Tanya Kuhnee is thinking hard about her future.
The West Mesa High School English teacher loves education but worries about the working conditions, particularly the amount of standardized testing.
“To be completely honest, I have in the past couple of years questioned my career choice,” said Kuhnee, who has been a teacher for a decade and is a vice president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation. “That is hard for me, because I always wanted to be a teacher. I feel like it is what I was meant to do. I also have to take care of myself.”
Other New Mexico educators also are considering their options, judging by a recent study on the national teacher shortage from the Learning Policy Institute.
The nonpartisan San Francisco-area think tank found that New Mexico has the second-highest rate of teacher “churn” in the country.
From the 2011-12 to the 2012-13 academic years, 23.2 percent of the state’s educators left their schools or the line of work – nine points above the national average. Only Arizona fared worse, at 23.6 percent.
On the other end of the spectrum, Rhode Island’s rate was 7.4 percent.
Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein said she isn’t surprised by New Mexico’s poor showing.
Like Kuhnee, Bernstein blames the high turnover on policies like testing, evaluations and school grades.
“I listen every day to teachers who talk about why they cannot do this anymore,” Bernstein said. “I listen every day to teachers who say, ‘I love to teach, but I hate my job.’”
State Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera said the root of the problem is “placing and matching teachers” to the right jobs.
“We definitely have work to do there, but we have a plan and a pathway,” she said.
Overall, the LPI study – “A Coming Crisis in Teaching?: Teacher Supply, Demand and Shortages in the U.S.” – paints a mixed picture for New Mexico’s teachers.
The Land of Enchantment fares well on diversity, but badly on school camaraderie and perceived job security. Teacher salaries are also low compared with those in other states, but are considered highly competitive relative to pay for other jobs in the state.
On the negative side, New Mexico ranked sixth for “testing-related job insecurity” behind Indiana, Florida, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Louisiana. Twenty percent of New Mexico teachers “strongly agree” that test scores could negatively affect their employment.