leinger said. Last year, a total of 60 teachers retired, while in 2010-11 that number was 61.

There are about 2,600 teachers in the Lafayette Parish school system, according to school officials.

Abby Breaux, an Edgar Martin Middle School teacher, said her recent decision to retire from a profession she loves wasn’t an easy one to make.

“This is my 25th year … and I didn’t think I could do five more,” Breaux said. “I’m getting physically ill. I have migraines. I love my kids. I love my job. This is all I know. This is my life. I’m giving it all up because I can’t keep doing it.”

For the past few weeks, Breaux and three of her colleagues have spoken out publicly about discipline issues teachers face in the classroom and the effect repeat “offenders” returning to the classroom have on instruction.

The four teachers — Breaux, Linda Rhoads, Jennifer Guillory and retired educator Andrea Thibodeaux — created a Facebook page called “Teachers Standing for Solutions” to give other classroom teachers a forum to voice their opinions and recommend changes. The popularity of the page and their message took them by surprise, said Guillory, who teaches math to seventh-graders at Edgar Martin.

“Within the first week, we had close to 3,000 ‘likes,’ ” she said. “We’ve had to turn down speaking engagements.”

The social media outreach is designed to empower teachers, Guillory said.

“We don’t want it to be a whining wall,” Guillory said.

Thibodeaux said the page has been a forum for educators and parents to speak out on school issues.

“I’m seeing some common threads,” Thibodeaux said of the numerous comments posted to the page. “I’m seeing several teachers, of course, agreeing that discipline is a problem, that we need parental backup, that we need administrative backup, that the discipline matrix isn’t working.”

The Facebook page members also share information, such as stories about prefiled legislation and School Board issues.

Thibodeaux is no longer in the classroom. She said stress-related health issues, discipline concerns and educational reforms all played some role in her decision to retire in January at the age of 44 after 20 years in the classroom.

“It’s such a sad thing to me,” she said. “A lot of these teachers resigning and retiring really do love kids and want to work with kids. We really do love that part of it, it’s just everything else being thrown at us at once. It’s difficult.”

Breaux said the group was encouraged by Superintendent Pat Cooper’s response to frustrations she shared at the School Board’s March 6 meeting over student discipline.

Cooper said he’s met with principals twice since then to discuss the issues raised by the group.

He said principals indicated that discipline issues were being addressed on their campuses. Cooper said some issues, such as students returning to the classroom after a major discipline infraction, have been resolved.

“They should not have the trouble any more of (such) children coming back to the classroom,” Cooper said.

Cooper said he’s concerned about the number of teachers leaving the classroom. He attributed some departures to the advent of new state educational reforms related to a new curriculum, new standardized tests and a new evaluation model tied to pay increases and changes within the district.

“It’s a huge problem because we’re losing some good teachers before their prime,” Cooper said.

This school year was one of adjustment to the new reforms.

Cooper said the district is revamping its new teacher training to focus on classroom management and the way it offers professional development.

“Things are what they are and we’ve had time to get used to them,” Cooper said. “I think having a year of experience will help everybody.”

Consequences for students who create discipline issues and consistency in doling out those consequences would go a long way in relieving issues teachers face daily in the classroom, Breaux and Guillory said.

Students are also over-tested — as many as 33 standardized tests a year, Breaux and Rhoads told a group of legislators earlier this month during a meeting with School Board members.

“If we can see some changes, that’s what it’s all about,” Breaux said. “I want these young teachers to have change.”

Breaux said her wish is that creativity and discipline be restored in the classroom.

“I want school to be fun again,” Breaux said.

Breaux said the day that she filed her retirement papers, another teacher shared with her that Breaux had inspired her.

“She told me she’s going to go ahead and stick it out another year. It gave me chills,” Breaux said.

Guillory said some teachers may be disappointed or surprised by Breaux’s decision to retire.

“It’s not about fixing it for her or other teachers,” Guillory said. “It’s about fixing it for the students.”