Why are 1 and 4 Teachers Dropping out of School?

While 1 in 4 teachers are “dropping out of school”, there’s a strong movement to bring teachers of color into classrooms.

Despite today’s shortage of teachers, are there enough teachers of color on their way into U.S. classrooms that Black and Brown children will finally see their faces reflected in their teachers? Are we feeling early rumblings of a major shift in the teacher workforce?

The RAND Corporation reports on about 1,000 topics including the U.S. education system. Just one year before the pandemic began, a RAND survey of 5,646 teachers estimated that 1 in 6 teachers would leave their jobs that year for various reasons. Stress-related issues was a reason that was often cited, but certainly not the only one. Just one year later, RAND’s new survey found that one in four teachers was considering qutting at the end of the 2020-21 school year. Even more dramatically, nearly 50% of teachers who identified as Black or African American said they were likely to leave their jobs by the end of the school year—twice the rate of other races.

Not surprisingly, more than 75% of these teachers reported frequent job-related stress, compared to 40% of other working adults, and 27% of these teachers reported symptoms of depression, compared to only 10% of other working adults. Looking at these numbers, it’s not hard to understand this huge spike in what might be called the “teacher drop out rate.”

Teachers had to adapt almost overnight to remote teaching, to relating to and communicating with students in a whole new way, to giving up all control over the learning environment where their students were “tuned in” to classes, not to mention the frequent technology issues that challenge both teachers and students in the remote learning mode. This all showed up in March 2020, uninvited and unwelcome.

Teachers also reported in the survey how stressful it was to witness some of their students’ home situations, unavoidable when using Google Classroom (or Zoom) five days a week. They witnessed food insecurity, poverty, or even trauma that some of their students experience at home, something that is obviously stress-inducing, especially when a teacher has no way to change these conditions.

Henry Rivera Leal, a 32-year-old with five years experience as an English teacher in St. Bernard Parish, LA. is one teacher who left the profession. He told CNBC’s Make It newsletter in June 2021 that he loves teaching and prided himself on trying to be “a positive male role model of color” for students. Leal is exactly the kind of teacher that He is Me works to “recruit, retain, and retire” from teaching. Unfortunately, rather than “retain or retire” from teaching, Leal opted to “resign” in September 2020.

Leal said pandemic stress added to a job that was already stressful. He belonged to a FB group Teaching During COVID-19 whose members were posting about burn-out and frustration and “how close to the edge” they were, Leal said. He added, “I think It gets to this point with teachers because we never get into it for the money in the first place. No one goes into teaching thinking that they’re going to be making a lot of money. You go into it because it’s something that you want to do. And we’ve reached the point where that’s been exploited.”

This recent exodus from teaching is clearly the down side in the profession today. So, what is the upside? Looking at the fast-growing nationwide movement to literally change the face of the teaching

profession by recruiting, training, and placing teachers of color in our classrooms, it’s not too hard to imagine that things are indeed looking up.

He is Me Institute is very much a part of this movement. We understand that Black boys are not well served by schools where only 2% of teachers are Black men, and 77% of teachers are white women. Boys need teachers who they can relate to, teachers who are role models and who can relate to them and their experiences. This is one of the main reasons that He is Me Institute exists.

There are many other organizations working toward the same goals, each in its own way. For example, there is The Black Teacher Project, based in Oakland, CA., and the Center for Black Educator Development, a Pennsylvania-based organization dedicated to “revolutionizing education by dramatically increasing the number of Black educators so that low-income Black and other disenfranchised students can reap the full benefits of a quality public education.”

Latinos for Education is active in Greater Houston, the (San Francisco) Bay Area, and in New England. It advocates for laws and policies to bring teachers of color into classrooms where the majority of students are kids of color–which is the case in most large urban centers today. In MA, it is advocating for passage of The Educator Diversity Act that would increase the percentage of educators of color to at least 23% by 2030. Its other activities include sponsoring a fellowship for aspiring Latinx education leaders, and it operates a “Grow Your Own” program to recruit and prepare local community members, including high school students and career changers, to enter the teaching profession.

These are just a few of many organizations working to diversify the U.S. teaching workforce. It’s promising that so many of them are new in just the past few years, including the He is Me Institute, founded in 2019. There is action on other levels, too. Chalkbeat Chicago reported last November that the Illinois state Board of Education’s 3-year strategic plan priortizes increasing teacher diversity. As a result, 24 Illinois colleges and universities are voluntarily developing plans to recruit and retain future teachers of color.  

The teachers’ unions are involved, too. The National Education Association (NEA), with 3 million members, passed a resolution at its 2019 NEA Representative Assembly to create the NEA Educator Diversity Collective. Its purpose is “to identify, recruit, and support high school and college students of color starting with states that have historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic serving institutions, tribal colleges and universities, and Asian American and Pacific Islander serving institutions.” The Collective is taking its findings and recommendations to school districts to assist them in recruiting and retaining more teachers of color, encouraging them to reach out to high school students, career-changers, and everyone in between.

Kumar Rashad, a high school math teacher in Louisville, KY. serves on the NEA Collective. Rashad is quoted on NEA’s website: “I know how much it would have helped me to have a teacher who looked like me in the classroom. . . A Black male teacher would have offered me more opportunities to excel and given me the necessary space to grow because he would understand the obstacles that I face or will face.”

Related Post: Educator Diversity: Why It Matters & How to Make It Happen

The other teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), convened a Teacher Diversity Summit in 2018 to explore ways that it can influence school districts to hire teachers of color. A leading voice in the movement to diversify the teaching workforce, Conra Gist, Associate Professor of Teaching and Teacher Education at University of Houston, spoke at the summit. For the last three years, she has chaired the Diversified Teaching Workforce Topical Action Group for the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Gist and others at the summit laid out the serious problem of low retention among Black teachers and other teachers of color, as well as the promising initiatives to address it in that are either proposed or already implemented in Chicago, St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Hartford, and other major urban centers.

One of the most promising is the “grow your own”or GYO  initiative, where school districts support their existing non-teaching staff, volunteers or other community members who want to become teachers. They link teacher candidates to college and university education programs, to financial and academic assistance, social-emotional support, and other practical support. Most of the GYO programs guarantee consideration for a job upon successful completion of  training. GYO Illinois serves districts statewide in conjunction with Illinois colleges. Its mission is to support racially diverse, community-connected individuals to become certified teachers in hard-to-staff schools and positions in order to improve the educational opportunities and outcomes for their students. Illinois GYO has graduated 50 new educators of color just since 2020, and is a model for other states.


Watch GYO Chicago’s 5-minute video about the shortage of teachers of color in that city and how GYO is addressing it. Read about the AFT 2018 Teacher Diversity Summit.

Curious about diversity among teachers in your state? Want to know what is happening to change the face of the teaching workforce? Click here and scroll down to click on your state on the interactive map.

teacher equality interactive map

This 50-state data and policy scan provides data analyses and a landscape of policies and practices in each state for advocates, educators, and policymakers leading this work at the state level. It is part of the Ed Trust’s special report, Is Your State Prioritizing Teacher Equity and Diversity?

Read He is Me Institute’s CEO & Founder Robert J. Hendricks III’s statement in support of the MA Educator Diversity Act, currently under consideration in the MA legislature. He testified in favor of the bill in October, 2021.

Read the RAND Corp. reportJob-Related Stress Threatens the Teacher Supply: Key Findings from the 2021 State of the U.S. Teacher Survey. Elizabeth D.Steiner, Ashley Woo. RAND Corporation. June 15, 2021.