In 2018, teachers in the United States quit their jobs at a record rate, with an average of 83 out of 10,000 teachers and other public education employees quitting per month.
According to the Wall Street Journal, that 0.83 percent average monthly quit rate —which includes teachers, janitors, school psychologists, and other positions in public education—is a 10 percent increase from 2017, and about a 35 percent increase from 2009, when the quit rate was at 0.48 percent. Some of this is attributed to the US’s low overall unemployment rate, because when jobs were scarcer and the economy more volatile, people took comfort in public education’s steady employment.
But things are more stable (for now), and teachers are less impressed with what public education has to offer them. Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter, attributed the uptick in quitting to lack of excitement in the public sector. “It’s a more boring place now, and they see their friends finding exciting opportunities,” she told the Wall Street Journal.
Certainly, that might be some of it. But teachers—the majority of whom are women—are also often paid low and stagnant salaries in exchange for long, difficult hours (both on the clock and off) with little public recognition or appreciation. In 2018, there were statewide teacher strikes in a number of states, including in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona. while teachers in the city of Los Angeles intend to go on strike in the new year. Oklahoma teacher salaries were the second lowest in the country when the strikes began; in West Virginia, they were the fourth lowest.
Teachers in both states got pay bumps following the strikes, but the protests also amplified some school districts’ decades of neglect, which may also have contributed to the increase in quitting:
Tensions over inadequate pay and per-pupil funding levels came to a head in 2018 during statewide protests, in some cases shutting classrooms for as many as nine school days. The strikes produced modest gains in the states where they occurred—teachers in Arizona, West Virginia and Oklahoma all received raises—but they also popularized images of dilapidated textbooks and school rooms and portraits of teachers who took on odd jobs to make ends meet…
…“Part of it was compensation,” said Alice Cain, executive vice president of Teach Plus, a policy organization working with a network of 26,000 teachers. “But part of this was that their students weren’t valued, and that the public education system in our country isn’t a priority in so many places.”
Teachers in Los Angeles will go on strike on January 10.