Teacher shortages are showing up in school districts everywhere with many school systems finding themselves in the unenviable position of having to hire individuals without teaching degrees just to fill vacancies.
But what has caused this record number of teachers to leave? Was the great resignation of the 2021-2022 school year just a fluke? And are teachers going to continue leaving in the middle of the school year?
Well, if you want to understand why so many teachers are thinking of quitting (and actually following through with it) we need to face some hard truths.
But before we dig into those, I want to share some good news.
If you’re an administrator, policy maker, or state leader, who genuinely wants to see qualified and effective teachers filling up schools again, there is hope!
It is possible, but it starts with listening carefully to what teachers are saying, understanding what is happening, and being willing to work together to create solutions.
And if you’re a teacher, you need to pinpoint exactly what’s causing you to question your career choice, so that you can be a conduit of change and fall back in love with teaching. In this episode, we are going to look at the most common reasons teachers are leaving in droves and what can be done at every level to change the outcome.
So if you’re ready, let’s do it!
Why So Many Teachers Are Thinking About Quitting
1. Lack of Respect
The first reason so many teachers are thinking of quitting boils down to one specific problem…lack of respect.
When I was growing up, teachers were highly regarded and respected. As a student, if you talked back to a teacher or were disrespectful, you got a one way ticket to the principal’s office no questions asked.
My parents and I have had many conversations about their experiences in school. My dad can vividly remember getting spanked at school only to go home and receive another spanking for his indiscretions. (But to be fair, my dad was quite the imaginative problem-solver.)
Yes, his problems were usually caused by lack of planning. And no example illustrates this better than the time he thought hopping on a train would be the perfect solution to his running late for school.
Spoiler alert: trains pick up speed and tend to go a lot faster than you think they will be at the point of your intended exit.
But I digress…
The point here is that over the last 3 or 4 generations, teachers have gone from being highly respected pillars in the community to scapegoats for every issue.
Teachers are blamed for low test scores. We are told we have no classroom management skills because parents want us to be the disciplinarians to their children in order for them to be their kids’ friends.
And yes, I will gladly admit that there are teachers who simply show up to get a paycheck, but most of us don’t. We chose this career path because we wanted to make a difference. Yet we are currently finding ourselves jaded, by-products of a broken system.
This is a serious problem.
2. Lack of Support
Everyone needs to be appreciated even if it is just a little bit! We all need to be supported, but when you feel as though all forms of support have been yanked out from under you, it can be utterly overwhelming.
New teachers are seeking out support from online friends and bloggers who can provide them with the information they need to make it because there is minimal, if any support, from other experienced teachers.
The truth is, there are so few experienced teachers still in public education that new teachers are looking to teachers with minimal experience as mentors. And this is difficult for both because it isn’t supposed to be this way.
Even in the best environments with the most caring administrators, there is a lack of support. Not because administration isn’t trying, but because they are faced with the burdensome task of…
- trying to find ANYONE to fill vacant teaching job positions,
- locating warm bodies to cover classrooms as sub shortages are at all-time highs, and
- putting out the daily “fires” of angry parents, student discipline issues, school drills, and safety plans.
And remember, these are the supportive ones.
In environments with school leaders who could care less about creating a supportive environment, they too are dealing with all of the above issues, but they have no intention of working toward a better outcome for staff.
I’ve had many discussions over the past year with teachers who have horrible principals and administrators. These individuals are solely looking out for themselves and could not care less about even the best teachers in their buildings.
From Parents and the Community
At the beginning of the pandemic when the world shut down, many parents and families were talking about how teachers were “rockstars” because they were seeing what teachers could accomplish through virtual learning. However, it wasn’t long until parents became frustrated with these same teachers because their children weren’t making progress.
Then once school opened back up some sent their kids back to school, some kept their kids home to continue with virtual learning, and others chose to homeschool their children.
Unfortunately for the first time since the pandemic began, we are beginning to see the negative impacts. There are record numbers of students who are well below grade level…especially those who were pulled from school to be homeschooled.
Now as a long-time homeschooler myself, I know how difficult the task is even for an experienced teacher. But there are so many parents who are blaming their child’s lack of learning on teachers who “didn’t do their job.”
This sentiment has extended to the community at large with those who don’t even have children jumping on the bandwagon with strong opinions about how teachers have failed our students. This goes beyond lack of support into actually rallying against the profession.
For many teachers who already put in 20-30 hours over and above their 40 hours a week, this feels like a slap in the face.
