Why Teachers Quit + What You Can Do Instead

Devlin Peck
. Updated on 
March 29, 2024
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Teachers have been resigning in record numbers over the past few years.

Want to learn why?

You’re in the right place.

Today we’ll dive into the main reasons behind why teachers quit and signs to look for if you’re  considering quitting teaching too.

Let’s get started!

Why do teachers quit?

The main reason teachers quit is because of how stressful the job is.

Teaching has always been an intense role, with a lot of pressure placed on teachers to adapt to different learning styles and challenging classroom dynamics.

However, recent studies show that since the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers have had to deal with even more work and longer hours.

Add in staff shortages and a lack of educational funds and you can see why many are struggling at work. In fact, one survey by Rand shows that teachers are more than twice as likely to be dealing with stress than workers in other industries.

This anxiety and pressure can quickly lead to teacher burnout. Across the industry, more people are dealing with this emotional and physical exhaustion.

Teachers often end up feeling like they don’t have any work-life balance. And with over 60% of teachers reported to be unhappy with their pay, there’s a financial burden too.

In the next section, we take a more in-depth look at the top reasons teachers quit.

The top reasons teachers quit

Teaching is more than just a job.

The emotional and practical demands mean that it often has a huge impact on your life. Here we take a look at those effects that lead people to quit teaching.


The National Education Association describes teacher burnout as “a condition in which an educator has exhausted the personal and professional resources necessary to do the job.”

After years of dealing with heavy workloads, understaffing, and emotionally demanding issues such as behavioral challenges, teachers often end up leaving. They do this not because they don’t enjoy the work, but because they can’t see a way to continue.  

The most common symptoms of burnout include:

Recent data from Education Support shows that 35% of teachers are struggling with recurring migraines. Meanwhile, 55% have trouble sleeping.

What’s more is that many of the issues teachers face are worsening year after year. For example, Education Support found that 8% more teachers reported irritability and mood swings in the 2023 survey than in 2022.

The modern education environment is especially prone to causing burnout among teachers. Modern-day parenting means they are exposed to constant criticism and, with high levels of understaffing, schools don’t have the resources to properly support existing staff.

For this article, we asked a few former teachers why they quit. One of them told us she quit because of burnout:

“I was burned out. There were too many extra demands and no added time to meet them. Support was waning from administration in discipline and/or academic problems – administration would nearly always try to get me to cave to the student and/or their parents.”

Heavy workloads and staff shortages

Recent research shows that 90% of public schools in the US are struggling with understaffing.

Working with fewer or less experienced staff means that teachers have to pick up additional work. This includes:  

When you’re dealing with a larger number of students, it can be difficult to provide them with the one-on-one support they need. This means that in schools with understaffing issues, students often get worse grades and teachers’ assessments may be impacted.

For example, one teacher we interviewed shares her reasons for quitting:

“I couldn't do the job the way I wanted to. The more competent you are, the more they throw at you (which I know is normal). But, I had a whole bunch of classes with needy students, and the responsibility that came with that was time-consuming and stressful on top of multiple preps (including AP-assessed classes). I was losing the rest of my life outside of teaching and dreaded going to work. I never knew how long it would take to get ready for the next day. I have always been a bit of a perfectionist and 20 years of that has been a lot of stress. Also, COVID zapped the motivation and ability to focus for many students.”

Safety issues

In just ten months of 2023, there were 306 school shootings.

This lack of safety is a very obvious reason why teachers quit their roles en masse each year.

Many feel that there are not enough security measures in place to protect them and their students. For example, one survey showed that 70% of teachers want class sizes reduced. It also showed that they receive less than 50% of the mental health support they feel they need.

Safety issues also cause a problem with school culture that teachers just can’t fix…

Behavioral issues have continued to rise over the past four years, according to research from EdWeek Research Center. And it’s pretty hard to discipline children when there’s a pervasive sense of insecurity and fear within the school environment.

