Teachers' Resignation Letters Going Viral. Maybe That's Not All Bad

Low pay isn't the only reason why U.S. teachers are opting to leave the classroom for good. Some teachers are electing to make their reasons known by posting their resignation letters online. Martin Shields/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

With teacher attrition at high levels, the United States very much needs current teachers to stay in the classroom. Unfortunately, that's not happening — about 8 percent of teachers quit every year, a rate far higher than for other professions.  

So why do they leave? We know that teachers are paid outrageously low salaries — a 2016 Economic Policy Institute report noted that teachers in every state earn less than what others with four-year degrees earn, for one — but it appears that unhappiness with the educational system as a whole may be a main culprit for frustrated educators.

Researchers know that because they have what could be a valuable new tool for discerning why educators are leaving: resignation letters that go viral. Here's one that Wendy Bradshaw, Ph.D., posted to Facebook in 2015 when she resigned as a special education teacher from Florida's Polk County Schools:

A 2017 study from Michigan State reviewed 22 of these viral resignation letters and found that teachers are using these letters to spur action and advocacy, while voicing their serious frustrations with the educational system and opposing the idea that teachers are the reasons that the system is broken.

Here's a quote from another resignation letter that appeared in the Washington Post and that was written by Susan Sluyter, a long-time teacher of young children within the Cambridge Public Schools:

Each year I have had less and less time to teach the children I love in the way I know best—and in the way child development experts recommend.  I reached the place last year where I began to feel I was part of a broken system that was causing damage to those very children I was there to serve.

Michigan State will have an additional two upcoming studies on the topic, too. One looks at how teachers, via these online resignation letters, are countering the argument that failing educators are to blame for institutional problems, and the other focuses on how the letters give the teachers a way to speak out and be heard publicly.

Most important perhaps, the letters — and the information researchers collect from them — could spur policymakers to correct course or to justify changes in the U.S. education system.

It's a reversal the United States, losing teachers by the hundreds of thousands, might need to employ sooner rather than later.