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School is out for the summer and many teachers call it

Many teachers filled classrooms for the last time as schools slacken for the summer, leaving a stressful profession on the rise as a nationwide teacher shortage threatens to worsen.

Some 300,000 teachers and other public school staff left the field between February 2020 and May 2022, a decline of nearly 3% in that workforce, according to Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Worn down by the challenges of teaching in recent years, more educators say they plan to do the same: A National Education Association poll this year found that 55% of teachers said would leave school earlier than expected, up from 37% last year. August.

Struggling with remote learning and changing Covid-19 safety protocols was hard enough, teachers say. But as schools have filled with students, other stressors have emerged: staffing shortages, contentious debates over masking policies, political battles over what teachers can and cannot discuss or teach in class.

The shooting massacre at a May school in Uvalde, Texas, has also reignited concerns about gun violence, some say. There were 249 school shootings last year and at least 152 so far in 2022, according to a database from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Wendy Grider and the artwork her fourth grade class designed for a school-wide kindness challenge.


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LEFT TO RIGHT: Michelle Hrin Photography in North Carolina; Wendy Grider

“I felt so helpless,” said Wendy Grider, 49, who quit her job as a fourth grade teacher in Rocklin, Calif., this month. Over the past year, she has seen parents use social media to criticize teachers in her district for their homework, she said. And there were several instances in her class, 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 twinkling lights with the words “Be Kind.”

“The reason I stayed in teaching was for the teaching itself and for the kids, which is really what you think it should be,” said Ms Grider, who is unsure what she will do next. “Unfortunately, that’s only a very small percentage of the work.”

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Such pressures are straining teachers already strained by understaffing, especially in science, math, special education and early childhood education, according to the US Department of Education. Among public schools, 44% reported vacancies for full-time or part-time teachers at the start of the year, according to data released by the National Center for Education Statistics. More than half of schools said the vacancies were due to resignations and forced them to rely more on non-teaching staff outside of their regular duties.

The “Be Kind” wall in Wendy Grider’s classroom was created by student teacher Loren Johnson.


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Wendy Grider

School administrators say these shortages will worsen if many more educators quit, and some say they have had to cut summer school programs. In Wisconsin, the Madison Metropolitan School District said it would not be able to offer summer school to 600 enrolled students, citing staffing issues.

Ms. Grider and other teachers say school districts can help prevent more quits. In a letter to her school board earlier this year, she offered suggestions for making teachers feel more valued, including giving teachers back more of their workday for planning and collaboration, reducing class sizes and giving greater public recognition to staff. Others say a higher salary would help retain and recruit new teachers.

Scott Henderson, 43, quit 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 walked out of his classroom for a few minutes to talk to a parent who had dropped by unannounced; when he returned, several students threw tampons at the ceiling while another searched Mr Henderson’s office, he said.

“Seeing people’s kids being able to make those connections about things they couldn’t do before, I sure miss that,” Henderson said. He’s starting a master’s degree in instructional design in August, which he says will be a much less stressful career.

A LOOK BACK

In early 2022, amid the Omicron wave, school staffing issues related to Covid-19 led some states to take drastic measures to keep schools open, including enlisting state employees, retirees and members of the National Guard to replace the teachers. Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The resignations of teachers in public and private schools have been a boon for hiring managers in other industries who desperately need competent talent in a tight job market. According to data from LinkedIn, classroom instructors land sales roles and jobs as instructional coaches, software engineers and behavioral health technicians.

Daphne Gomez, a career coach who works with teachers trying to break into new professions, said that, more recently, tech companies have asked her for help bringing in departing teachers.

“Some companies actually create landing pages that say, ‘Hey, former teachers! It’s a good fit,” she said. “These are highly qualified people with master’s degrees. You can train them to sell.

Some teachers say they worry about the effect their resignations will have on schools. Talia Elefant, a math teacher in Elmhurst, Queens, said she’s been looking forward to traveling, networking and just improving her mental and physical health since deciding to quit her job later this summer. She also felt pangs of guilt about the co-workers she will leave behind.

When a teacher quits, she says, work piles up on those who remain. “These people are overworked and they will want to leave,” said Ms Elefant, who has taught at various levels in private and public schools over the past seven years. “If we don’t solve this as a society, we won’t have any more teachers.”

Write to Kathryn Dill at kathryn.dill@wsj.com

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