There’s no denying that teachers have had one of the most difficult jobs during the pandemic. As the third school year shadowed by COVID gets underway, regulations for school vaccinations, mask wearing, and online learning seem to be as up in the air as ever, varying drastically state by state and even school district by school district.

These distressing quotes from teachers across the country capture some of the anxiety many are feeling going back to school in person. In order to shed more light on the state of teaching in the U.S. we surveyed 1,000 K-12 teachers who taught during the past 18 months of the pandemic, and who have already left or are considering leaving their jobs.

The findings include:

  • 78% believe many more teachers will be quitting
  • 17% of respondents quit because they didn’t want to receive the vaccine required by their school district
  • 54% say their decision to quit rests on the outcome of this first semester

Increasing Health Risks and Not Enough Pay

When we asked our survey participants to choose the reason why they had left or were considering leaving their posts, the most common response, at 37%, was that they wanted to make more money. It’s well-known that teachers are drastically underpaid for the stress and importance of their job, and this has only compounded during a pandemic that threatens their physical safety.

The second-largest group, at 23%, stated that they had left or considered leaving because they were afraid of contracting COVID from their students. Though only 37% of those still employed said they will be teaching in the classroom full-time this upcoming semester (with 20% teaching online only and 43% a hybrid model), fears of unvaccinated students and breakthrough cases from the Delta variant remain ever-present.

1 Out of 6 Are Changing Careers Because They Don’t Want to Get Vaccinated

On the opposite side of this view are 17% of respondents, who stated that they wanted to leave because their school was requiring vaccinations and they did not want to get vaccinated. Washington state recently announced that all of their teachers and school personnel will be required to get the vaccine, and large districts like Chicago and Los Angeles have announced similar mandates. Although Republican governors have fiercely opposed mandates, this may become the norm in many left-leaning districts in the weeks to come.

13% cited concerns with online learning and the frustrations of trying to get students to pay attention via Zoom. “My district, like many, was not prepared for online learning,” commented Uneaka Daniels, a reading specialist and veteran teacher of 30 years. “It was very hard to teach struggling readers online. First they had a whole group class with their teacher using one link, then they had to have another link to meet with me.”

“Although Zoom rules were set, the students did not always follow them, so a 30 minute lesson turned into a one hour class,” she continued. “Hate is a strong word as I tell my students, but I hated teaching online! My students needed hands-on manipulatives and more structure at home that I could normally provide in the classroom.”

Of the 11% that selected “Other” as their reason for leaving, a common theme can clearly be seen in their answers. Respondents wrote in reasons such as “overwhelmed,” “done,” “stress and workload,” “burnout,” and “lack of respect.”

High school teacher Chris Daniel elaborated, “I have to act grumpy all the time. Behavioral issues can be challenging at the best of times. Now, I also have to make sure the kids are being safe with wearing their masks and social distancing. I am constantly having to pester the kids or call their parents just because they are trying to sit closer to their friends. It’s as frustrating for me as it is for them.”

Teachers Aren’t Hopeful About the State of Education

When we asked our respondents to share their thoughts about education in the U.S., the results weren’t exactly hopeful. 75% of teachers we surveyed said they were worried about the state of education after so many students had to switch to online learning. A startling 78% also stated that they believe many teachers are also going to be leaving their positions.

“Education was going through changes before the pandemic, but once the pandemic hit, things became very challenging,” said Daniels. “After 30 years of teaching, things should be better, but I have seen something different.”

Majority Say Their Decision to Stay or Go Depends on This First Term

Of the 1,000 teachers we surveyed, the majority had already left their teaching positions, with the most common time period being between August 2020 and January 2021. Of those we surveyed who are still employed as teachers but considering leaving, 54% said their decision depends on how this first term goes. Some respondents also wrote in answers in the “Other” category, with submissions like “Depends on if there are mask mandates to protect us,” “When I find something better” and “I started a side business. When I feel confident in that I may leave.”

Although the federal government is taking steps to encourage masking in schools, many governors are upholding bans on mask mandates, making it increasingly unlikely that this type of precaution will be as widespread as it needs to be to seriously slow the Delta variant in schools. For this and other reasons, many of the teachers we talked to have started looking more seriously into their side hustles.

“The last two months of the school year in 2020…we shifted to remote learning. This is what led me to my decision to resign from my position during the summer,” explained Heather Keita, a former high school chemistry teacher turned website-owner. “I started this website a few months prior, but just as a hobby, nothing as something I foresaw I could do full-time…Since leaving my teaching job, I have learned skills in digital marketing and content development…allowing me to earn an income from my website,” she finished.

Chris Daniel has also invested in a website for supplemental income, based on his knowledge of and passion for music. “I have been working as an online marketer for my affiliate site…and if/when I make a comparable income to that of a teacher I will be walking away from my current career, at least until the pandemic is well and truly over,” he explained.

75% Say They Are Updating Their Resumes

Three out of four of the teachers we surveyed say they have recently updated or are actively working on their resumes in anticipation of switching jobs. In addition to starting their own side businesses, several teachers we interviewed are planning on switching industries entirely. Rory Roberts, a teacher for 13 years, explained, “I took a massive pay cut in exchange for a healthier work-life balance, and I have zero regrets.”

“COVID-19, though terrible in so many ways, was a huge wake-up call in my life that this is not what I want to do forever…” she continued. “These days, I work as a front desk sales associate for an upscale design showroom and I’m having a great time…though it’s a pretty big pay cut, I feel much safer there than at school…”

Of those we surveyed, one quarter say they plan to stay in education but not as a K-12 teacher, while 17% plan to move to the tech industry, 13% to healthcare, and 12% to service or hospitality.

In addition to her job at the design showroom, Roberts also plans to continue to tutor students online. “I’m really excited, because I’ve gotten approved to teach on Outschool, so I’m going to get to continue working with students in a really fun medium. I…am confident that I’ll be able to build up some decent side hustle income to eventually get me back to my previous earnings but without having to sacrifice my health or sanity,” she finished.

High school language specialist Teagan Kane also plans to continue tutoring remotely along with other online endeavors. “I am looking to move to the online writing space. I have dabbled in SEO for the last few years but never really took the step…I would also like to coach others to help them leave their brick and mortar teaching jobs to travel and either work in another country, or teach online, as the hybrid model I feel is the future…”

“This could be a nice supplemental income I could do anywhere,” she continued. “I am also a scuba and freediving instructor and with the writing, diving, [and coaching], I would hopefully be my own boss soon enough,” she stated.

With so many remote job opportunities and online side hustles available today, it’s no wonder that many teachers are working on their resumes in order to leave their stressful jobs for what must seem like greener pastures. However, the past 18 months have shown that remote learning is not an effective substitute for most students, and that many may have lost up to an entire school year’s worth of academic gains. With 78% of teachers we surveyed stating they think many more of their colleagues will be leaving their jobs, the U.S. may be facing an even more extreme teacher shortage in the near future if the jobs don’t become safer and better paid.

Survey Methodology:

All data found within this report is based on a survey commissioned by and conducted online by the survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,000 Americans were surveyed. All respondents had to pass two screening questions to ensure that they had taught K-12 during the past 18 months, and had also left or considered leaving their jobs since then. The survey ran between August 16, 2021, and August 17, 2021. Half of respondents indicated that they taught in private schools, and half taught in public schools. 518 respondents taught or teach elementary school, 445 taught or teach middle school, and 429 taught or teach high school. For the raw data, please contact [email protected].