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'It takes its toll:' Former Billings teachers detail why they left profession

Thank you teachers
Posted at 4:41 PM, Aug 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-23 18:41:16-04

BILLINGS — Monday was a strange one for Kate McAuliffe Miller. It was the first time in 25 years she didn’t have first day of school jitters.

"My body woke up early, like my normal morning routine, and I thought, 'What am I doing?'" Miller said. "So I went back to sleep, and it was very nice."

McAuliffe Miller has traded teaching for learning. After leaving Billings School District 2 in June, she is now a student at the Montana Beauty Institute. She says her decision to switch careers was clear by the middle of last school year.

"The last couple of years have taken their toll," she said. "More disrespect to adults from a handful of kids in each of our classes. It just takes the joy out of it."

But it was also the stress of showing up to work knowing you’d be doing more than you signed up for.

"Most mornings you’d get to work and there would be an email from the secretary saying, ‘This many teachers are out today and we don’t have subs,’" she said. "We need to have them covered. We can't just put a body in there to have a person watching them - they need to be learning. So it got tough on you.”

Kate McAuliffe Miller
Kate McAuliffe Miller left School District 2 after 25 years of teaching after she said the profession had changed dramatically, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There’s certainly a point when you want to be recognized for some of your additional work," added Josh Keller.

Keller left teaching behind after almost a decade with SD2. He’s now a financial planner, specializing in helping school districts because he wants to be part of this solution.

"Beyond teachers, they’re looking for custodians. They're looking for counselors. They're looking for additional administrators. They're looking for coaches. They're looking for bus drivers," Keller said. "So really, it’s an education shortage, and that puts a lot more stress on teachers because they’re being asked to take on additional roles."

Josh Keller
Josh Keller left School District 2 in 2022 after nine years because of high levels of stress he said the job was giving him.

Many say the answer is twofold: one, districts need to sell the job better.

"At the end, I made a good salary," McAuliffe Miller said. "But it took me 25 years to get there. We need to be advertising more of the benefits you get for the longer you’re in."

But none of it will matter unless the community as a whole buys in.

"If they find youth development important," Keller said, "they’re going to make that a priority and find ways to build up resources around those kids."

It takes a village to raise a child, but what happens when there’s no village?

Related: School districts forced to get creative to combat Montana teacher shortage