Baltimore County schools

More than 700 Baltimore County teachers have decided to retire or resign this year, about 100 more than two years ago. (Baltimore Sun file photo)

After 22 years of teaching in Baltimore County, JoAnne Field says she will be leaving her third-grade classroom this year. She loves the children, has a principal she believes is "wonderful and supportive" and is committed to public education.

But because of the rapid changes to the county's curriculum for elementary schools, she doesn't feel she has been as successful with her class this year as she should have been.

"If I do what ... the county is now expecting me to do, I can't look at my children in the eyes. I know I am not giving them what they need," said Field.

The Essex Elementary School teacher is one of the more than 700 Baltimore County teachers who have decided to retire or resign this year, about 100 more than two years ago. It is the only school system in the Baltimore area that is reporting a substantial rise in the number of teachers leaving.

In Baltimore County, they are leaving for different reasons, some because they are past the retirement age of 65, others because they are moving to another profession. But some like Field have decided to leave because of the rapid reforms including a new curriculum and evaluation system.

The increase in teachers leaving in Baltimore County is due to resignations. Two years ago, 325 teachers resigned in Baltimore County; that has risen to 418 this spring. Retirements have remained at about 300 the past two years.

Traditionally, teachers make a decision to retire or resign by July 15 of each year, so there are expected to be more departures in the next several weeks. The numbers so far represent less than 10 percent of Baltimore County's teachers.

John Mayo, the school system's chief human resources officer, said about 20 percent of the 18,000 employees are eligible for retirement. A 2012 change in retirement benefits that will be phased in over the next several years could also be contributing to the number of retirements, according to school officials. Those who retire earlier will pay a lower percentage of the cost of their health care afterward.

Teachers around the state faced an array of changes this year, including new teacher evaluations and a new curriculum to match the Common Core standards. In Baltimore County, the flawed rollout of the new curriculum upset elementary school teachers, who filed a grievance.

Cheryl Bost, vice president of the Maryland State Education Association, said her union has heard more complaints about the Common Core implementation from teachers in Baltimore County than from elsewhere around the state. She said she's heard some are resigning over frustration with the many changes.

"People in Baltimore County have been very vocal about that lack of support ... so much changing at one time," she said.

Across the region, only a small percentage of teachers are leaving. In most counties, resignations and retirements have fluctuated over the past several years but are down this year.

In Anne Arundel County, resignations have fallen from 631 last year to fewer than 300 this year; retirements are down by about 80 teachers so far. In Harford and Howard counties, resignations and retirements decreased slightly from last year. In Carroll County, 70 fewer teachers are leaving.

Baltimore school officials said about 15 more teachers will be departing than last year.

Teachers leave the profession for many reasons. Geri Hastings, 66, the social studies department chair at Catonsville High, has been in the classroom for well over 30 years and has decided that she wants to take care of her grandchildren and travel, so she's laying down her chalk. She said she isn't leaving because of curriculum changes.

"My husband said if I didn't retire, he was going to find another woman to travel with," said Hastings, joking. Her husband's job as a flight attendant enables the couple to fly for free, a perk she said she hasn't been able to take advantage of in her busy life as a teacher.

Catonsville High is also losing Graham Long, 29, who has taught social studies for six years. He said he's signing his students' yearbooks a bit wistfully, knowing that this will be his last year in the classroom. But he is looking forward to his new education policy position at the Maryland State Department of Education, where he will work on the High School Assessment for government.

"There is definitely a sense of workload fatigue," he said, adding that the new teacher evaluation system is requiring teachers to spend a lot of time gathering data from student work to measure gains made in achievement. "Collecting all the student data and doing all that analysis has put a burden on the teachers."

Baltimore County teacher salaries are lower than those in the city and some nearby counties, a fact that some officials believe could be contributing to the resignations. The school system hired 566 new teachers last year and will be hiring at least that many to begin the next school year.

Field said several teachers are leaving her school.