55 Percent of Educators May Soon Leave Field, Citing COVID Burnout: Poll

National Education Association (NEA) President Becky Pringle was not shocked by a new survey of American teachers conducted by her organization which found that 55 percent of educators are considering leaving the profession sooner due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This new statistic is a drastic increase from 33 percent who were thinking about leaving when polled in August 2021 and represents a number nearly double when compared to responses published in July 2020. Burnout was cited as a major reason behind the educators' reasoning. While 90 percent called burnout a serious issue, 67 percent of those indicated it was "very serious."

"I always want to be there for my colleagues, but it is emotionally and mentally exhausting," Sobia Sheikh, a high school math teacher in Everett, Washington, who routinely is asked to fill in for absent colleagues told the NEA. "We're in survival mode from last year. We're fighting to make it through the year, through the month, through the week—for some of us just through the day. The pressure can be overwhelming."

The pandemic, in general, has encouraged educators to leave the field early, but burnout has accelerated it. Statistics found that the majority of those planning to leave are Hispanic or Black. Pringle told Newsweek that teachers of color are often educating in schools that were already marginalized pre-pandemic, due to inequities based on race and socioeconomic status.

She called it a byproduct of "decades of disinvestment" and feeling the weight of filling in the gaps, in addition to historically taking on more debt to become teachers originally due to coming from families that had generational poverty.

The top proposals to gain support to combat burnout, in order from most to least supported, were: higher educator salaries; hiring more teachers; providing additional support and mental health services for students; hiring more support staff; fewer paperwork requirements; less standardized or diagnostic testing; and hiring more counselors and school psychologists.

Becky Pringle
National Education Association President Becky Pringle is not surprised by results of a new survey indicating that over half of member teachers are looking to leave the profession. Above, Pringle in an undated photo. National Education Association

The survey was published January 31 and included the responses of 3,621 NEA members, and respondents included teachers of various ages and experience, as well as bus drivers and those who serve meals in school settings.

"I knew firsthand the exhaustion and the stress and the workload issues, that the challenges (teachers) were facing were real. ... It's challenging because we have been talking about it forever," Pringle told Newsweek, adding that she has toured schools nationwide. "You saw teachers hit the streets two years ago and Americans were shocked. We've been telling stories and sounding the alarm. We had some progress during that period but sustaining it has been hard."

Teneshia Moore, an eighth-grade teacher from Southfield, Michigan, said a lack of personnel combined with attrition has had a major impact.

"It's been a huge challenge," Moore told the NEA. "This is a noble profession, but we're under-appreciated and underpaid. You deal with that on a daily basis and it's a hard pill to swallow."

Becky Pringle
National Education Association (NEA) President Becky Pringle was not shocked by a new survey of American teachers conducted by her organization which found that 55 percent of educators are considering leaving the profession sooner due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Above, Pringle speaks to delegates on a megaphone at a human rights rally outside a convention center July 2, 2019, at the Conference on Racial and Social Justice at NEA 2019 in Houston, Texas. National Education Association

About 94 percent of the educators surveyed reported that their schools are fully open for in-person learning. Those that work in schools not fully open referred to staff shortages rather than COVID-19 infection rates as the primary reasoning.

Almost half of surveyed NEA members estimated that over 10 percent of teachers at their schools are currently absent due to COVID-19 exposure, while 69 percent of members said over 10 percent of students are absent for the same reason.

About three-fourths of members reported having to fill on for colleagues due to staff shortages.

About 93 percent of NEA members are fully vaccinated and about 71 percent of them are boosted.

In terms of school safety measures, better ventilation was named as the No. 1 proposal teachers supported. However, only about 38 percent of respondents reported that their schools did improve their ventilation systems throughout the pandemic.

About 48 percent of those surveyed said that ventilation was not up to par with their standards, including members in high-poverty schools.

Mask requirements and social distancing measures lagged behind ventilation in "total support" by 15 and 19 percent, respectively.

Pringle said the NEA developed a national network and allocated $10 million to work with affiliates across all 50 states to develop long-term systemic solutions, such as paying support staff so additional jobs aren't required or educating professionals about collective bargaining at local levels.

On top of attracting and retaining teachers, she told Newsweek that the politicization of schools has added more stress to an already strenuous profession.

"We just need to lift up our educators and let them know we see them and the work they do as the foundation of this democracy, so that we appreciate and respect them and are going to do what we have to do to support them and keep them in this profession," Pringle said.

Connecticut Teachers and Students Wear Masks
The majority of teachers report trying to leave the field before their original intentions, citing COVID burnout as a major factor. Above, teacher Elizabeth DeSantis, wearing a mask and face shield, helps a first grader during reading class at Stark Elementary School on September 16, 2020, in Stamford, Connecticut. John Moore/Getty Images