Why Good Teachers Quit


babasteveWhy Good Teachers Quit

by Kay Bisaillon, Teacher

My friend is an amazing teacher.

She is an amazing teacher who is ready to quit the job she has loved for 20 years. She was honored just a few years ago as one of the best teachers in her area. She cares deeply about her students. These students come from some of the poorest living conditions in the state she lives. Many of these students come to school everyday for the stability she brings to their lives. She goes in early every morning and stays late almost every day. She brings home hours of work each night.

She carefully prepares her lessons with engaging learning and interactivity for her students. She is one of those teachers who has a interactive white board and the students touch the board as often as she does. She explores lessons in real and meaningful ways and empowers learning in her classroom.

What’s the problem? The problem is she is approaching her breaking point with her teaching career. She is ready to leave teaching completely. She is tired of trying so hard, in so many ways, and still feeling as if she is losing the battle. She is losing faith that she is and can make a difference.

She’s Not Given Time to Adjust to the Newest Teaching Styles

She was recently admonished for asking a question to the class and calling on a single student to answer. She was told this could and would not be done anymore. She was supposed to “ask the question and allow students to discuss with each other the answer.” She explained she had been applying this new approach and did find it valuable. She also explained the previous style of asking and answering a question to a single student was a style she had used for many years, but was making a conscious effort to stop using the approach.

She was told to “not try, but do…” and I am being polite in my recount of this episode. My friend and I both agree the new approach has a lot to offer the students. Is it reasonable to expect a teacher to fully convert to a new teaching style within weeks of the start of the school year? Is she not allowed time to adjust to a new style?

She left that discussion with her administration feeling inadequate, deflated and disrespected.

She’s Swimming in Work at Home and At School

She leaves her house at 7am most mornings. She teaches until 3pm and stays at school to do paperwork, cleaning and preparing for the next day until 5:30-6pm. She usually does a few hours of grading and lesson plan preparation each evening. If you add an errand on the way home, and dinner, and general housekeeping, the day is a long and exhausting one. She feels as if she is losing ground each day and trying to make it up the next. It is a vicious cycle.

She’s Struggling to Learn Each New Program Introduced

This year she has had multiple new programs to learn: a new gradebook program, a new online lesson planning program, and a new reading series. She admits her confidence in her technical abilities is lacking but she tries. She attends every mandatory and voluntary information session offered. She spends weekends reading and watching the how-to videos. She asks questions of co-workers and tries to get as comfortable as she can with these new processes. She is learning it all, but it takes time and patience…and more time. This time comes from her personal life.

She will eventually learn it and get comfortable with it all, but it does come at an expense.

She Does Not Feel Valued

All of the above would not feel so deflating if she felt valued. If the extra time she invested felt

appreciated by her administration. Instead, the push is to do more, do it faster, improve the student’s grades and, more importantly, their standardized test scores. She must not only improve those test scores but document every little piece of data along the way. She is exhausted by the demands of her time and energy and doesn’t know how much more she has to give.

Her Family (and husband) Misses Her

I mentioned my friend has been a classroom teacher for 20+ years. She has three grown children and her home is slowly becoming an empty nest. Her husband misses her. He is ready to have his wife home in the evenings at a reasonable time. He is ready to spend some time at home with his wife when she isn’t preoccupied with grading papers or preparing lessons or worrying about completing those things before the next school day. Her grown children are worried because their mother is working all the time.

Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork

My friend is required to keep a binder for, well, just about everything. I can’t tell you how many binders, sections, topics, titles, charts, graphs and forms I have heard her discuss. I would bet she has a binder to help her keep her required binders organized! In all seriousness, the complexity and sheer numbers required in that type of record keeping and data recording is painstakingly detailed and mind-numbing. She is frustrated and overwhelmed by it.

The Counter-Balance

My friend gets up everyday and still does an amazing job. She doesn’t do it for the pay or the administration…she does it because her students need her. Her students come from an economically depressed area. Many of her students come to school hungry and need the joy she shares. She knows she makes a difference to their day, their week, their year, and their life. She will continue focusing on this one simple reason until all of the other ones become too much for her to handle.

I know my friend is not the only good teacher who feels this way. We talk often and I try to be the sounding board she needs. She leans on co-workers for support. I know this burnout is a common issue among very good teachers. This is what worries me. There are amazing teachers, young and old, veterans and rookies, who are starting to eye the exit door. These teachers feel overworked, underpaid, undervalued, deflated, and emotionally and physically exhausted.

I only hope the one good reason continues to outweigh the others long enough to keep those good teachers teaching.

