Many teachers have packed up classrooms for the last time as schools break for summer, leaving a profession where stresses have multiplied as a national teacher shortage threatens to grow.
Some 300,000 public-school teachers and other staff left the field between February 2020 and May 2022, a nearly 3% drop in that workforce, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Worn down by the challenges of teaching through the past few years, more educators say they are considering doing the same: A National Education Association poll conducted this year found 55% of teachers said they would leave education sooner than planned, up from 37% last Aug.
Grappling with remote learning and shifting Covid-19 safety protocols was hard enough, teachers say. But as schools have filled back up with students, more stressors have emerged: staffing shortfalls, contentious masking-policy debates, political battles over what teachers can and can’t discuss or teach in the classroom.
May’s school shooting massacre in Uvalde, Texas, has also renewed worries about gun violence, some say. There were 249 shooting incidents at schools last year and at least 152 so far in 2022, according to a database at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security.
“I felt so helpless,” said 49-year-old Wendy Grider, who left her fourth-grade teaching job in Rocklin, Calif., this month. She watched parents over the past year take to social media to criticize teachers in her district for their homework assignments, she said. And there were several instances in her classroom, she said, in which a student hit a staff member or threatened her. One of the few things she left behind was a classroom mural she and a student teacher had made of butcher paper and twinkle lights bearing the words “Be Kind.”
“The reason I stayed in teaching was for the actual teaching, and for the kids, which is really what you think it should be all about,” said Ms. Grider, who isn’t sure what she will do next. “Unfortunately, it’s turned into a very small percentage of the job.”
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Such pressures are straining teachers already stretched thin by staff shortfalls, especially in science, math, special education and early childhood education, according to the US Education Department. Among public schools, 44% reported full- or part-time teaching vacancies at the start of the year, according to data released by the National Center for Education Statistics. More than half of the schools said those vacancies were due to resignations and had required them to rely more on nonteaching staff outside their regular duties.
School administrators say those shortages will get worse if many more educators resign, and some say they have had to curtail summer school programs. In Wisconsin, the Madison Metropolitan School District said it wouldn’t be able to provide summer school for 600 students who had enrolled, citing staffing challenges.
Ms. Grider and other teachers say school districts can help prevent more resignations. In a letter to her school board early this year, she outlined suggestions for making teachers feel more valued, including giving teachers more of their workday back for planning and collaborating, bringing class sizes down and giving more public recognition of the staff. Others say simply more pay would help keep and bring new teachers in.
Scott Henderson, 43, left his job as a ninth-grade social studies teacher in Herriman, Utah, midway through the school year. Mass chaos had become a routine scene in his classroom, he said, as some students struggled to readapt to in-person learning. On one occasion last fall, he stepped outside his classroom for a few minutes to speak to a parent who had come by unannounced; when he returned, several students were throwing tampons at the ceiling while another rifled through Mr. Henderson’s desk, he said.
“Seeing people’s kids able to make those connections on things they hadn’t been able to before, I miss it for sure,” said Mr. Henderson. He begins a master’s degree in instructional design in August, which he said he expects will be a much less stressful career.
A LOOK BACK
Teacher resignations in public and private schools have been a boon to hiring managers in other industries desperate for capable talent in a tight labor market. Classroom instructors are landing sales roles and jobs as instructional coaches, software engineers and behavioral-health technicians, according to LinkedIn data.
Daphne Gomez, a career coach who works with teachers trying to break into new occupations, said that, more recently, tech companies have been coming to her for help appealing to departing teachers.
“Some companies are flat out making landing pages that say, ‘Hey former teachers! This is a good fit,’” she said. “These are highly qualified people with master’s degrees. You can train them on sales.”
Some teachers say they worry about the effect their resignations will have on schools. Talia Elefant, a special ed math teacher in Elmhurst, Queens, said she has been looking forward to more travel, networking and simply boosting her mental and physical health since deciding to quit her job later this summer. She has also felt pangs of guilt about the colleagues she will leave behind.
When one teacher resigns, she said, the work piles up on those who stay. “Those people are overworked and they’re going to want to leave,” said Ms. Elefant, who taught a range of grades in private and public schools over the past seven years. “If we don’t solve this as a society, we’re going to have no teachers left.”
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