Roughly 55% of teachers are ready to make a career change — and that trend seems to only be increasing
Teaching. Is. Hard.
Any parent who has even spent an afternoon or two volunteering in the classroom can tell you how draining working with 20+ kids can be, and that is just after a couple of shifts. Doing it full-time is almost impossibly draining, as any teacher can tell you, and its only been more difficult navigating hybrid classrooms in the era of Covid. Teaching has become so stressful that according to a new study by the National Education Association (NEA), over half of current teachers are ready to call it quits for the sake of their mental, physical, and financial health.
NEA’s study found “an alarming 55% of educators now indicating that they are ready to leave the profession they love earlier than planned.” The percentage of teachers looking to leave their profession increased from August, when 37% of teachers who responded to the survey said they were looking for a career change.
The poll also found that Black teachers and Hispanic teachers were considering leaving education earlier than planned at a higher rate — 62% of Black teachers and 59% of Hispanic teachers reported considering leaving the profession, compared to the 55% overall rate. As for how long the teacher had been working, it didn’t seem to matter: rookie teachers, 30+ year educators, and everyone in between have been considering exiting teaching.
Regional polls and reporting echo the sentiment: teachers are burnt out, underpaid, and at their wit’s end
When looking at data, it’s easy to glaze over numbers and forget the actual humans that comprise said numbers. Looking at local reporting all over the country in addition to NEA’s alarming survey results makes ignoring the current teaching crisis impossible.
According to the Oklahoma Education Association, teachers are saying they’re experiencing the highest stress levels that their job has ever presented. On a scale from 1 to 10, over 70% of educators rated their stress levels at an 8, 9, or 10, with the average being just north of 8.
In early January 2022, the Chicago Teachers Union called for a walkout to halt in-person instruction after Chicago Public Schools (CPS) failed to deliver at-home testing kits to families and staff over the holidays as promised and Covid positivity rates climbed to a staggering 23% in the city. Parents were understandably frustrated, as they had about eight hours to make alternative accommodations for their kids.
Teachers in Florida have been at their wits’ ends since the start of the pandemic. Gretchen Robinson, a teacher at an Orlando public high school, told the Washington Post back in Oct. 2021 that she has been regularly buying masks for her students with her own money. The school she works at required masks, a direct defiance of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ state rule that deemed parents had the “sole discretion” of whether or not their child should wear a mask to school.
“Everybody is double- and triple-timing it. I am having stress dreams about work, about the 17 hours a day we are routinely putting in,” the educator of 20 years told the Post.
The California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) has reported a significant increase in teacher retirements since the beginning of the pandemic. The number of retirements (3,202) during the second half of 2020 increased by 26% over the same time period in 2019, aka pre-pandemic. Roughly 62% of these teachers said they retired earlier than initially planned, and 56% of them cited “challenges of teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic” as a reason for leaving the profession.
This is just smattering of reports concerning teachers’ mental health and professional capacity. Even in schools that seem to take Covid seriously, the stresses of hybrid learning, dealing with insolent anti-vax parents and caregivers, and the insulting level of pay have pushed teachers to their limits, often to new careers.
Lots of companies are eager to hire former teachers, offering much higher pay and “more autonomy” Industries hiring fed up teachers include IT services and consulting, software development, hospital staff, and X. And it makes sense. Teachers have to wear a billion hats and multitask — what industry wouldn’t want to hire someone who has already honed those skills in the fiery hell of a classroom?
The pandemic is also turning people away from wanting to become teachers in the first place
As if the dramatic rate of teachers calling it quits wasn’t enough, less people are interested in becoming teachers because of the pandemic. The profession had already seen a drop in interest before Covid-19, thanks to notoriously low pay and high levels of stress, along with the increasing rate of gun violence in schools. Combined with the complications presented by the pandemic, it’s easy to understand why even the most altruistic of potential educators are second-guessing their career choices.
A survey by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) found that 19% of undergrads and 11% of graduate-level teaching programs saw a drop in enrollment. Programs in rural communities, which already have a shortage of teachers and principals, have seen the steepest decline.
Even for those who do want to become teachers, the lack of interest in programs has forced some universities to shutter their childhood development and elementary education programs. Oklahoma City University stopped accepting applications to its Early Childhood Education program late in 2020. The University of South Florida made a similar move, closing its undergraduate-level College of Education program and only keeping a graduate program.
“Education programs have been at risk for a while, and COVID exacerbates the risk … It’s another cut in a death by a thousand cuts,” Francyne Huckaby, professor of curriculum studies at Texas Christian University and president of the Society of Professors of Education, told Inside HigherEd.
What can be done to keep our teachers
If nothing is done to retain teachers and encourage new generations to enter the field, it’s easy to see how things are going to shake out for public education in a pandemic-era world. Teachers will continue to be stretched past their limits and have to continue paying for classroom and safety materials out of pocket. More will call it quits. Children’s education, especially those in vulnerable populations, will suffer.
The most obvious answer is money. Teachers need more of it, period. The job is demanding as hell, and, if the well-being of teachers’ sanity isn’t enough to persuade those in power to give teachers the salaries and benefits they deserve, there are also studies showing that increased teacher salary also leads to higher test scores. A study conducted at the University of Akron in Ohio found that a “1% increase in teachers’ salaries in high poverty districts led to a 2.5% increase in the math proficiency rate of high school graduates.” In Ohio, the median teacher salary is $59,245; a 1% increase would only be an extra $600 a year per teacher, a drop in the bucket compared to what American cities tend to spend on things like policing.
So how can you help make sure your teachers are getting the assistance they need and help put a stop to the teacher shortage? Get involved in local politics. City and state-level politicians have worked with education advocates to do things like offer scholarships to prospective educators; make special home loans and affordable housing available to teachers in areas experiencing teacher shortages; and provide professional development and other forms of support. It’s a lot of work, but considering what the amount of work our teachers do for our kids, we owe it to them.