615 Midwestern Teachers Reveal Why They’re Really Leaving the Classroom

Data Contradicts Unions' Reasons for Shortage
Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli, Unsplash.
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Countless education advocates have spent the last few months warning of the approaching teacher shortage—myself included. Voices from the left have warned of every reason from low teacher pay to COVID-19 policy to parents at school board meetings, while closer colleagues of mine in the center and on the right have suggested a behavioral crisis. 

I set out to confirm a regional understanding of why so many teachers have announced their departure from Midwestern classrooms this year—either abandoning the field altogether or switching school districts.

Only K-12 teachers were invited to complete this seven question survey (three introductory questions with four content/core questions). Limiting factors via survey distribution and internal mechanisms functioned as an endeavor to keep the data safer from the taint of political advocacy—though I will admit there is no way to keep something like this sterile. Most likely, a different set of 615 qualified responders would yield a different result, therefore I only pose that this is the best data I could collect independently, at the current time.

Of the 682 total responses, only 615 qualified to participate in the survey. 67 of the responses answered question two, “What is the staff email assigned to you by the district you currently/previously worked in?” with an email address not verifiable as a school email. 

Additionally, teachers were asked if they were leaving their position as a K-12 teacher and what Midwestern state (Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio) they worked in. While the definition of what Midwestern means culturally is up for debate, this was a cultural region I had experience with—far more than either U.S. coastal corridor, for example. 

Once past the initial three framing and introductory questions, four questions were presented to responders:

  1. Given the reasons below, what is the largest reason you’re leaving your position?
    • Salary is insufficient
    • Student behavior is poor and left unchecked.
    • Progressive political activity (Diversity/Equity/Inclusion, Critical Race Theory, Gender Identity, etc.) required by administration.
    • Parental concerns with your classroom (Demands from parents about curriculum, instruction, etc.)
    • COVID-19 Policies
    • Safety concerns about school shootings
    • Lack of materials to teach effectively (self-financed classrooms, etc.)
    • Standardized Testing
    • Licensure Expiration or Professional Development requirements
    • Other
  1. If salary were considered an ancillary reason, i.e. “I’m not being paid enough to deal with _______”, what would you suggest is the largest reason you’re leaving your classroom?
    • Student behavior is poor and left unchecked.
    • Progressive political activity (Diversity/Equity/Inclusion, Critical Race Theory, Gender Identity, etc.) required by administration.
    • Parental concerns with your classroom (Demands from parents about curriculum, instruction, etc.)
    • COVID-19 Policies
    • Safety concerns about school shootings
    • Lack of materials to teach effectively (self-financed classrooms, etc.)
    • Standardized Testing
    • Licensure Expiration or Professional Development requirements
    • Other
  1. If the present administration could provide evidence that this specific problem is being dealt with satisfactorily, would you return to this classroom?
    • Yes, this year
    • Yes, after a year or more of proof
    • No
    • Not sure
  1. Were you a member of a local or national teachers union at some point during the previous academic year?
    • Yes
    • No

Of the responders with salary as an included primary reason, 319 of the 615 responders listed student behavior as their biggest reason to leave the classroom, followed by 138 for “progressive political activity” and 134 for “salary is insufficient”. 

When pay is listed as an ancillary reason in contribution to another factor, the numbers shift dramatically. 447 of 615 responders listed unchecked student behavior as their primary reason for leaving the classroom. 128 listed “progressive political activity”, while only nine listed parental harassment. 

Given this, it’s beyond incredible that Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers and Becky Pringle of the National Education Association would cite Republicans’ and parents’ “politicization” of the classroom as the reason for the teacher shortage. It’s not even a secondary or tertiary issue—it’s forty-nine times less important to teachers than the behavioral crisis. 

Furthermore, 356 of the 615 teachers reported that they were a member of a teachers union this previous year. It’s not just non-union teachers that are reporting these issues. 

I was surprised to see that only 21% of responders answered “yes” to returning to the classroom of the district if their complaints were reported to have been dealt with.

In this first survey, I conclude that it’s reasonable (at the very least) to cast extreme doubt on union and education advocacy organizations claiming that pay and parental harassment are the primary issues for teachers leaving. 

When salary is listed as a contributing factor, 93.35% of Midwestern teachers claim that their resignation is due to student behavior and progressive political activity required in their classrooms.

Personally, I had assumed that teacher licensure and professional developments would be a greater share of the responses.

One of the teachers who responded they were resigning due to fear of school shootings submitted their response May 25—the day after the Uvalde, Texas shooting.

One self-criticism of note is that I didn’t separate “Conservative/Republican education legislation” from “parental concerns.” Though the GOP legislative action was a direct derivative of parental distress beginning during the COVID-19 lockdowns, I should have split those. Also, I should have provided a text submission option for “If you selected ‘other’, why?” I’m rather curious as to what those responses represented. 

I also should have added resignation options like, “I’ve reached retirement-age” and “inter-personal staff disagreements.” There are several others which come to mind; the options listed were found in a major publication (NPR, NEA, AFT, Chalkbeat, EdWeek, etc.) as a primary reason over the last 12 months.

I plan to coordinate with larger education groups in order to provide a larger, nationwide survey to assess teacher shortages in the fall. As always, all data and numerical information is checked and rechecked by our Data Analyst at Chalkboard Review, Daniel Elmore. 

The final date for survey data-collection data was July 10, 2022. The collection method was a locked Google Form, transmitted and requested via a hybrid method without advertising of any sort. This was done in an attempt to limit political charging, as often happens when someone shares a poll on Twitter, for example.

The complete survey (all framing sections included) captured via Google Forms.

All media requests, concerns, and other queries should be directed to contact@thechalkboardreview.com.

Tony Kinnett
Tony Kinnett is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Chalkboard Review. He is an award-winning science teacher, and the former science coordinator and head instructional coach for Indianapolis Public Schools, until he was fired for whistleblowing information concerning the school system's use of racist material. In February, he was appointed the director of the education nonprofit Choice Media, now Chalkboard Media.

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