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Teacher Survey Project

Teachers speak out on continuing their careers

By

Introduction

At the end of January 2021, we surveyed our California Teacher Consultant Response Network members to ask them about their experiences as they adapt to serve their students during the pandemic. One hundred twenty-one teachers completed the initial survey of 25 questions, providing a rich data set of survey responses and thoughtful comments.

In this Spotlight we shine the light on how the teachers are feeling about continuing their teaching career in the current climate. We present the teachers’ ratings and representative comments so that they speak for themselves. We add our own reflections at the end of this Spotlight.

 

The Data: Survey Results About the Teachers’ Experiences

Question 1: What are your own personal plans vis-a-vis continuing to teach?

Of the 119 teachers who responded to this question:

    1. Seven out of 10 teachers (70%) plan to continue teaching.
    2. Over 10% of teachers are considering a career change if conditions do not improve.
    3. Another 15% are having various degrees of doubt about continuing in the profession because of the challenges of the new circumstances.

Illustrative comments about leading teachers’ plan to continuing teaching:
(Swipe or click right arrow to advance quotes)

I have considered leaving the classroom, but I still enjoy teaching. I may consider leaving the classroom if our district does not provide or is unable to meet the CDC guidelines when we go back to face-to-face teaching.

— A teacher in a middle school with 95% low-income students in the Los Angeles Area

My wife is immunocompromised, so I will be seeking accommodations or taking a leave if I am asked to return with adequate safety protocols and a vaccine.

— A teacher in a middle with 71% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

I went back to in-person instruction during our hybrid for two weeks, before our site had to close because of Covid numbers at my site. I saw firsthand how poor of a job the district had done. When our district opened again after winter break, I requested a leave during the hybrid class to only teach virtual at this time…. The lack of support and unsafe conditions from my district has made it clear that I should seek other career opportunities outside my current district. I do not think I will leave the profession…but am strongly considering working in another educational role and not working in my current district.

— A teacher in an elementary school with 98% low-income students in the Sacramento area

Teaching is my passion and just walking away would mean throwing away all the wonderful experiences I have lived all these years with students and parents.

— A teacher in an elementary school with 90% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

I have thought about quitting, which is something that I never thought I would think about. But I am staying committed even though this year is unbelievably difficult.

— A teacher in an elementary school with 40% low-income students in the San Diego area

The working conditions continue to plague educators. Information about returning to school or not is confusing especially if the superintendent is addressing the media or the powerful parent group and not teachers. We as teachers are told to come back without the vaccine because they don’t know when we will get it. I am high-risk and members in my home are too…. I go to work and [could] bring Covid home. My students’ parents don’t follow the stay-at-home orders, so they put my family in danger, all so I can be a babysitter…. If we are required to return by April, I will take a leave of absence to protect my family.

— A teacher in an elementary school with 25% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

[I will continue to teach] Only because I work in a district that compensates me well and values my safety. The conditions of many of the school districts in this country would cause me to leave the profession.

— A teacher in a high school with 22% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

In the end, this COVID time has made me a better teacher. It has forced me to rethink my instruction and build new skills. I will take most of what I have developed back into the classroom with me.

— A teacher in a high school with 90% low-income students in the Central Valley region

I will have to take a leave of absence if forced back to face-to-face conditions before the pandemic is under control, as I am high-risk. But I would return to the classroom if we are all vaccinated/pandemic is under control.

— A teacher in a high school with 74% low-income students in the San Jose-Monterey region

It’s been rough. There are a lot of burdens and blames placed on us. I don’t see myself leaving the education sector, but I have begun to think of exploring other opportunities in the sector WITHOUT the crap that we get from the general public and politicians who are absolutely out of touch with the struggles of educators.

— A teacher in a high school with 20% low-income students in the Santa Clara Area

I plan on a career change if I DON’T go back in the classroom.

— A teacher in an elementary school with 70% low-income students in the Inland Empire

I would have already quit, if I could have financially, but I am a single income family and do not have that option. I have been forced to teach in unsafe conditions with students face-to-face since August 2020.

— A teacher in a high school with 58% low-income students in Northeast California

I have not adjusted my plans. If anything, I am excited to see the changes that this year of adjustments brings to the field of education as a whole once we are back in classrooms.

— A teacher in a high school with 30% low-income students in the Inland Empire

Question 2: In terms of your colleagues, how do you think they feel about remaining in the teaching profession?

Illustrative comments about colleagues’ thoughts:
(Swipe or click right arrow to advance quotes)

I think most of my colleagues look forward to going back to the classroom only, and only if, they feel safe and feel that our students and our entire community can safely do so.

— A teacher in a middle school with 95% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

I have heard from my union president that many plan to take leaves of absence if in-person school resumes. I know there were many retirements at the end of last year. I know that those who are still teaching experience some positive and hopeful experiences, but also significant levels of exhaustion and frustration.

— A teacher in a middle school with 50% low-income students in the North Coast region

I think most of my colleagues are finding a renewed motivation to teach during distance learning.

— A teacher in a high school with 89% low-income students in the San Diego area

The colleagues I closely work with have not expressed any desire to leave the profession.

— A teacher in an elementary school with 40% low-income students in the San Diego area

None of them want to decide between quitting the job they love, or risking possible serious illness and death for showing up.

— A teacher in a middle/high school in Southern California

I think many of my colleagues feel overwhelmed and undervalued. Many fear for their health or the health of their children and elderly family members.

— A teacher in a middle school with 39% low-income students in the Central Coast region

If they could retire or had a way to easily change (jobs) they would.