One teacher shares how these issues impacted her decision to leave:

“When a student hit me and the district allowed her to return to school 4 days later - without even telling me - I reached my breaking point. I have my retirement but am not old enough to take it yet. So I started looking for something I could do remotely.”

Another former teacher says a horrible event made her quit:

“I loved my school and what I was doing. However, in February 2020, right before the pandemic, a student took a gun to school. He had no intention of using it, but he accidentally shot and killed another student. It was just devastating because one of the students involved had been my student the previous school year. The school is a good school, the kids were good kids, but it was hard to shake that off. After that I started looking into other things I could do.”

Low salaries

Research from the Economic Policy Institute shows that teachers are paid less (in weekly wages and total compensation) than their non-teaching colleagues.

This feeling of being undervalued is leading high numbers of people to quit teaching. In fact, McKinsey research shows that 42% of educators have left because of poor compensation while 48% of educators are planning to leave.

Forbes research also shows over 90% of public school teachers invest in their own teaching supplies. Even basic essentials such as paper and glue are not being covered by school funds. This means teachers are often earning even less than their low salaries.

Many teachers know that they can use their skills to get a higher salary elsewhere. For example, as we look at later, many transition to other careers to get better pay and more flexibility over where they can work.

A former teacher shares how finances were one reason she decided to quit:

“My husband is a teacher too and we were both out of the house (and away from our three little kids) 9 hours a day and barely making ends meet with no savings.”

Lack of flexibility

McKinsey studies show that the third biggest factor driving people to look for a new role is to get more flexibility over when and where they work. Meanwhile, our studies show that one of the largest reasons people get into instructional design is because of the possibility of remote work.

In the modern working world, people want to:

These are benefits that only come with a flexible job. The problem is that very few teaching positions offer the potential for remote or flexible work.

That’s also one of the reasons one teacher quit. She says:

“I wanted a job where I could volunteer in my kindergartner’s class or go to a dentist appointment midday and not have to feel like I was burdening my coworkers/boss to use personal time. Also having to sub plan for every absence is exhausting and often not worth being gone.”

Another teacher shares:

“After having a taste of teaching remotely in an online and asynchronous format in 2020, I knew that the future of education was changing and this was a format I could see myself working to refine and excel in. The public school landscape was becoming increasingly political and while I had a great administration, the restrictions being put in place along with the increasing work hours (outside of what I was contractually obligated to perform) made the future of a career in teaching look quite bleak. I had good rapport with students and managed my classroom well, but after returning back to in-person teaching, I could tell that student behavior was becoming more of an issue and the disruptions caused by a lack of respect and care were increasing.”

When should you quit teaching?

It can be easy to daydream about leaving a job for years, but often we don’t act until it becomes unavoidable.

Read on to discover the warning signs that could mean it’s time to start looking for new positions now.

1. You’re constantly stressed

Every job comes with some level of stress, but if you’re constantly anxious about work, it might be time to leave teaching.

You shouldn’t ignore feeling stressed if you…

2. You aren’t happy as a teacher

Be honest: do you still feel excited about where your career as a teacher could take you?

Do you see opportunities to grow in your role? Are you finding chances to learn new things?

If not, it could be time to leave teaching.

Equally, if you’re eager to gain more flexibility over when and where you work, it might be a good idea to take a look at other careers.

Other industries could provide more opportunities for you to work to your own schedule and meet your personal goals.  

3. You want a better salary

If you’re struggling financially, know that you can use your skills to earn more money in another field.

Teaching is a very commendable career, but with no sign of salary increases across the industry, you have to look out for yourself.

Read on to discover some of the higher-paid opportunities you could look into after quitting teaching…

Jobs for teachers who quit

You might be thinking, “I don’t have any experience outside of teaching. Why would anyone want to hire me?”

The thing is, you have plenty of transferable skills.

These include:

And you can use these skills in other careers.

