Maya Pottiger and Stephon Johnson, Amsterdam News, May 9, 2022
When she gets home from work, it takes Monise Seward two or three hours to decompress from the day. She sits there—just sits—to feel the stress leave her body.
Seward is a middle school math teacher in Metro Indianapolis. She’s worked in schools for the last nine years—previously as a special education teacher in Atlanta—but has been in the field of education for a long time, including homeschooling her children.
And, thanks to her Twitter following of 17,000, she has a front row seat to the industry’s changing landscape. Through her (now private) account, Seward cultivates conversations and amplifies issues facing school staff across the country. She even serves as a private confidant, getting direct messages from people who worry about backlash if they make their thoughts public.
Through her online community, Seward has seen teachers quitting throughout the school year, even posting that they are resigning a month before the end of the academic year.
In its 2021 State of the U.S. Teacher Survey, RAND Corporation researchers found that about half of Black teachers reported they were “likely” to leave their jobs by the end of the school year, which was higher than other races.
In New York City, the United Federation of Teachers told the AmNews that overall, in 2020, 3,017 teachers filed “Retirement Applications” and in 2021, 4,126 teachers filed papers. UFT Spokesperson Dick Riley also told the AmNews that as of Feb. 8, 2022, 726 teachers have filed.
The month that teachers have filed more retirement papers than any other month? July, which is right after the school year ends in the five boroughs.
In July 2020, 1,161 teachers filed papers. In 2021, 1,602 teachers filed. That number is the most since 2019, pre-pandemic when 1,583 teachers filed their retirement papers.
As with so many aspects of life, Black adults serve multiple roles in schools—and not all of them are visible. Children of color are, widely, more academically successful when they have a Black principal, and that success continues down the ladder. Black students who learned from a Black teacher in elementary school are more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college—13% more likely if they had one Black teacher, and more than double that at 32% if they had at least two.
So a decline in Black teachers would really have far reaching effects on students.
“The Black kids won’t have any representation except for the few of us who grin and bear it and take whatever comes their way,” Seward says. “By being silent, we’re not doing anything for the kids who are coming after us if we continue to work in these conditions, and we continue to essentially beg people to see us as human beings, to see us as professionals.”
Mental health matters
Overall, the RAND survey found a lot of job-related stress among teachers. The percentage of teachers who reported “frequent job-related stress and symptoms of depression” was much higher than the general adult population. And, the survey found, the main stressors were the mode of instructions and their health. Teachers described experiencing depressive symptoms and burnout.
“Taken together,” the report says, “these results suggest that job-related stress poses immediate and long-term threats to the teacher supply.”
“Who’s going to address our trauma? Who’s going to address our social emotional needs?” Seward says. “We’re supposed to be OK because we’re the adults.”
Though it’s easy to focus on the pandemic and its challenges—new instruction methods, increased worries about personal health—as the root of Black teachers leaving the industry, it was really the breaking point.