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Burned-out teachers are sharing their Great Resignation stories on TikTok

February 9, 2022, 7:40 PM UTC
A teacher stands in her classroom
Courtesy of Kelly-Jeanne Lee

Teachers are exhausted. According to a recent study by the National Education Association, 90% of members report feeling burnt out as a serious problem. The COVID-19 pandemic increased workloads and exposed underlying systemic issues in the educational sector, leading teachers to consider leaving their profession at record rates.

And like many young workers, teachers are turning to TikTok to express their feelings of burnout and anxiety around quitting and share advice on finding more flexible work and how to break into a new industry. 

After losing a campaign for local office, Kelly-Jeanne Lee, 40, decided that 2021 would be her last year teaching. 

“It had gotten to a point where I wasn’t paying all my bills. I was just tired,” says Lee. “With the pandemic, of course, everything is extra challenging, and you want to be as supportive as possible. But there’s a point at which you need to choose self-preservation.”

Lee, who lives in Atlanta, is also a single mom, and with all those added responsibilities and expenses, she says her teacher salary was no longer cutting it. She turned to TikTok to post candidly about her burnout under the handle @KJLinATL.

@kjlinatl

I’ve been thinking about leaving teaching for a year now. Sometimes doors just open… #teachertok #teacherquits #teacherquitting #thegreatresignation

♬ Twilight – Spencer Hunt

When art teacher Allison Springer started working remotely during the beginning of the pandemic, she quickly realized she didn’t love remote teaching but enjoyed the flexibility that working from home afforded.

“I got a glimpse of what my life could be like if I had a little bit more freedom and if I had a job that didn’t require so much of me all the time,” says the 28-year-old, who was living in Arkansas at the time.

When Springer returned to school in the fall of 2020, she was further demoralized by the lack of public recognition for the physical and mental sacrifices educators were making for their jobs.

Springer was well-acquainted with teacher communities on Instagram and TikTok, and watching videos from other teachers who resigned and started new careers made her realize that quitting was possible, even if she admits making the decision was terrifying. 

In turn, she shared her own experience of how she left teaching and started her career as a freelance social media consultant Her video on transferable skills relevant to teachers has garnered more than half-a-million views since she posted to her channel @al.meets.social in November 2021.

@al.meets.social

It’s all about transitioning that resume so it makes sense to other careers—but trust—YOU DO have skills #formerteacher #quittingteaching #teacherlife

♬ inhale exhale wild side. – oh

“I get a lot of messages from teachers that are basically just like, ‘I want out, I need help.’ Or ‘I’m so glad that you’re talking about this experience because it makes me believe that it’s possible for me.’”

Lee also shared her experience deciding to quit in an effort to take away some of shame and uncertainty associated with quitting teaching, 

“As a teacher, you’re trained to put everybody else before you, and so you feel guilty about the [quitting] process,” Lee says. “You feel like you’re the only one doing it, and everyone’s going to be mad at you, and this life you’re used to is going to go away.” 

Both Lee and Springer used their platforms not just to break the stigma around quitting but also to provide career advice to other teachers. Lee has since found a job working as a business consultant and project manager at an e-commerce company. Her sister has a background in recruiting, and Lee works with her to offer advice to teachers looking to reorganize their resumes and emphasizing their transferable skills. Springer speaks to the wide range of advice and career trajectories to be found on former teacher TikTok.

“I hope that people that are tuning into this little niche are seeing that there are a lot of different ways to move out of teaching, whether it’s tech or corporate, online teaching, or social media management, or entrepreneurship, or freelance or virtual assisting. And we don’t have to be in competition with each other. Some of us have courses, some of us are just sharing our stories, but we can really collaborate and try to further this mission of allowing teachers to believe it’s possible.”

As teachers’ responsibilities increased during the pandemic and compensation remains the same, educators like Lee and Springer are pushing back and prioritizing their needs and goals.

In their new jobs, both women have found more work-life balance, more flexibility, and better pay. Lee says she’s making 60% more than she did on her teacher salary. 

“So many of us are just so ingrained to put others first. I just turned 40, and I’m ready to spend some time but putting myself at least second,” says Lee.

While teachers are increasingly finding community and career advice from each other on TikTok, the issues that are leading to teacher burnout remain largely unaddressed. Lee hopes that the mass resignation of educators might lead to larger education reform. 

“There might be a way in which a lot of people quitting will force education as a whole to really rethink what it is and what it’s doing to make sure that teachers are taken care of. And so it may seem like a selfish act right now to quit. But I hold out hope that a bunch of people leaving en masse will be the wake up call that COVID wasn’t.”

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