Here are just a few, popular examples. For more roles, take a look at our other guides here:

Instructional design

Instructional design is the process of developing learning experiences for higher education, the corporate world, or for organizations such as non-profits. Many teachers transition into the field because of overlapping tasks that allow you to continue teaching, all while learning a new skill set. But instructional design also offers:

For example, here’s what other teacher have achieved after going through our ID Bootcamp (that teaches you how to become an instructional designer) and landing instructional design roles:

“I landed a full-time ID role in a school district 8 months after starting my transition. My work-life balance is exponentially better, I get to control how I use my work time, and I get to collaborate with my team whenever I want, as part of my actual work day. I'm so much less stressed in this job. I'm making about $10k more than I did after 16 years of teaching and coaching (which added a few thousand dollars to my total pay).”
“Even though my compensation is the same as my teaching position, I am working less hours (40, instead of 60+) and can end the work day knowing that I don't have anything to take home with me. My overall stress is lower, and while I've had to learn new things in my current role, I actually have time in my day to learn and grow instead of trying to squeeze in time for professional development on my own time like I would while teaching.”
“I decided to quit my teaching job in December and move back home with my parents. During that time, I re-framed my resume to attract entry-level ID jobs. I landed an Associate ID position for a tech company in February. I enjoy the job, as it allows me to work from home and get experience with ILT and Instructional Design. My work/life balance has been MUCH better.”
“Right now I work on a remote contract role for a Health Insurance company, and I feel awesome. I am just happy. They trust me as a professional. They appreciate my work. And I like the paycheck. I make $53.19 an hour. My daughter loves me to be home, and she loves it when I pick her up from school.”
“I actually have a work/life balance now. I don't feel guilty at the end of the day when I step away from my work. My mental health is so much better. The compensation for developing one course was comparable to my teaching salary, but I was working ~20 hours a week (instead of 50+ hours a week). If I accepted other contract work, I could have easily doubled my teaching salary while still working ~40 hours a week.”

Average salary: $81,685

Want to learn more about instructional design?

Learn more here: 

And check out our free checklist to see the steps to become one.

Educational policy consultant

Educational policy consultants take a step back from the stress of working on-the-ground as a teacher. Instead, they work with government agencies, policymakers, and institutions to provide guidance about educational policies and programs.

Many teachers move into the field because they already have experience of curriculum development and great communication skills.

To become an educational policy consultant, you should:

Average salary: $71,005

Curriculum developer

Interested in a role that allows you to take a step back from teaching while improving the education system? Becoming a curriculum developer is another option.

This role involves developing materials and activities for students and sharing instructional guides.

As a teacher, you’ll know how to manage lesson planning and assessments. To gain relevant experience to become a curriculum developer, you should then attend workshops and conferences such as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) Annual Conference.

You can work within the educational sector, at organizations, or remotely for greater flexibility and work-life balance.

Average salary: $60,710

Human resources manager

HR managers oversee the Human Resources department in an organization. This means hiring, training, and developing employees, managing compensation and benefits, and ensuring the organization is complying with labor laws.

Teachers often move into Human Resources because they have great communication skills. The ability to handle classroom conflict also translates directly into the ability to handle disciplinary situations in the workplace.

HR roles are less stressful than teaching. You can also often work remotely.

Average salary: $158,630

Next steps

So there you have it…

Now you know the most common reasons behind why teachers quit and some signs that you should consider it too.

Instructional design is one of the most popular career alternatives to teaching. Not only can you increase your salary, but you can also improve your work-life balance, gain new skills, and work remotely.

Interested in transitioning to this field?

Get my free checklist for instructional designers.

It covers how you can become an instructional designer, including the most important models and theories of instructional design as well as the technology that will help you get a great start in this field.

Devlin Peck
Devlin Peck
Devlin Peck is the founder of DevlinPeck.com, where he helps people build instructional design skills and break into the industry. He previously worked as a freelance instructional designer and graduated from Florida State University.
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