DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — It is National Teacher Appreciation Week, but the spotlight is focused on keeping educators in the classroom during a nationwide shortage of teachers.

This comes as state lawmakers are looking at increasing the starting salary to $40,000.

Over 9,000 teachers exited the profession in 2021, the highest since 2015’s exit of 10,000 teachers, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

Felicia Muhammad left the classroom last year.

“There were not enough reasons to make me stay,” Muhammad said. “As much as I love the kids, I needed to prioritize myself, and with the lack of pay, lack of respect and also safety concerns, I had to focus on myself.”

She said she loves education, and the decision to walk away was not easy after three years of teaching in the Cleveland area, but the amount of recent gun violence in schools did not help.

“There’s acts of violence in the workplace,” Muhammad said. “Teachers who unfortunately pass away. It’s just another number, and there really hasn’t been any action with all of the voices, all the strikes, all of the issues when it comes to things like that.”

The most alarming stat for Ohio is over 54,000 people who have a teaching license not working in Ohio public schools.

Shay’Lynn Hespeth, who is in her fourth year teaching at Dayton Early College Academy, said she believes having more mentors and community involvement will help lift the burden off teachers’ shoulders when it comes to caring for children.

“It’s all about giving space for kids, which in turn give space to adults because then we can have them be compartmentalized or around other people that aren’t just us, or aren’t just their parents,” Hespeth said. “It’s all about the experience you’ll have in a village to help raise you and teach you.”

Hespeth enjoys what she does but said she does not hold it against anyone who has walked away from the profession.

“I don’t think anyone should hold themselves guilty for that or anything. This is a really hard job right now. I think you have to really want to do it right now, or it’s going to be really hard.”