Image attribution flickr user babasteve; Why Good Teachers Quit

  • Shawn Storm

    This saddens me…I encountered that wall and wanted to quit a few years ago. I began asking myself what are 3 things that went well today (read it somewhere) and then I connected with amazing educators on Twitter and it has re-energized my teaching and actually allowed me to find balance through the connections that I’ve made. We have the most important job in the world and we need to support each other.

  • Paul Murray

    This is why good teachers need good unions.

    • Gene

      This is a misunderstanding most people equate to burnout. If I have a strong union this will make me a better teacher. Good teachers persevere through the struggles and hardships. If good ground rules for collaboration are established and she can communicate with her Principal and/or Superintendent, they will not want to see her leave. Keeping good teachers will become the highest priority.

      Good teaching is hard to come by and Unions will not make them better teachers.

      • Paul Murray

        Gene, I think you missed the point. I didn’t say unions make good teachers. (Neither do Principals or Superintendents). What unions do is defend a space in which good teachers have the freedom, and the funding to teach. Teachers are increasingly forced to shift their practice with ever flavour of the week senior admin or the state determines is “best” practice. Local admin rather than hold up an umbrella to shield teachers from the trick down effects of bureaucratic and pedagogical incompetence instead enforce theories and practices they themselves have never had to practice and often have never been trained to evaluate. What’s more teachers themselves are increasingly subsidizing their own practice. I read an interesting stat the other day, something like 77% of American teachers buy school supplies for their own classroom with their own money.

        Gene, you note that good teachers persevere. Perhaps, but you can only bang your head against the wall for so long before you start to bleed. Good teachers need defending. They need protection when they take risks. Honestly, do you really think that kind of protection will come from Principals and Superintendents?

        • Beverly Watson

          tell it Paul. My head hurt. I had to save myself.

  • BestEducationalApps

    My wife and I are both teachers in Canada. We can relate to this story as we have many colleagues feeling the pressure of todays teaching stresses. What is a fearful reality is the number of new teachers that are turning away from the profession in the first few years. It’s time governments put time, energy and resources into supporting teachers both financially and pedagogically leading the charge to increase political capital for the teaching profession. The economy and our future demand it. Thanks for sharing this!

    • silver surfer

      You need a strong union to stop them disrespecting you and force them to take teachers’ views seriously.

  • nancy wimbush

    Too bad, usually the collaborative, team, can support struggling educators. Mentors, mentees, shared expertise and common goals. I have seen people who don’t have enough time for this or that, tech is too hard to catch up on. I think recognizing your limitations and realizing that you are not feeding your soul is a good sign to look for something else.

  • LWoods

    Very sadly, I must say that I can definitely identify with this teacher. I very much love teaching and my students but I am really growing weary of all the extras that distract me from my actual teaching and all the excessive grading and paperwork. I am tired after a day of interruptions to my lessons.

  • george

    WOW. To start I’m suprised she is not married to another teacher, he must have the patience of Job. I thought only teachers could marry teachers (or principals or CEO’s or something). Guess I’m wrong. ANyway, education 100 years ago was the three R’s, reading, writing, and arithmatic. (OK so there is only one R in there but it shows how much it has changed).
    Also history and geography was the history and geography of mostly Amerca, which I’m sure it still is. But really, now students have to learn about every little town on earth.
    Math was euclidian, but now Euclid was mostly mistaken and we have relativity and now this quantum mechanics.
    The reason administrators may be vicious is that they themselves are actually afraid and have no idea anymore.
    So upgrading and new courses for the teachers are mandatory, as they should be for the lazy, frightened, administrators.
    Its not going to get any better. The bible says that in the last days knowledge will increase and it seems so it has and so it is.

  • http://lhealey7604.blogspot.com/ Leslie Healey

    Some days this is me. Teaching is an art, but it sure does have a lot of craft to it as well. Never enough time. Less freedom with each day–hard to interact with students genuinely. Grading, grading, grading (which stops learning dead, in my experience) every night.

  • MHEN


  • Lisa

    I have not taught for 20 years; however, I get up and go to work at 7, stay until 5:30 or 6:00 every night. I do not feel my students get the maximum amount of my effort if I am not able to put in those hours. I am always pushed with meetings and other individuals that take up several hours of my day. I need the time before and after school to complete my grading and all the materials that I can not accomplish. This teacher makes me feel like I am human, not the only one who gets to work right after the engineers.

  • John-David Hughes

    They call it the “Socratic Method.” Try teaching, or managing a class without the opportunity to return a student to attentive behavior by asking a pertinent question. Time to quit. No doubt.

    • terryheick

      Confused here. Can you explain a little more?