We are doing our very best to meet the needs of every student. We spend hours searching for the best curriculum and supplemental resources to support our students from the lowest to the highest while attempting to manage a classroom full of individual personalities. Then we are told we aren’t doing enough from every person with an account on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
That lack of support and excessive undermining has pushed even the best teachers into looking for a new career.
3. Toxic Work Environment
The third reason why so many teachers are thinking of quitting is because of toxic work environments.
In years gone by, toxic work culture wasn’t even a topic of conversation. Maybe it’s the fact that social media has made us aware of injustices in real time or maybe it’s the fact that the teaching profession has morphed into something before unseen.
But whatever the reason, toxic work culture is a big issue affecting public schools, private education, and even charter schools across the globe.
Former teachers and current teachers alike will tell you that consistently showing up in a toxic work environment is one of the most mentally and emotionally difficult parts of teaching. In fact, many of these former teachers will tell you THIS is the reason they left the profession in the first place.
I’ve personally had multiple conversations with teachers who’ve experienced everything from lack of support from administration, co-workers with no boundaries, to racism on a school-wide level.
And because of these consistent unacceptable interactions, a lot of teachers have experienced extreme negative impacts to their mental health.
Many are still dealing with pandemic-related stress and then they come to work every day to find themselves caught up in a culture of negativity and toxicity that is hard to escape. Sadly, this has even extended to support staff and many individuals in administration.
So between lack of support, lack of respect, and frequent job-related stress, teachers are taking their years of experience and transferable skills and making a permanent career change.
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4. Lack of Consistent Information
While this issue has been going on for some time, the pandemic shined a light on how big of a problem the lack of consistent information had become. Every single day, teachers wondered whether they would be teaching in person, online, or in some hybrid format.
Teachers were given no information, no training, and no tools, but they were expected to perform at top levels. This impossible expectation found many teachers in a state of stress and overwhelm that caused lasting negative impacts.
They couldn’t prepare appropriately because they didn’t know how they would be teaching the content.
And unfortunately, over two years after this global shift, teachers are still unsure what their specific job descriptions entail.
Where there used to be snow days with packets of content to complete at home, teachers are now expected to have elaborate “online” teaching experiences prepared for students. It doesn’t matter that teachers are unaware of when (or if) these days will be used.
We simply have to prepare as though we can see the future and know right where we might be in our scope and sequence to accommodate all of the unique needs of our students and all of the expectations of our admin.
This is extremely unsettling as an elementary school teacher, a middle school teacher, and even as a high school teacher. The morale of teachers is at an all time low right now and lack of information is doing nothing but exacerbating the problem.
5. Lack of Subs
As I’ve already mentioned, there are staff shortages everywhere, but as we are looking into why so many teachers are thinking of quitting, the lack of subs is a problem.
Teachers have to be out sometimes, whether it’s because they are sick themselves, have a sick child, or need to take a mental health day. Yet there are so few subs to go around that all of the classes cannot be covered.
So, many teachers have had their lunch breaks removed (or shortened) because the people who cover lunch room duties are being pulled to fill in for classroom teacher vacancies.
And this issue becomes even more obvious when we look at those intervention positions within a school. The students who qualify for additional support don’t always get the needed intervention because when those teachers are out, subs can’t be found.
6. Low Pay
If you are wondering why so many teachers are thinking of quitting, inadequate pay is always a topic of discussion.
Teachers have to use their own money to buy supplies for their classrooms, paper for copies, and more. What other profession requires their employees to buy their own office supplies?
Offering higher salaries is a start, but schools should have enough funding to guarantee that teachers aren’t having to use a large percentage of their own salary to buy supplies and learning resources for their students.
When I taught, I spent hundreds of dollars on extra paper so that I could make copies for my students. I brought in my own laser printer from home (that I bought with my own money) so that I could print meaningful and engaging lessons, and then I used my personal laminator so that I could make sure the resources I was printing would last.
This is unacceptable…especially when you look at the average teacher salary. Not only do we start at a lower starting pay than many other professions, we also have to buy many of our own supplies.
In fact, many teachers have to get a second job to provide the extra money they need just to live. With many teachers boasting graduate degrees and higher, the inadequate pay for an increasingly difficult job has pushed many to hand in their resignation letters.
7. Unrealistic Expectations
Most teachers will admit that they need a better work-life balance, but the problem is that, as teachers, we are expected to be available to parents and administration 24/7.
This has caused teacher burnout on a massive scale and most teachers are at their breaking point.
