AUGUSTA — Krystin Gilbert’s passion for teaching was instilled in her by the teachers she had growing up. 

“I had one math teacher and a resource teacher,” she said. “They were always there for me and encouraged me to do my best. I wanted to do the same for kids who had difficulties, like me.” 

Penny Bishop is a professor and dean of the college of education and human development at the University of Maine. Photo by David A. Seaver

She graduated from the University of Maine at Farmington in 2019 and was instantly hired in the Augusta area as a kindergarten teacher. In her first-year teaching job, she was met with a group of 23 rambunctious 5-year-olds, and later, the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Two years later, Gilbert has moved from teaching kindergarten to 2nd grade and was met with the same group of rambunctious students she had prior. She was tasked with having to calm down 23 students, catch them up from lost pandemic learning time all while teaching and staying in line with the district’s curriculum. 

After two years in the profession she grew up dreaming about, Gilbert never expected she would be so quick to want an out. 

“I was debating for a few months until I put my notice in,” she said. “I spoke with my dad, and he said, ‘I can tell you are not enjoying it.’” 


Gilbert’s situation is one example of an issue happening nationwide and across the state — people with the ability to teach are not using their degrees for several reasons. But according to Penny Bishop, professor and dean of the college of education and human development at the University of Maine, the pandemic created a “perfect storm” for a problem that was already there. 

And besides people leaving the profession, there have also been several retirements in central Maine school districts within the past year and many unfilled positions lasting weeks, or months at a time. 

“There are a number of pressing issues, non-pandemic related, but to layer on top of that the challenges they have faced since the pandemic, it’s the perfect storm,” Bishop said. 

According to Gilbert, her main issue besides the behavior of students, was the lack of pay for what her job had become — she not only had to teach students curriculum but had to discipline students and adapt to those who were behind because of the pandemic.  

“The behaviors were not there last year,” she said. “… I was expected to tame them and it’s difficult. Once a student gets going, it makes the whole class go at it.” 

Like Gilbert, Jessica Whirley left the profession, not out of the behavior of students, but rather because she was living paycheck to paycheck and lost the drive she once had with the job. 


Whirley has a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education for infants and toddlers and worked at a preschool in Lewiston up until a year into the pandemic. She had once left the profession before for similar reasons having to do with money but came back to teaching because of her love for it. 

Once the pandemic hit also came a new house, a broken furnace and she was at a point where she was unable to be at a place where she felt financially stable. 

“It was hard to leave teaching, like anything, when you find something you love,” she said. “But at the end of the day, I had to look at my bills. I had just purchased a home, then the furnace went and a couple of other things — I couldn’t live paycheck to paycheck.” 

Bishop said the teacher pipeline issue is more complicated than having a lack of educators in the profession and said while data does not support the idea that teachers are leaving due to the pandemic, it hasn’t helped the situation.  

Bishop spoke on the pay points and the pandemic and post-pandemic conditions people are beginning to teach in, like Gilbert’s point. 

“That gets to the conditions we create for educators,” she said. “It’s a wonderful and noble profession and there is nothing like it — it enables every other profession, but society doesn’t value it as important as other professions.” 


Bishop shared that even before the pandemic, nationwide, teacher enrollment programs were down 30%. She said it’s not as much of an issue in Maine or New England, but the issue has become “more pervasive” from the pandemic. 

Enrollment data provided by the University of Maine System shows students are still enrolling as education majors, even after the start of the pandemic. In fall 2020, there were 375 first-year students enrolled as an education major and in fall 2021, the number stayed steady at 377 first-year students. The numbers are slightly down from fall 2019, the year before the pandemic, where there were 404 first-year students enrolled in education.  

There is no data for the number of first-year education majors for fall 2022 and though the numbers are consistent, there is no guarantee the majors will teach in Maine after graduation. 

According to data from the Maine Department of Education, between 2013 and 2022, the number of teachers in Kennebec County only rose 3.72% and statewide, the number of teachers between that time rose 3.44%, putting the number of public-school teachers in the state at 14,874. Not part of the data, though, is the number of people across the state with teaching degrees. 

Initiatives to keep teachers in the profession have included federally mandating the minimum salary a teacher can receive in Maine, regardless of where they are in the state, at $40,000 if they have a bachelor’s degree. Teachers are paid according to “steps” and by their degree — master’s degrees are paid more. 

Out of 12,202 classroom teachers across the state, the Department of Education’s data has the average classroom teacher salary in Maine at $57,977. But if that classroom teacher worked in the Augusta Public Schools, it would take them 21 years, or 12 steps, to get to the average pay statewide. 


The University of Maine System has tried to combat the issue in several ways to create flexible pathways for becoming a teacher, similar to state initiatives revolving around the pay teachers receive. 

The 4+1 Program through the University of Maine System has helped students accelerate their studies to earn their master’s degree in a five-year span, and through the college working closely with school departments, some programs have started to allow student teachers to be paid for their time spent working since most internships are not paid, despite working full-time. 

By paying teachers for their time student teaching, it not only gives them a salary, but can help diversify the profession — nontraditional students with families, or students with inability to go through a traditional four-year program, might not have the same ability to work for free. 

“They are still learning to teach, but it really flips the narrative with teaching and interning and creates a more equable pathway,” Bishop said. 

As for Gilbert and Whirley, they have both found new professions where they feel they can be financially stable, but also, have peace of mind. Whirley is a lone partner in the “mortgage world” and Gilbert is an art teacher and works part-time in retail. 

Gilbert worries if the problem is not fixed — and the problem meaning, the attraction to teaching, there might be consequences for classrooms in the future. 

“If there are not enough teachers out there if things are not going to change, classrooms are going to be overpopulated and it’s going to have a huge impact on the kids,” Gilbert said. “I feel like if our pay and expectations don’t change, teachers are not going to come back.” 

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