Teaching Profession Opinion

Why Teachers Say They Leave the Classroom—And Why They Stay

There’s not one right career path for teachers. Here are some of their stories
By Mary Hendrie — April 03, 2023 4 min read
Illustration of teachers walking in all directions and into an open door symbolizing new opportunities.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

As schools across the country face staffing shortages, several current and former educators have come forward to share what made them stay in the profession—or what made them leave.

The recent essay “I Quit Teaching for Ed Tech. Here’s How It Turned Out” is one nuanced exploration of that decision. When teacher Amma Ababio left the classroom for a career in ed tech, she was eager to escape the weighty expectations of students, parents, and administrators, but conflicted about what she was leaving behind. “I’m happy to sing the praises of what I do,” she writes of her career change, “but let’s have an honest conversation here: Leaving the classroom isn’t a total solution.” Her story struck a chord with readers, nearly 200 of whom have chimed in on Facebook to discuss their own career choices.

Last summer, former elementary school teacher Paul Veracka shared his own emotional story of what drove him out of the profession and into freelance writing: “It was these three major education forces—too much standardized testing, too much punitive discipline, and too little funding—that pushed me to leaving the profession, a profession I excelled in and even loved.” His account clearly resonated with readers, sparking a flood of support on social media and even an invitation to appear on cable news. (He declined.)

And it’s not just full-time teachers weighing career changes. Tracking the eagerness to help staunch teacher shortages that spurred her to sign up as a substitute teacher to the disillusionment that made her leave the classroom, Alanah Nichole Davis shared her view of the emotional complexities of filling in when a teacher is on leave. The hardest part for her? Bearing the brunt of colleagues’ short fuses when she was still adjusting to the position. “Even smaller and more subtle actions can have an effect on morale, especially for those acclimating to a new position,” she reminds readers. “Like the tone of an email. Or the way we remind someone of a task due. It’s often not what we say but how we say it that matters.”

Changing careers can be an emotionally fraught decision for anyone, and when it contributes to other workforce trends, it can also have significant implications for efforts to diversify the overwhelmingly white teaching corps. Bettina L. Love recently addressed teacher retention from this angle, specifically calling administrators to task for recruiting Black teachers without offering the support they need to stay in the job.

That’s a familiar concern for New Jersey social studies teacher Rann Miller, who documents in the essay “Why Black Teachers Stay” how the persistent challenges teachers face are compounded for Black teachers. In his experience, Black teachers are expected to take on additional disciplinary responsibilities while serving as the resident race experts for their white colleagues. Reflecting on what kept him and other Black teachers in the classroom despite these demands, Miller wrote, “I stay because a Black teacher poured into me. Therefore, it is my turn to pour into someone that they might one day pour into another.”

Overtaxed teachers aren’t alone in eyeing the door. Spare a thought for your administrators, as well. In “‘I Was Ready to Walk Away’: The Silent Scream of School Leaders,” middle school assistant principal NaTasha Woody-Wideman lays out the stressors weighing on her fellow school leaders. “How do we manage whole schools and then return home to be parents, caregivers, spouses, partners who are emotionally safe and whole people?” she asks. “These questions go unanswered for the vast majority of school leaders.”

So, what can keep educators in our schools?

One oft-touted solution to teacher shortages—higher salaries—is a good place to start but not the entire solution, argue teacher prep. professors Katherine Norris and Kathryn Wiley. In an essay last month, they reflect on whether the $60,000 national base salary for teachers proposed in the American Teacher Act could ameliorate the concerns they hear from past, present, and prospective teachers. It’s a question that has consequences not only for teacher retention, but also for teacher recruitment as an anecdote they shared illustrates: “A recent high school graduate told us of they were interested in going into teaching but foresaw having to get a second job and generally ‘struggling for the first five to 10 years.’ ”

It may take large-scale policy changes to make teaching careers more attractive and sustainable but, in the meantime, some educators are finding personal ways to reignite their passion for teaching. Going into this school year, Maryland teacher Domonique Dickson shared her 3-point plan for “How I’m Putting the Joy Back in Teaching This Year,” while Georgia teacher Violet T. Adams explained that “Summer School Reminded Me Why I Love Teaching.”

Do these stories capture your own experience? We’d love to hear your own journey into or away from the teaching profession!

Related Tags:


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Teachers’ Careers Go Through Phases. They Need Support in Each
Teachers experience a dip in job satisfaction a few years into their careers.
5 min read
Vector illustration of a female teacher at her desk with her head in her hands. There are papers, stacked notebooks, and a pen on the desk and a very light photo of a blurred school hallway with bustling students walking by in the background.
Teaching Profession Download Downloadable: 5 Ways Principals Can Help With Teacher Burnout
This downloadable gives school leaders and teachers various ways to spot and treat teacher burnout.
1 min read
Silhouette of a woman with an icon of battery with low charge and icons such as a scribble line, dollar sign and lightning bolt floating around the blue background.
Teaching Profession Massages, Mammograms, and Dental Care: How One School Saves Teachers' Time
This Atlanta school offers unique onsite benefits to teachers to help them reduce stress.
3 min read
Employees learn more about health and wellness options during a mini benefits fair put on by The Lovett School in Atlanta on May 8, 2024.
Employees at the Lovett School in Atlanta meet with health benefits representatives during a mini benefits fair on May 8, 2024.
Erin Sintos for Education Week
Teaching Profession Opinion How Two Teachers Helped Me Weave a Dream
A journalist and debut book author dedicates her novel to two of her high school English teachers.
Anne Shaw Heinrich
3 min read
Image of nurturing the craft of writing.
Francis Sheehan for Education Week with N. Kurbatova / iStock / Getty