Veteran K-12 teachers in states across the U.S. are resigning and retiring at higher rates as schools begin reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic this fall, with educators citing the stress tied to remote learning, technical difficulties and COVID-19 health concerns.
Several teachers who recently resigned, retired or opted out of their jobs ahead of pandemic reopening efforts say leaving their kids has been hard, but remote learning has made their jobs too difficult. One Florida teacher said she became paranoid due to the constant requirement of being live-streamed to dozens of students throughout all hours of the day. And an Arizona high school science teacher said he resigned from a job he loves after his district voted to return students to in-person classroom learning—creating a health risk he and many other teachers say they aren’t willing to take.
The two seemingly paradoxical concerns have caused many teachers to seek different career paths, different roles or to focus on raising their own children.
In New York State, teacher retirements are up 20 percent from 2019, according to data from the New York State Teacher Retirement System. About 650 teachers filed for retirement between July and early August alone.
A number of K-12 teachers said much of the joy they received from personal interaction with students has been undermined or eliminated altogether by teaching through a computer screen rather than a classroom.
“I had to consider the health of my family. I am a science teacher. We gather evidence and we make decisions. If there is competing data, we look at both and weigh them,” Kevin Fairhurst, who resigned from his teaching position at Arizona’s Queen Creek Unified School District on August 13, told Healthline. “The data from the experts in our health field suggested we should not yet be teaching in person because of the potential for this to cause more outbreaks.”
Fairhurst is among nine of 17 science teachers at two of the district’s high schools who have quit in the past few months. Students and teachers at school districts around the country receive daily temperature checks and are required to wear masks—even on recess playgrounds—as administrators are aiming to eliminate the chance of spreading COVID-19.
“With figuring out a new technological platform, while not being able to circulate around the room checking on the kids in class, because we are supposed to be trying to maintain our distance—and also, now that I am streaming to someone, I need to be visible to them on camera too, right?” Smith told the local TV station.
“So, there was the stress of figuring all that out and just the fact of what would be constant paranoia of being exposed to potentially like 80 to 100 kids a day. It wouldn’t be a satisfying life to live for me personally. So I made the difficult decision to resign a little over a week ago now,” Smith continued.
Erica Bean, who taught science, social studies and language arts in Greensboro, North Carolina, for nearly 20 years, also informed students and parents earlier this month that she would be resigning from Guilford County Schools. As WSPA-TV reported, Bean said her attempt to balance the stresses of remote learning methods while taking care of her own children had become too much to handle.
Bean said remote learning through computers eliminated much of the joy and personal connection teachers get when they’re able to instruct their students in person.
“You just try your best to make it interactive and have fun with them,” Bean told the local news station, adding that she doesn’t believe students are able to retain the information via remote instruction.
“I’m very sorry to my students and my parents this year but in reality, I’m not the best teacher for this situation,” Bean wrote after resigning from her teaching position, WGHP-TV reported Wednesday. She went on to describe the technical glitches which come with remote learning. “Highlighting the text and physically putting your hand down to the paper, writing notes is different from doing it on a computer screen … there was never the satisfaction, ‘OK that went really well. That went really good.'”
Newsweek reached out to Pinellas County Schools as well as New York State’s teacher retirement system data holders for additional remarks Saturday morning.