Then there’s the issue of accelerated learning, or the idea that we need to “make up” for all of the content that young people missed during the pandemic and aftermath. Teachers are being asked to speed up teaching and cover more material than ever before.
The problem here becomes glaringly obvious when you realize that teachers weren’t able to cover all of the information in the previous years when we didn’t have large percentages of students who were behind.
Yet now we’re being asked to move even more quickly, and those students who are in desperate need of help are getting further and further behind.
As soon as a student has to miss class for a week or more due to sickness, they are behind and teachers can’t go back and cover the information because they don’t have enough time in the day to restart the same lesson they just taught last week.
And there is no support for this change in teaching to the accelerated learning approach.
Many teachers have finally said enough is enough and have started attending to their own health and emotional needs. This personal life work has revealed to enough teachers that this isn’t what they want for their future…and that’s why we’re in this mess.
So what can be done? Is the education system doomed?
Well, if you are still reading then I think you believe there is hope. I know I certainly do. But it isn’t going to be a quick fix.
How to Change the Outcome for Teachers
If you want to know why teachers are thinking of quitting, it is important to understand that we didn’t get here because of one small issue. We are at this point because of the failure of state leaders to listen to what teachers, who are in the trenches DAILY, are trying to say.
Maybe you’re a teacher who has…
- been nodding your head with everything I’ve mentioned
- experienced firsthand many of the issues I have discussed
- struggled for a long time with whether or not to leave the classroom
There is hope, but it will require you to take a reflective look at yourself and determine if you’ve already “given up” on teaching. If you haven’t and you simply want to learn to love your job again, start here.
On the other hand, if you’ve decided you want to leave, but you can’t seem to actually do it, there may be some things you need to address.
But you have to ask the hard questions and be willing to honestly answer those questions.
As an administrator or school leader, there are three specific things you can do that will have a huge positive impact on the wonderful teachers you already have in your school, district, or state.
Talk Directly With Teachers
Be willing to ask hard questions and actually listen to what teachers have to say.
Sure, some may just have an ax to grind, but you would be surprised at how many have legitimate concerns and interesting ideas that would be a huge benefit to the public school system at large.
While lawmakers and individuals in positions of authority have insight into the theoretical “goings on” in classrooms, teachers have the actual hands-on experience and can give insight into real time happenings.
As teachers, we want our students to be successful! Therefore, it stands to reason that we also want our schools to be successful.
So why not start with asking teachers why so many teachers are thinking of quitting? They have the first-hand knowledge you are seeking.
As I already mentioned in the first point, talking with teachers is essential, but also keeping your finger on the pulse of what peer-reviewed journals, surveys, and even polls from social media are indicating is imperative.
Now, I am all about brevity when it comes to social media, but there will be trends and signs if you’re willing to look for them.
If you have been on any social media platform since the pandemic, this resulting teacher shortage is not really a surprise. In fact, you could see it building for MONTHS.
I know there are many people out there who get really brave when they are writing from behind a screen, but the truth is many teachers just want to be able to teach their students. We are trained to know how to help students and we literally just want to do our jobs.
Staying informed would allow you to see that most teachers are not leaving because of students…in actuality, the students are the only reason many have stayed as long as they have. We want the freedom to do what we have been trained to do.
Staying informed also means spending time looking at articles directly related to issues at hand. I found a couple of fascinating articles that were very eye-opening.
- The Condition of Education 2022 from The National Center for Education Statistics. There is also a webpage that breaks down the most important information from this lengthy article into an “at a glance” style.
- A National Education Association poll and survey revealed that the national teacher shortage and massive staff shortages are leading to educator burnout and an alarming number of educators are planning to leave the profession.
Allow the Information to Inform Your Decisions
Part of active listening is taking the new information you have synthesized and applying it.
You can spend all the time in the world asking why so many teachers are thinking of quitting and listening to teachers provide feedback and offer solutions.
But unless you’re willing to allow that information to inform your decisions moving forward, the time was wasted.
If you genuinely want to be a conduit of change, you need to…
- allow those who are trained in education (and actually work in the classroom) to tell you where there are gaps and problems
- verify that the areas mentioned are indeed areas of need
- create policy change that reflects what is best for students and teachers
Whether you are at the lowest level of school staff or the highest level of administrative power, your experience is important and what you have to share is valid. Your voice needs to be heard!
By now, I hope you have discovered the root cause of why so many teachers are thinking of quitting. But I hope you have also found encouragement that change is possible.
Change isn’t easy and it certainly doesn’t happen when we continue doing the same thing we have always done. Tony Robbins said it best, “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”