Walnut Ridge, like many schools, struggling to find new teachers

Walnut Ridge, like many schools, struggling to find new teachers

WALNUT RIDGE, Ark. (KAIT) - More teachers are leaving the classroom, according to a study by the RAND Corporation.

The national study shows, out of 1,000 educators surveyed, one-quarter of respondents say they plan on leaving the profession before the end of the school year.

The study also revealed nearly half of public school teachers who have stopped teaching after March 2020 say stress caused by COVID-19 forced them out.

Arkansas is one of 40 states already dealing with a statewide teacher shortage in multiple subjects.

Walnut Ridge Superintendent Terry Belcher says they’re not seeing as many applications as they have in recent years, as teachers continue to adapt to the challenges COVID-19 presents.

“There were many changes,” Debbie Blalock, Resource Paraprofessional at Walnut Ridge Elementary School, said.

Blalock and Jean Baltz have both worked at the Walnut Ridge School District for over two decades each.

“Things were a lot different now than when we first started,” Baltz, who is also a Resource Paraprofessional, said.

Things are especially different right now. With the addition of virtual learning and COVID protocols, many teachers are retiring or just leaving the profession altogether.

The trend is something Superintendent Terry Belcher has noticed.

“Last year, we had [fewer] applicants than we had in the past,” Belcher said. “Many times we had 10-12 [applications] here, like an elementary job, and last year, we did not.”

Belcher says despite the lack of applications, they’ve been fortunate to fill any openings.

As fall approaches with many teachers going out and fewer coming in, Belcher says he doesn’t know what the next few months will look like.

“I’m anxious to see this year,” Belcher said. “We’ve got a couple of people retiring... Most districts manage to come through and get a replacement.”

Blalock and Baltz make up two of the retirees. They say COVID-19 isn’t the reason they’re retiring, rather they want to spend more time with their family.

Their message to new teachers battling COVID-related stress is simple.

“It’s gonna pass,” Blalock said. “I don’t know that it’ll ever be the way it was, but I think we’re going to have a new normal and it may be a better normal.”

With the lack of applications, Supt. Belcher says it’s just part of the process sometimes and that the district will continue to handle whatever situation is placed in front of them.

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