It’s a principal’s worst nightmare, but it’s becoming the norm this year right before school starts. A teacher says, “Actually, I’m not coming back” days before kids arrive. Experts predicted this trend earlier this summer. But the last-minute nature of many of the resignations, early retirements, and leaves of absence have left some districts scrambling for in-person and virtual teachers with just days left til in person or virtual classrooms open. Beyond the fear of contracting COVID, here are just some of the reasons teachers are quitting before school starts.
Concerns that it will “never be the same”
Some teachers have decided to exit because they think education just won’t be the same anymore. A principal in Arvada, CO had a teacher in this position who chose to retire after 29 years. “He will be in-person teaching, but because of numbers and lack of teachers he’ll be teaching a split [of 4th and 5th graders] with 32 kids,” she said. “Less than ideal.” She adds that he also worried about having to go remote again at some point.
Another administrator said he lost his auto shop teacher two weeks before school started. “He was very concerned about how to teach his program virtually,” he said. “I’m still looking for a replacement…I think fear of being able to adapt to online teaching has something to do with it.” While the auto shop teacher isn’t alone, the teaching community remains split in their preferences. Many feel torn between teaching in person with significant changes or teaching virtually with different challenging circumstances.
Choosing family over career
For other teachers, especially those whose districts didn’t offer them a virtual option, the decision is a heart-breaking no-brainer. Choosing between your health and your family’s over your career shouldn’t be a concern, but it’s the reality for many teachers.
One principal says she had one teacher resign unexpectedly, citing concern for the health of her family. Another requested leave but will resign if it isn’t approved. Yet another will resign as her husband’s health is immunocompromised and she doesn’t want to endanger him. She has still another who took FMLA because her father is in hospice. The teacher has to quarantine for two weeks prior to seeing him every time and doesn’t want to risk not being with him as he passes.
In addition, the principal had eight teacher aides retire or resign. Principals around the country grasp for any help they can get as they struggle to repurpose support staff, combine classes, and think outside the box to solve staffing issues.
Some teachers are the sole caregiver for immunocompromised relatives and have been waiting for their districts to finalize the available options. This left their careers in limbo and major life decisions up in the air as districts solidified plans. A Washington D.C. teacher with an immunocompromised daughter took the wait-and-see approach. “As [the start of school] got closer and closer to the school year and nothing about the pandemic had improved in our country, I just didn’t feel comfortable going back.” She said she would have preferred to wait even longer to quit but was getting pressured to allow enough time to find a replacement.
Miscommunications and delays in planning
Some teachers tried to express their intentions as early as possible, but the slow process for approval, and communication issues within districts, have prevented them from planning very far ahead. Lisa W. quit her current position in Orlando, FL just last week at an alternative school for girls. She was the only math teacher for grades 7-12.
“They wanted us back [on Aug. 21st] but my husband has a chronic kidney disease and we don’t feel safe putting our 3-year-old back in preschool yet so we don’t have childcare,” she said. The issue was in the timing. Her district said she could stay remote until the end of September, but didn’t tell her until in time. “I was told before that that if I didn’t show up…that would be my resignation, so I had been looking for online teaching jobs for a couple of weeks. I may have stayed had I known the accommodation a couple of weeks ago but they didn’t tell me in time.”
Administrators stress about these late resignations but understand
While you may hesitate to quit teaching because you feel intense loyalty to your school, colleagues, students, parents, and administrators, ultimately putting your career and your family’s needs are most important. Teachers, who innately give of themselves and often put their own needs last, sometimes struggle with this. As the start of school creeps closer and has already passed in many locations, teachers still debate what they should do in uncomfortable circumstances.
Administrators often understand these predicaments more than we’d think. Eric Hartfelder, Principal of Eakin Elementary in Nashville, TN says “I’ve been telling people it’s all about perspective.” He has experienced many abrupt resignations throughout his career and encourages employees to make the best decision for themselves and their family first.
“We cannot be successful if our people are not at their best. This is a tough profession. And if someone else finds another calling, I encourage them to answer. We want to be people’s first call, not their safest call. Our children are far too important,” he said. “At the same time, there is someone somewhere else that is waiting for an opportunity to answer the call for our children. Transitions are hard, but they are temporary. The impact of a teacher on a child is forever. I will always work to make sure I have the right people in the right positions to change lives.”
His positivity encourages teachers to make sure their heart is in the right place before committing to another year, especially during a pandemic.
Do you know of any teachers quitting before school starts? Do you find yourself debating it? Join our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE to discuss this topic further.