SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Teaching in America’s public school system was already a stressful job, even before the coronavirus pandemic. Now, a new survey finds COVID-19 is only making that problem worse. Researchers from the RAND Corporation say more teachers are leaving the classroom due to COVID-related stress than for any other reason over the last year.
The global policy think tank’s report reveals stress is the number one reason teachers leave school regardless of the virus. In fact, out of 1,000 former public school educators in the study, three in four said their final year of teaching was “often or always stressful.”
Despite frequent battles over low pay, U.S. teachers were twice as likely to cite stress when quitting rather than salary issues. A majority of the poll actually went on to take jobs with less or equal pay to their teaching role. Three in 10 took a job without health insurance or a retirement plan.
COVID-19 is creating a whole new set of teaching issues
While some workers may enjoy working from home, quarantine is only making life more complex and challenging for educators. Since March of 2020, nearly half of the teachers leaving public schools say COVID-19 is the top reason.
Respondents cited having to work more hours, challenges teaching a whole class remotely, and frequent technical issues as some of the problems driving up stress levels.
“Different COVID-19 stressors affected pandemic teachers differently,” says Melissa Diliberti, lead author of the report and an assistant policy researcher at RAND, in a media release. “Insufficient pay and childcare responsibilities drove out younger teachers under 40, while older teachers were more likely to say health conditions made them leave.”
Where are teachers going?
Although public schools are seeing a mass exodus of teachers, the study finds many are still finding less stressful roles in the education field. Three in 10 respondents moved to a different type of teaching role. Around four in 10 switched to a non-teaching education position. Only three in 10 former teachers left the education field completely.
For those still working with students in some way, respondents say the top perks of these new jobs include better work schedule flexibility and a better working atmosphere.
Despite this bleak picture for America’s public schools, researchers say there is some hope as COVID-19 vaccines roll out. Some respondents say they’ll come back to the classroom as long as school districts meet a few conditions.
“Despite the many reasons public school teachers left, about half of those who left primarily because of COVID-19 said they would be willing to come back once most staff are vaccinated or there was regular rapid COVID-19 testing of staff and students,” reports Heather Schwartz, study co-author and director of the Pre-K to 12 educational systems program at RAND.
The study appears in RAND’s report, “Stress Topped the Reasons Why Public School Teachers Quit, Even Before COVID-19.”