In the United States, approximately 44% of teachers leave the classroom within their first five years of teaching. I was one of those teachers.
You may know me as Miss Redacted or awalmartparkinglot. (Long story.) And if you do know me, you’ll know that I started teaching high school at age 21 — I documented the first few years of my career and my emotional departure from the classroom on TikTok.
Those who follow me may already know about the factors that led to my tear-filled mid-year departure. And those who don’t… well, let us count the reasons as to why underfunded and undervalued teachers are saying goodbye to their classrooms:
Batshit Crazy Administrators
I worked for people who screamed in teachers’ faces. These people tell us we are failures, yet don’t even know how to convert a Word doc into a PDF.
Lack of Pay
While, in just one year, the cost of housing increased 39% in my county, my district did not provide a cost of living adjustment. I quite literally could not afford to rent an apartment as a teacher in Florida — even with a roommate.
I was fucking exhausted. I was working 16-hour days, only eating Chex Mix and McDonald’s. But hey, I did have multi-page daily lesson plans, perfect bulletin boards, an HGTV-worthy classroom, and, somehow, the strength to provide extensive feedback on every assignment for 150 high schoolers. Every day was both a sprint and a marathon.
Many administrators and district staff knew we were experiencing this inevitable burnout, and, yet, no one ever said anything, because this is the norm in education. It is normal to be miserable. It is normal to treat your body like shit and deprive yourself of what you need. In fact, it is expected that you live like this. Unsurprisingly, over half of U.S. public schools reported they were understaffed this year, thanks to one key challenge: People simply are not opting into the teaching experience. A total of 69% of schools cited “too few teacher candidates applying for open positions” as one of their biggest struggles.
Yet, despite the education system being an absolute dumpster fire, I made the decision to go back.
Yes, you read that correctly: I left my cushy corporate job and accepted a full-time teaching position in a public school. Why?
The Price Was Right
My new position pays significantly more than my previous teaching position, despite the zip code having a much lower cost of living. If we cannot treat educators with enough dignity to pay them a livable wage, how can we expect them to stay in the field? Do educators not deserve to buy a home? Go on vacation? Pay for their children’s college education? We have all heard the phrase, “You get what you pay for,” and right now most school systems in the U.S. are not paying enough to recruit and retain caring professionals.
The Schedule Flexed
Not to sound like an MLM, but the new recruitment strategy for teachers should be “365 days of benefits, only 180 days of work.” While it is easy to fall into the trap of working 24/7 and letting teaching take over your life, most teacher contracts only require a commitment of seven hours a day, 180 days of the year. When districts create policies that encourage teachers to be effective within their contract hours, like giving teachers ample daily planning time, they are much less likely to experience burnout. I needed the freedom of getting home by 4pm, having summers off, and getting breaks for every holiday to allow me to spend time on my podcast, my weekly educational stream, and any other endeavor I choose to take on. Teachers should not need a “side hustle” to pay their bills, but a flexible schedule can help draw in recruits who have passions outside of work, parenting demands, or just a desire to have some mother fucking time off every year!
But, more than anything else…
We need to break down the stereotype of “what a teacher looks like.” So many people think they would fail at teaching because they hated school, when quite the opposite is true. We believe teachers are people who love school and are passionate about making themed bulletin boards. I am not this person; in high school I cried daily from anxiety, I argued with my teachers because I felt powerless, and I cheated on assignments constantly. But being a struggling, defiant student is what makes me an amazing teacher. I did not become a teacher because I loved school — I became a teacher because I wanted to gossip about dead people all day.
I couldn’t be further from the prim teacher stereotype we saw in children’s books, but that’s a good thing. There are millions of Americans across the workforce who, like me, have a niche interest or academic passion. We need to reframe our idea of what a “good” teacher is and look outside of our archetype of what teachers have traditionally looked like.
So, what can a teacher look like? A teacher can look like Sharon*, a former 9-5 researcher for a healthcare company who got into teaching to support her two passions — biology (which she currently teaches) and rowing, an activity she couldn’t enjoy during her 40+ hour work week. Sharon is now the top biology teacher in her district, teaches hundreds of children to love rowing as much as she does, and has made a positive impact on thousands of students — all because she wanted to get home at 3:30. A teacher can also look like Michael*, a former history major whose financial burdens forced him to leave school to become a bartender for 17 years. While he left school behind, his passion persisted, so he returned to graduate and used an alternative certification program — which allows individuals without an education degree to become a fully certified teacher — to eventually get a position teaching 7th grade World History.
People like Sharon and Michael should be our mold for future educators, and we need to recruit them better and create an accessible path to get them into the classroom.
And that’s where alternative certification — the program Michael used — comes in. For anyone outside of the world of education, most teachers do a year of full-time student teaching, during which they work in the classroom every single day while paying tuition to their university as a part of their undergraduate program. But it is almost impossible to hold down a job while student teaching. Most people cannot afford to invest tens of thousands of dollars into a new degree, or spend a year of their life full-time student teaching for no pay. This is the biggest reason our teacher recruitment numbers are abysmal.
So, instead of looking to college education programs to recruit more upper middle class white women into education, we can take advantage of the alternative certification processes and recruit from the workforce. This is how I became a teacher. I have a bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences and then enrolled into an alt cert program while I was teaching.
Finding others like me to enroll in alternative certification would be a big starting point, but it’s just that — while I was very lucky to find an online program that was within my (rich parents’) budget, many potential educators do not have access to a program that is affordable or flexible enough for working adults.
Imagine how incredibly diverse and passionate our teaching force could become if we make the path to certification free and flexible. Investing in these programs will not only help schools, but the students sitting in them. All children benefit from having teachers who are diverse in race, age, gender, skills, and experiences, so our recruitment and certification processes should foster that.
Incredible teachers can come from blue collar jobs, corporate America, the service industry, and any other corner of the Earth. Children deserve to learn from people who come from all walks of life and are able to share the lessons they learned from their experiences. To be clear, I am not advocating for people with no training to enter the classroom; I am advocating for free, comprehensive degree and certification programs to make it possible for adults in any industry to enter the classroom and do incredible work. Being passionate about your content and having empathy for your students is what makes an amazing teacher. There are many people out there with the potential for greatness, even and especially me, the woman who left the corporate world of Docusign and happy hours on the company card to talk shit about dead people with teenagers.
*Names changed to protect anonymity.