Criticizing Teachers Who Leave Will Not Fix the Teacher Shortage

I’ve come to accept that no matter how much I love teaching, the education system will never love me back. I’ve known this for a while, but a part of me used to believe that the system would one day come through for me tenfold and reward my commitment to my students.

When I resigned from my teaching position in June 2019 to move abroad, I just figured that I would teach at an international school and pick up where I left off. But then came COVID, the anti-CRT rhetoric, the banned books, more mass shootings, etc. 

Now, we have a continuous wave of great teachers leaving the profession, and I honestly don’t blame them one bit.

It’s been almost three years since I’ve taught in a K-12 classroom, and with each passing year, my desire to return to the classroom full-time steadily declines.

Although I can never say never to returning to the classroom full-time, I feel pretty confident that I will never find myself in that role ever again. The thought of returning to that role under these current conditions is scary and unfathomable to me.

I know that I still want to remain in the education field. That desire has never wavered. The difference now is that I want to do it on my own terms and engage this work in a way that will sustain me rather than drain me. 

That’s also the case for Ernest Crim III, Roger Hamilton, Willie Carver, Lucia Reyes, and many other teachers who have recently announced they are leaving the classroom. Even though I’m still in the process of figuring out what that utopian world will ultimately look like for me, I’m excited about the possibilities and encouraged by the fact that I can dictate how I want to show up in this education space moving forward.

No teacher should live with the psychological and physical burden of teaching within an education system that overworks, dehumanizes, and fails to affirm them.

For those of you who are criticizing teachers for leaving the classroom, here’s my word of advice. Rather than denouncing these brave teachers for leaving, thank them for serving.

Thank them for sacrificing their time and energy to be present for their students. Thank them for investing in their students when others gave up on them. Commend them for their courage to not only speak the truth about the current climate of our education system but also to be willing to put their teaching careers in jeopardy.  

Ask them why they are leaving. Check-in on them and ask them how they are feeling. Offer a word of encouragement or affirmation—or even send a small donation as a show of support. Contact your senators and elected officials in your state and demand policies that will protect, honor, and affirm teachers. Take the time to find out what else you can do to support them.  

Finally, amplify the stories of teachers by sharing them with your friends and others on social media. Stop placing the onus on teachers to fix a recruitment and retention issue that they didn’t create. And if you feel so compelled, offer your free time as a volunteer to a school near you.

When it’s all said and done, teachers have more than earned the right to choose themselves first—and that should be the message we amplify with so many teachers making the tough decision to leave. 

Kwame Sarfo-Mensah
Kwame Sarfo-Mensah is the founder of Identity Talk Consulting, LLC., an independent educational consulting firm that provides professional development and consulting services globally to educators who desire to enhance their instructional practices and reach their utmost potential in the classroom. He is the author of two books, "Shaping the Teacher Identity: 8 Lessons That Will Help Define the ...

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