  • A.H. Perry

    I hope this teacher, and many others like her, will be able to remain in this profession. “Humans” like her are needed while the push to improve systems seems to create machines (like fearful administrators). It may help to realize that this stressful energy is dominant in all fields right now. Eventually a balance will/must be reached. Meantime, everyone in this situation MUST pay attention to self care. Meditation and visualization will also help; a strong spiritual base is important (regardless of religion). Finally, it will help when the work is one’s “purpose” (versus a secure job). I do understand…I recently retired from public education as Adult Educator. The craziness was becoming more, however, not nearly as intense as k through 12. I salute all of you!

  • Guest

    I was heartened to see this post today!! I have been feeling so very alone in these thoughts and feelings myself! I arrive at work at 6:45 am and usually leave about 8:00 pm 5 or 6 days every week (for the same pay as teachers who leave at 3:30). I used to think I was a pretty good Music teacher; but no longer. The administration does not support my point of view when comments or complaints are voiced, consequently the parents are running the Marching Band. I really wonder…….

  • Tina

    I am a teacher in the UK. I have just resigned after 15 years. In the UK we retire now at 68. I am looking for an alternative career pathway while I still have the energy. There is a cap on the time you can give the amount of energy to a profession that teachers do. I am deeply saddened but younger more energetic teachers will replace me and I will have the energy to enjoy myself again.

  • The Picture Book Pusher

    I’m about to leave the profession for the exact same reasons. This article articulates the situations so well. Especially the constant expectation that we are to assimilate into a new curriculum or style within weeks, and then are evaluated for it. Paperwork, and everything else that takes away from us meeting the needs of the children.

  • The Picture Book Pusher

    Only thing wrong with this article is the unnecessary shirtless child they have as the accompanying photo.

  • anon

    This article articulates many of the reasons I left teaching. I only lasted 4 years before I burnt out but know a lot of my pressure came from my own high expectations of myself. I was constantly reassured that I was doing a great job but within myself it never felt like enough.
    After I had my little girl I tried to go back to teaching but felt like I was neglecting her, and the thought of starving her of my time and attention to give it to other people’s children just wasn’t my cup of tea.
    Now I have a simple 9-5 job which I leave at the door everyday and come home ready to be a Mum. I’m happier and life is much more simplistic because I’ve experienced how hard it can be in a demanding job. The only issue I have now is explaining my decision to people who believe that teaching is a 9-3 job with great holidays….uh no. I do feel like I wasted my degree but I have no regrets about my decision to put my own family first. It’s all about priorities.

    • Pat

      I applaud you for having the courage to do what you know is best for your family. My gut is telling me to do the same thing but I don’t want to feel like I gave up. I have some soul searching to do. I love the idea of teaching but in reality, it’s not working.

  • Alexis

    Oh God! This sounds just like me. I am sitting in front of my computer hoping someone would tell me what to do. My heart wants to stay in teaching, but my head is burned out. I wish someone would make this agonizing decision for me: Which is more painful? Stay with teaching or start over in a new field from the bottom up at the age or 42?

    • Chris

      I am with you! I could have written your post. I long for the days when we had the freedom to truly teach.

  • Beverly Watson

    I quit in the middle of the year, stayed home, and just recently started looking for work but NOT in schools. I could not take it anymore. This lady sounds just like what I was suffering. I dont miss the school nor the other teachers.

  • Jamie

    What is the recipe to drive someone crazy? You put that person in a four wall room, add 30 to 40 children, add tons of paperwork, add a group of parents and administrators that gives that person frequent verbal whip-lashing, and finally a society that watches and cheers it on! This is what a teacher faces every day. Does anyone want to be a teacher?

  • Teacher of firsties

    I think you wrote this about me!!

  • Carol

    I was up at 5:00 a.m. this morning- feeling the exact same way! I was exploring retirement options. I can afford to quit; however, I don’t want to! I have much I want to do with the students but I don’t know how long I can go on. I am exhausted! I think school every minute of the day and night and the pressures are overwhelming. I am expected to teach a class of 16 students from JK (3 & 4 year olds) plus grades 1-3 (most of which are at least a grade below where they should be) and of course, pull off high test scores. This set up is not fair to the students. The 3 year olds deserve a teacher who can attend to their needs as do the grade 3’s. I can’t meet the expectations for all of these students. I don’t want to quit but I need reasonable working conditions. Why is so much money spent on new curriculum, testing etc. when the addition of an educational assistant would make the biggest difference of all.

  • burnt out

    I’m asking the same questions now, after 20 years of a dedicated, successful career. Like you, I’ve longed for someone to tell me the right thing to do; I am indecisive with matters such as these; but the truth is, no one else will tell me or you what to do. Let’s weigh the pros and cons, and make a decision. Me? My eye is on the exit door. The problem? My students. My retirement. The truth of it? I may not even be around then if I don’t properly deal with the stress NOW.
    Best of luck to you. And to me, too.