Exhausted, unhappy, underpaid: Inside the 'other reasons' NC teachers leave

Posted November 10, 2016

— Exhausted, overwhelmed, unhappy, underpaid – those are just some of the reasons North Carolina public school teachers have given for leaving their jobs in recent years.

Their comments were collected as part of the state's annual report on teacher loss, which shows how many North Carolina educators leave their jobs and the reasons why. But these comments, and hundreds of others, have never been reported publicly – until now.

WRAL News examined the state's data on teacher loss and found that, in the past three years, nearly 2,000 teachers reported leaving their jobs for "other reasons." That represents nearly 5 percent of all teachers who left in that timeframe. In more than 700 of those cases, additional comments were submitted to the state to explain why the teachers were leaving, giving more insight into their decisions.

Some complained about low pay, excessive testing and overwhelming workloads. Others said they wanted to spend more time with family, start a new career or teach overseas.

But those comments and hundreds of others were not included in the state's annual reports on teacher loss, which are presented to lawmakers and the State Board of Education to help with policy-making decisions. The reports simply count them as teachers who "resigned for other reasons."

At last week's State Board of Education meeting, members discussed the latest report on teacher loss, which details how many teachers left last school year and why. During the discussion, board member Wayne McDevitt noted that some teachers reported leaving for other reasons and said he would like to "explore what those are."

WRAL News examined all 700-plus comments from teachers who cited "other reasons" for leaving in the past three years and found:

  • About 125 teachers cited unhappiness with pay, working conditions or general dissatisfaction with their jobs. Some of their comments included: "workplace exhaustion," "unhappy," "creativity was being hampered" and "hostile work environment."
  • About 125 teachers cited personal reasons, such as wanting to spend more time with family or retirement.
  • About 120 teachers left for reasons that were unknown or unclear.
  • More than 115 teachers said they planned to continue teaching elsewhere or take positions in administration. Of those teachers, nearly 30 said they planned to teach overseas and about 20 planned to take jobs in higher education.
  • About 105 teachers reported leaving the teaching profession altogether to enter the private sector or start their own businesses.
  • Nearly 80 teachers left due to their contracts ending, a reduction in staffing or they turned down job reassignments.
  • More than 30 teachers left due to poor performance, disciplinary actions or pending criminal charges.

Tom Tomberlin, who authored this year's report on teacher loss for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, told WRAL News that he found some of the teachers' other reasons for leaving "really interesting" and said he would like to provide more information about their responses in future reports.

Tomerblin said he would like to make several other changes to the report as well, including asking teachers to tell the state education department why they are leaving instead of relying on schools to report that information.

"If the state collected the data, I think it would allow for a little more honesty in the feedback that we got," said Tomberlin, who serves as director of educator human capital policy and research. "I think that would be a really good way to improve it."

He would also be interested in learning more about why teachers leave, including possibly tracking how many leave each year due to pay. The state currently does not track that information.

"We're trying to be politically sensitive by not naming teacher pay as a potential reason, which I think may be a mistake," he said.

North Carolina tracks 28 different reasons why teachers leave their jobs. They include reasons such as "dissatisfied with teaching," "resigned to teach in another state," "retired with full benefits," "other reasons" and so on. Teacher pay is not one of the options.

When teachers leave, schools must choose one of the 28 reasons for each teacher and send that information to the state. Teachers are usually asked which reason best fits them. The state then takes that information and compiles it into an annual report.

Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said he would support adding pay to the official list of reasons teachers can give for leaving. He would also like to know how many teachers are leaving to teach in other states due to pay.

"I would like to see in there if pay was an issue," he said. "I hear from teachers who say they just can’t afford to stay in it any longer. I think pay is a factor for many people."

Changes to the annual report on teacher loss may be coming. At last week's State Board of Education meeting, board member Olivia Oxendine said the board should consider reviewing the 28 reasons the state uses to track teacher loss.

"Maybe (we should) give more thought to how we can refine the categories," she said. "It would be hard, tedious work, but I think it would be worthwhile."

Tomberlin agreed.

"I think there are certain categories, certain reasons in here, that kind of beg for more understanding," he said.


Please with your account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • Byrd Ferguson Nov 10, 2016
    user avatar

    Any job that has to deal with the general public is going to be exhausting.

  • Steve Smith Nov 10, 2016
    user avatar

    To be honest that is the reason MOST people leave their jobs, it is not just related to teaching. However, the underpaid argument, I have an issue with. When you go into teaching it is pretty easy to research how much teachers make. It is a lot easier to figure out than other majors. So my question is, if you are unhappy with the pay, why did you major in education?

  • Benjamin Kite Nov 10, 2016
    user avatar

    Don't forget that it is 100% legal for any NC teacher to be DENIED ACCESS TO A BATHROOM. Don't take my word for it. CHECK IT FOR YOURSELF.

  • Jim Smith Nov 10, 2016
    user avatar

    We need to move to the voucher system. It will resolve the issue of terrible education and the issue of underpaid teachers. Both are a problem in NC.

  • Jim Smith Nov 10, 2016
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Completely agree!

  • William Willets Nov 10, 2016
    user avatar

    Last I checked, the voting ended on Tuesday. Just let it go for another four years WRAL. Journalism ....

  • Ron Coleman Nov 10, 2016
    user avatar

    Exhausted from doing what?

  • Matt Nickeson Nov 10, 2016
    user avatar

    Let's break this down a little bit: There are approximately 100k public school teachers in NC. In 3 years 2k said they left for "other reasons" which is ~0.67% per year. Of those 0.125 % complained of unhappiness with some aspect of the job as a reason for leave. And, what is most astounding to me, is that only 0.003% left due to poor performance, disciplinary actions, or criminal charges. Show me another 100k+ employee company that only fires .003% of their employees. That means that the schools are not getting rid of ineffective teachers. Think about that for a second.

  • William James Nov 10, 2016
    user avatar

    There is little point in gathering data like this if NC does not plan do anything with it! Also, such statistics reinforce the "fantasy" that NC is a Fair and Equal governed and funded state, which its not. Its a totally different experience to teach in the richer Triangle area vs. tightly packed urban and spread out rural counties. Example, teachers in rich school districts get stipends in addition to their pay, while poor counties do not. Teachers in rural areas have kids who don't have access to the internet or only dial-up like its 1990. Some schools are in high crime areas and/or totally lack quality jobs, so far more difficult conditions to work and hit performance goals. The result is that the Teachers in the most challenging environments are the same ones earning the least and criticized for things far outside their control.