Meet 3 teachers who had enough and switched careers, including a woman who won ‘Teacher of the Year’ twice

Teacher helping three students in classroom
Teachers have been quitting en masse for years, citing stress as the main reason, according to a survey by Rand Corporation. Hill Street Studios/Getty Images
  • Millions of Americans are quitting amid the pandemic, including many teachers.
  • Insider talked to three teachers who left their jobs during the pandemic.
  • All three have found new work and have used the skills they acquired in the classroom in their new roles.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Former teacher Carrie Presley won “Teacher of the Year” two of the four years she worked for school districts in Oklahoma and Texas.

As an accountant-turned-math teacher, she told Insider she believed she finally found her calling, but during the pandemic she made a difficult decision: She quit teaching two weeks into the school year after learning she would be required to teach over 30 students in person. Presley was worried about how they were going to be able to follow CDC guidelines while crammed in a classroom.

“I was really kind of stuck between the health guidelines and the environment I was in, and with high-risk family members, I had to choose between my health and teaching,” Presley said.

Teachers like Presley have been quitting en masse for years, citing stress as the main reason, according to a survey by Rand Corporation. Low pay is also an incentive, since teachers make around 20% less than others with college degrees, per reporting from CNBC. And most recently, even more teachers quit during the pandemic because of health concerns. The National Education Association found that 32% of teachers surveyed said they thought about leaving the profession earlier than planned because of the pandemic. Enrollment in teacher-prep programs has also dropped. That’s why the number of teachers in the US hasn’t kept up with student enrollment; two-thirds of 1,200 school and district leaders surveyed by Frontline Education reported a teacher shortage.

Presley hadn’t planned on leaving her job until her health and the that of her loved ones was put at risk. She said the option to teach remotely “would have been a dream” and that it was frustrating to not have the choice.

Teachers want less stress and more respect

Abby Norman quit teaching after a total of 11 years as an educator, most recently at an online charter school. She said enrollment grew last school year during the pandemic.

“Every single year there were more things to do, there were higher expectations and if you had a problem, it was just treated like you were the problem not like there was a problem,” Norman said.

She now works as a bartender in Georgia, which she said is better for her mental health.

Although Norman said she’s making more and working fewer hours now than as a teacher in Georgia, the median annual salary for high school teachers in Georgia in May 2020 per BLS is $US61,360 ($AU82,873) compared to $US19,000 ($AU25,661) for bartenders in the state.

California-based Dustin Ancalade also made a career switch after a total of nine years of teaching, but he said the pandemic didn’t have to do with this change. He was already taking night classes for a year in software engineering. He stayed in education though, working at Stride as a software developer where he said he feels less stressed. He said his gross pay is slightly more now but monthly net pay is similar.

He said he thinks teachers have “marketable skills,” such as leadership and planning skills, that can be transferred to other jobs. Norman said her teaching skills are “highly valued” as a bartender, such as her communication skills.

Since quitting, Presley started a software engineering program and is vice president and head of video production at research firm FSInsight, but she hasn’t completely stepped away from teaching. She too is using the skills she developed in the classroom in a tech role to create educational materials on cryptocurrency and blockchain technology used by institutional and retail investors. She is making more money in tech than as she did as a teacher.

Some school districts are giving out signing bonuses, but Norman said what teachers really need is respect.

“The extra money is nice, but it’s really more about being respected as a professional,” Norman said. “I’m respected as a professional who is an expert at her job as a bartender. Teachers are not respected as professionals who are experts at their jobs.”