— A teacher in an elementary school with 28% low-income students in the Sacramento area

One of my colleagues will be retiring early. It’s such a shame. He has been super amazing in the classroom. I would not be surprised if some of my colleagues quit teaching. One of them already did because she couldn’t do childcare and teach at the same time. The impact on the teaching profession… wow…another huge component that we won’t know for a while but surely it’s not going to be good.

— A teacher in a high school with 66% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

Most of them are committed to staying in the profession. Many of the newer teachers are handling the situation quite well.

— A teacher in a middle school with 83% low-income students in the Inland Empire

I think that my colleagues are very angry and disappointed with the decisions of our school board and superintendent with regard to teacher safety.

— A teacher in a middle school with less than 1% low-income students in the San Jose-Monterey region

It is a mixed bag: younger ones are confused. Older ones are jaded. All of us wonder how to fix what at times feels like a sinking ship.

— A teacher in an elementary school with 67% low-income students in the San Francisco Bay Area

I feel that teachers who are closer to retirement are seriously considering leaving the classroom earlier. Newer teachers are either thriving with online teaching or deeply struggling. I haven’t seen many that are able to stay afloat — it’s difficult to watch.

— A teacher in a high school with 90% low-income students in the San Diego area

There are about half that do not wish to return, or are considering a career change. The rest are okay with any condition that is thrown [at] them and love the profession.

— A teacher in a middle school with 68% low-income students in the North Coast region

I think a significant number would leave if they could afford to do so. I would leave if I could afford to do so.

— A teacher in an elementary school with 88% low-income students in the Inland Empire

Most of my colleagues love what they do and as challenging as it is at times, they know that we are very fortunate to still have a position that allows us to work and earn a living during these difficult times.

— A teacher in a middle school with 86% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

I think older teachers are very overwhelmed with this model and I have heard discussion of leaving. Teacher friends of mine that are doing hybrid seem very stressed and considering a career change because they are planning for virtual and in-person at the same time.

— A teacher in a high school with 29% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

My district offered a golden handshake early retirement incentive this year. There are five from my school site that took it who would have otherwise stayed a few more years. I think those teachers are just done with this crazy type of teaching and not feeling supported by district leadership and the community.

— A teacher in an elementary/middle school with 50% low-income students in Southern California

Two are retiring after next year, and one other teacher is retiring in four years as I plan to. It is too stressful to continue to teach under the current conditions. And, I don’t just mean Covid conditions. In the past few years, more expectations have been placed on teachers with not any added support. It is too much.

— A teacher in a middle school with 33% low-income students in the Central Coast region

I think it depends on the amount of support they are receiving. Some districts have made this transition easier through tech and curriculum support. Others not so much. I have talked to a number of individuals who were nearing retirement who have elected to retire earlier than their planned date

— A teacher in a high school with 16% low-income students in the Santa Clara area

Many of my colleagues say they will stay in the profession; however, an alarming number say they are ready to retire or change careers. The long hours and lack of support — and outright denigration of teachers — has taken a serious toll and will continue to do so for some time. I think many people are prepared for “older” teachers who “struggle with technology” to leave the profession in relatively high numbers. However, I believe people are in for a big surprise when the number of “newer” teachers far and away exceeds the number of veteran teachers leaving the profession.

— A teacher in a high school with 72% low-income students in the Sacramento area

I’d say 25-30% of my colleagues who are too young to retire are seriously considering leaving the profession. Those who are near retirement are 100% looking for workarounds to be able to leave sooner rather than later.

— A teacher in a high school with 41% low-income students in the Central Coast region

I think it really depends on where they were in their development as a teacher (new teachers and reluctant teachers are most at risk of leaving).

— A teacher in a high school with 57% low-income students in the Central Coast

I know a number of educators who have contemplated leaving for similar reasons. “This is not what I signed up for.” “I don’t want to be made a martyr.”

— A teacher in a high school with 20% low-income students in the San Jose-Monterey region

They’re scared. Teaching is our passion, but not at the expense of our family’s lives.

— A teacher in an elementary school with 83% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

Many feel they have no other options and are “trapped.”

— A teacher in an elementary school with less than 1% low-income students in the Los Angeles area

We are mixed in my city. In fact, we seem to be at war politically…. In my county, the police force publicly announced that they will not enforce any of the safety mandates for California, so although we are currently in the Purple Tier, our schools are open, and so are our restaurants and bars, and many people frequent these places unmasked. We have local vigilante militia groups publicly threatening anyone who would dare to report these businesses, and even then, our police force supports them and not those whose actual lives are threatened. I’m scared almost all of the time.

— A teacher in a high school with 58% low-income students in Northeast California

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  1. Deborah Rei 3 months ago3 months ago

    If a teacher is uncomfortable with school district expectations with weighing health risks of COVID, I recommend that teachers consider teaching in correctional settings. Correctional settings include city jails or county juvenile facilities, state or federal prisons, where in some cases teachers will earn better pay and benefits which increases retirement pensions. I taught in a state prison in California for 15 years. While correctional settings do have challenging circumstances, I was … Read More

    If a teacher is uncomfortable with school district expectations with weighing health risks of COVID, I recommend that teachers consider teaching in correctional settings. Correctional settings include city jails or county juvenile facilities, state or federal prisons, where in some cases teachers will earn better pay and benefits which increases retirement pensions.

    I taught in a state prison in California for 15 years. While correctional settings do have challenging circumstances, I was not required to conduct any Zoom meetings and chat rooms with students, since inmates are not allowed access to the internet for obvious reasons. During COVID pandemic, I delivered education packets to inmate cells or dormitories and also conducted social distance in-person classes according to guidelines.

    Teachers need to look out for their own well-being and do what is best for them financially as well. Consider an alternative and think about helping incarcerated youth and adults! I found it to be a very rewarding career and helped numerous men get a high school equivalency or GED.