Look, we’re not going to sugarcoat this situation. There’s a large and fast-moving teacher exodus happening in the United States right now, and we have a pretty good idea of what’s causing it.
The work you do is so crucial to the perseverance of progress in our society, and yet teachers remain underappreciated, underequipped, and underpaid. But at the end of the day, this problem grows and grows because teachers are missing one make-or-break resource. To be at your best and find satisfaction in the classroom, you need access to educator wellness programs.
That’s right—remembering the importance of the teaching mission is part of the equation, but knowing the value of your work won’t solve everything. To reverse this trend, and to keep talented educators in the classroom, it’s paramount that everyone focus on why these issues persist and eradicate the source of the problems.
The Great Teacher Exodus: A Look at the Numbers
Do you remember the joy of teaching? Yes, that’s a loaded question. Truly, we hope you recall why you got into this gig. Even though you knew about the undeniably tough challenges that go along with the job, there’s a reason you sought to enter a classroom.
“People who go into teaching tend to be optimists. All the work is about preparing others for the future. It’s an attractive path for those drawn to helping others,” writes Alan Greenblatt for Governing Magazine.
While the teaching community is no monolith, we think Mr. Greenblatt’s assessment is pretty darn accurate. It’s kindness and positivity that drives a person to make this career choice. The average educator is a person who opted to acquire enough education to pull in a six-figure salary, but chose a job that pays less money. And they did so in the interest of inspiring hope and helping the most impressionable, vulnerable, and precious demographic.
So, with that in mind, why do these very real and very alarming statistics exist?
- 8% of seasoned teachers leave public schools each year.
- 54% of educators have considered leaving within the next year (a number worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic).
- 70% of teachers acknowledge a raise in pay would make a difference in their decision to stay.
- Male teachers of color, who make up 2% of the teaching workforce, are often seen as disciplinarians instead of educators, which contributes to our schools losing them.
These numbers sound a very loud and clear wake-up call. If there are roughly 3 million public educators in the United States, then that means round about 240,000 teachers leave the classroom each calendar year. And that’s because, through no fault of these exiting educators, the joy of teaching floats away.
You could be reminded all day about how you’re making a difference, how you took this job for a reason, etc. But until someone gets to the root of the issue, the symptoms will persist.
There are multiple (and multiplying) factors as to why this is happening. Chalk it up to lack of resources, persisting disrespect, the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, or plain old burnout. But if there’s one culprit that stands out above all others, it’s a lack of teacher wellness options.
Leveraging Teacher Wellness Tools
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged teachers’ working lives, the need for teacher wellness proved especially urgent.
In a 2017 study on teacher stress from The Pennsylvania State University, 224 K–5 teachers from 36 urban public schools took part in wellness training, from which they experienced the following results.
- Teachers improved their emotion regulation skills with increased mindfulness. When juggling so many responsibilities, teachers can easily slip into despair, stress, and confusion. When teachers remain conscious of what’s happening in the moment, they can address and rectify issues with greater authority and effectiveness.
- Teachers reported lower levels of personal distress that would often spill over from the workday. That’s right—teachers are, in fact, human beings! That means you are entitled to go home and enjoy your life. When your responsibilities forbid you any work–life balance, your vitality meter will inevitably run low.
- Teachers received higher marks from principal observations. Observations are pretty much like swallowing a stress-inducing capsule. Murphy’s Law states that if something goes wrong in the classroom, the incident will happen on a day when the principal visits to critique. So what would happen if teachers had the wellness resources to navigate those issues and receive more favorable reviews?
- Teachers felt less burnout and general occupational stress. Everyone gets stressed. It’s part of life, and it’s especially true when it comes to the workplace. But teachers experience a different level of stress. With ever-multiplying responsibilities, constantly moving goalposts, and impossible standards and expectations, burnout occurs much faster than what happens in other occupations.
- Teachers experienced greater personal growth, empathy, and forgiveness, specifically in special education classrooms. Our special education teachers are so crucial to everything the public school system should stand for. We need to stick up for them.
- Teachers improved physical health, citing lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, in addition to improved quality of sleep. The last thing anyone wants is for mental taxing to become physical illness. But it happens, and with proper teacher wellness tools, we can help curb some perilous trends.
Self-care means that you can be your best self both inside and outside of the classroom. But what does that mean in practice? What tools are available?