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Why Teachers Quit

A male teacher sits at his classroom desk and rubs his eyes in fatigueSchool districts across the country are increasing efforts to retain and find new teachers in the face of a growing teacher shortage. Driving this trend in part are teachers retiring early due to burnout and low pay. This shift focuses attention on the importance of educator care and support.

A recent National Education Association (NEA) survey concentrated on why teachers quit. The survey found that 55% of educators consider leaving the profession earlier than planned. What’s more, it’s not all end-of-career retirements, as the percentage holds for educators regardless of their age or years in education.

NEA President Becky Pringle called the situation “a five-alarm crisis. If we’re serious about getting every child the support they need to thrive, our elected leaders across the nation need to address this crisis now."

Reasons Why Teachers Quit

The survey of NEA members provided insight into why teachers leave the profession. Teacher burnout ranked the highest, with 67% of respondents saying burnout is a “very serious” issue and 90% calling it “very serious” or “somewhat serious.” The stressors leading to burnout come from many directions, including unfilled job openings resulting in more work for remaining staff members.

Educators also cited general stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, including frequent student absences. Other reasons included low pay, student behavioral issues, lack of respect from parents and the public and insufficient planning or unstructured time.

The numbers reflect findings from other recent surveys, some at the state level. For example, a study of teachers in Texas, the second largest state, found that 77% seriously considered leaving teaching before the start of the 2022-2023 school year. Among those teachers, 93% have already prepared their resumes or conducted job interviews within the past year.

What Can School Officials Do to Help?

Teachers themselves offer insight into what it will take to reverse the trend. In the NEA survey, educators listed steps school officials could take to help:

  • Pay higher salaries
  • Provide additional mental support for students
  • Hire more teachers
  • Hire more support staff
  • Require less paperwork

A teacher survey from the EdWeek Research Center also reveals suggestions to retain teachers. In the survey, teachers suggested school officials could provide “mental health days,” start teacher mentorship programs and incorporate more teacher input when developing new initiatives.

How Can Elected Leaders Deal With This Crisis?

The pandemic accelerated trends among teachers that existed before the era of lockdowns, mask mandates and distance learning. Chief among them are low salaries, something elected officials at the state and local levels can address.

Teacher pay typically comes from federal, state and local sources. But in most cases, local school boards negotiate the contracts. For teachers, there hasn’t been much movement in years. The Learning Policy Institute reports that stagnant teacher salaries have led to a 19% weekly wage gap between teachers and other college-educated professionals.

The institute wrote that various standardized tests put in place by elected officials (typically at the state level) have led to excessive paperwork and “test-based accountability” that has driven many from the profession. This is another ongoing issue that elected officials can address.

What Teachers Can Do

To a certain extent, teachers also can take matters into their own hands. They can practice self-care to avoid teacher burnout, including setting clearly defined work-life boundaries. They also can take professional development courses to expand their skills and make them better in the classroom and well-positioned to earn the best teaching positions.

Fresno Pacific University has developed popular online professional development courses for educators. The course Teacher Efficacy helps educators become more effective. Part of the Fresno Pacific University Student Engagement Certificate, the program teaches research-based strategies for the comprehensive management of K-12 classrooms. It also can help teachers cope with one of the most prominent issues listed in the NEA survey as a reason for quitting: student behavior.

The Teacher Efficacy course covers the organization of time, physical space, curriculum, instruction and assessment. Teachers learn how to create a classroom that promotes effective, engaged learning and student academic achievement. Topics include strategies to increase on-task behavior, decrease misbehavior, minimize classroom disruption, support prosocial behavior and increase academic success.