“Does anyone else cry after work?”
“Why don’t admin just get lost and let us teach?”
“To quit or not to quit (it’s always the question).”
These queries, recently posted on a popular Reddit page for teachers, might be a barometer for the well-being of the teaching profession these days. The subreddit, called r/teachers, has nearly 390,000 subscribers, many of whom are teachers who anonymously commiserate with one another about misbehaving students, demanding parents, and frustrating administrators.
While teacher communities are a staple on nearly all social media sites, the anonymity of Reddit allows educators to be especially candid and vulnerable. And, while the userbase is not representative of the teacher workforce as a whole, many of the subreddit’s users say they’ve noticed an uptick in posts about how emotionally draining teaching is and a growing desire to quit.
While the forum can run the risk of devolving into a reinforcing loop of negativity, it is a vital source of support for many educators. And experts say it can be a way for school leaders and policymakers to see the inner thoughts of an embattled and beleaguered workforce—and perhaps adjust policies accordingly to better recruit and retain teachers.
The subreddit might serve as a “canary in the coal mine” for understanding the state of the teaching profession, said Amy Stornaiuolo, an associate professor in the literacy, culture, and international education division at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.
Reddit posts, Stornaiuolo acknowledged, “can be dismissed pretty easily as, ‘Those teachers are just complaining,’ or, ‘This is just a place for venting, but we shouldn’t take it seriously.’” But she argues that the forum should instead be used as “a bit of a litmus test for how teachers are doing.”
“Their full social-emotional needs are not being met; they’re asked to do more with less,” she said. "[We can] use this as a window to what it looks like when those pressures are just increasing and increasing and increasing.”
A study unveiled this month found that the status of the teaching profession is at its lowest in five decades—teachers’ job satisfaction is the lowest its been in recent memory, public perception has soured, and fewer young people are interested in teaching as a career. The pandemic and recent political pressures have exacerbated the perennial challenges of the job, including low wages, a hefty workload, and high levels of accountability.
“Teaching can feel very isolating, especially in the current moment in which their professionalism is called into question,” Stornaiuolo said. The posts on Reddit, she said, reflect a mentality of: “The kids are not all right; I am not all right; something is happening here.”
Reddit is like an online teachers’ lounge
In many ways, the teacher subreddit serves as an online teachers’ lounge. Educators from across the country and even the world, who teach every grade level and subject area, ask for advice, share small victories, and discuss the general state of the profession.
Some of the posts are positive stories about a classroom win or a heartwarming student interaction. But these posts can feel few and far between amid posts about classroom management challenges, concerns about a lack of professional autonomy, and other workplace gripes. Posts mulling resignation also perpetually rise to the top of the subreddit.
One of the moderators of the subreddit, a former music teacher who asked to remain anonymous because he has received death threats on Reddit, said he’s been moderating the forum for five years. While there’s always been a good amount of venting, he said he noticed a shift in the past couple years as teachers became even more frustrated with their low salaries and growing workloads.
Therapy's expensive; internet connection's cheap.
The subreddit was designed to be “an open forum for teachers to talk and get things off their chest and try to work things out,” the moderator said. “The problem is, as things seem to be more and more bleak for teachers, the tone of the posts seems to be heading—not darker, but definitely angrier.”
And, while the subreddit has long been prone to attacks from trolls (or disgruntled students), the rhetoric of those attacks have shifted in the past seven months or so, the moderator said. These days, the unpaid team of moderators is deleting near-daily posts calling teachers “child molesters” or “groomers"—pejoratives weaponized by some conservative pundits and politicians during debates about whether classroom discussions and materials related to sexuality and LGBTQ identity should be allowed in schools.
“That stuff bleeds into the sub, and then we have to fight that,” the moderator said.
The subreddit can be a place for support
Reddit users have said the forum has helped them get through the hardest schooldays. Christine Greenhow, a professor in educational psychology and educational technology at Michigan State University, reviewed some of the subreddit posts at Education Week’s request and said she noticed a feeling of solidarity and support among posters.
While many of the posts on the subreddit are asking for tips from other teachers, some users wrote that they didn’t necessarily want any advice—they mainly wanted to vent, Greenhow said.
“These are places to give voice to your anxiety and for other people to say, ‘I understand. Let me tell you how it’s played out in my school or my classroom. You’re not alone,’” she said. “This seemed to be a place where I could go and talk about what’s going on and get other people’s thoughts. That can be very comforting—it can be a source of solidarity.”
And when teachers have a greater feeling of solidarity, they’re at less risk for leaving the profession, Greenhow said. Surveys have indicated that a sizable number of teachers say they plan to quit in the next year or so, although it remains to be seen how many actually will.
One high school career and technical teacher in Texas, who requested anonymity for fear of his name being linked to his Reddit account, said the anonymity of the forum has allowed him a safe space to vent among like-minded people, which has helped him handle the stresses of teaching.
“It’s been my catharsis,” he said. “Most people just don’t get it. This profession is something you don’t really understand unless you’re really in it. ... The only way you can get it out is with people who are in the same boat as you.”
He quipped: “Therapy’s expensive; internet connection’s cheap.”
School leaders and policymakers could monitor the subreddit to take the pulse of the teacher workforce, Stornaiuolo said: “There’s something very powerful about seeing many, many people saying the same things.”
Still, she warned that teachers spending too much time steeped in the negativity of the forum could perpetuate and deepen their frustrations.
“I think people need a space in order to be able to share the full range of emotions, but when it’s predominately negative, that can also be reinforcing a feeling of hopelessness,” she said. “It is a bit of a fine line: It is through collective story-sharing that one can be inspired to action, that something can change. It can be a catalyst, but it can also be a spiral.”
And the tenor of the posts on the forum don’t necessarily represent teachers’ full selves, the Texas teacher said.
“You’ve got to read it with a grain of salt—we’re coming there for therapy, to get it out, and some are needing to rant in the moment because we are who we are, and we all have an altruistic bent,” he said. “We never really flip the switch to not being a teacher. It’s on our minds 24/7. We wake up in the middle of the night thinking about how to be better for our kids. ... Just [getting] it out in a safe space is an extreme need.”
A version of this article appeared in the November 30, 2022 edition of Education Week as ‘Does Anyone Else Cry After Work?': Teacher Reddit Is a Peek Into a Workforce in Crisis