I’ve been asked often why teachers are fleeing the classroom and while I can’t speak for all teachers, many of our reasons appear to be universal.
Teachers are leaving the classroom for a multitude of reasons. Prior to the pandemic, the system was already very much broken, but teachers were able to hold all the pieces together, often at the expense of their own families, their own mental health, and their own personal lives. Teaching was martyrdom for the greater societal good. In some ways, teachers understood this.
Teaching was martyrdom for the greater societal good. In some ways, teachers understood this.
The pandemic forced teachers to continuously pivot. Teachers were asked to be super flexible but also rigorous (as expected by the districts, parents, administrators, and the fed/state government because: standardized testing). They were supposed to be restorative but also hold kids accountable. They were supposed to accommodate all situations but also set strict boundaries and consequences. They were supposed to be understanding but not “too” understanding.
And, as they accommodated and as they pivoted and as they bent over backwards to be great virtual, hybrid, and in-person teachers amid the pandemic, they received virtually no accommodations or empathy or support. They were held to even higher standards. They were supposed to fix everything, while they themselves were struggling with their own kids and with their own mental health.
Then, on top of it all, parents and politicians began a crusade against public schools and teachers. Teachers were called lazy. “If they are scared to die, they should step out of the way and let others teach,” said many parents.
So, the system broke further. Piece by piece. With every abusive word. With every extra meeting. With every new expectation. The trust between teachers and administrators, teachers and parents, and teachers and the system fractured. Instead of receiving support, teachers received abuse. The martyrdom was finally no longer worth it.
Finally, teachers witnessed a cultural shift in the workplace. The availability of remote, accessible, and flexible work and higher salaries in corporate America became more attractive. Flexible schedules + higher salaries — the stress of teaching (e.g., unrealistic expectations, toxic work environments, verbally abusive parents, and administrators who believe every teacher is replaceable) = why would teachers stay?
Teachers are either burned out, have lost faith in the system, are disillusioned with their leadership, are sick of the constant pandering to parents and politicians, or all of it combined. Teachers are no longer willing to heal a system beyond repair at their own expense. They are done, and it’s universal. They are expected to fix the ills of society, but when they aren’t treated like the experts and professionals they are and when they aren’t paid as much as others with the same education (if not less), they no longer see any reason to stay. The highs of teaching are no longer worth the many lows.
What is the solution? I don’t know. A cultural and societal shift. Admin needs to respect their teachers. Parents need to stop abusing the people who take literal bullets for their children (oh yeah, forgot to mention school shootings, yet another reason teachers are leaving). This country needs to treat teachers like the educated professionals they are. And pay them. Pay them what financial advisors make. Pay them what nurses make. Pay them what they would make in corporate. Support them, and treat them with kindness. Or else schools will close due to lack of teachers and staff, and many will never reopen.