When Nick Muniz came across a TikTok of a teacher sitting in her car, crying after quitting her job, he recognized her pain instantly.
“You’re going to get there I promise!” Muniz, who goes by @TheTejanoTeacher on TikTok, said in his video reply. “You sound like me up until a couple months ago… I was a six-and-a-half-year educator until December.”
Muniz, a 31-year-old former high school teacher, used his video to share how unsure he was about leaving the only job he ever wanted, and what he found helpful during his transition. He told VICE News that for teachers, who often let their profession become their identities, TikTok tell-alls made by others who left can be comforting, and provide an invaluable resource.
“There’s always been this social stigma that we can’t talk about leaving. We’re told ‘you’re abandoning kids’ and ‘how dare you leave us in a tight situation,’ there’s always this kind of guilt that comes along with it,” Muniz said. “But that’s been breaking down in the last couple of years, and teachers are realizing they’re not just this one thing.”
Muniz is one of the hundreds of former teachers creatively sharing their stories about quitting education under hashtags like #TeacherQuittok, #ExTeachersOfTiktok, and #LifeAfterTeaching. On the platform, some former teachers have filmed their last, emotional moments in their empty classrooms and posted them with noir-esque voiceovers. Others are explaining to the camera how they built up the courage to leave just moments before hitting record. There are former teachers who left the profession months ago documenting their slow transition to other careers. Some, like Muniz, are giving advice on how to leave education without going broke.
The videos tell the same story, over and over again: Though teachers love their students, the current pressures on teachers have made this demanding, high-stakes career even more difficult, and for many, unsustainable. And while #TeacherQuittok might seem like a trendy niche in a little-known corner of social media, it’s a window into the larger crisis in American education.
Teaching has never been an easy job, Stacey Edmunson, a dean at Sam Houston State University’s College of Education told VICE News. “But it has become more challenging, certainly post-pandemic because you have learning loss, the social and emotional challenges that come from a world where students found themselves back in school after a year to two years of being out of that environment.”
“We’ve also seen more politicization of public education and the role of teachers,” she continued, referencing heated national debates about school and gun safety, the banning of books, and critical race theory.
The general interest in teaching among American workers has been declining for more decades. In 2019, American colleges awarded fewer than 90,000 undergraduate degrees in education, down from nearly 200,000 degrees awarded annually during the 1970s, according to the National Education Association.
Meanwhile, the morale of those already in the field has plummeted. A 2022 study conducted by the Education Weekly Research Center found that just 12 percent of teachers nationally are very satisfied with their jobs, and a study from the National Education Association found that 55 percent of teachers are considering leaving the profession earlier than planned.
Jessica Meadows, 27, spent three-and-a-half years teaching in middle and high schools in Michigan and Colorado before deciding to leave in January 2022. Last month, she shared the final video she recorded of her old classroom.
“A wise woman once packed all her stuff and said, ‘this fucked up shit will not be my story,” a soundbite says wistfully as Meadows paces around a barren classroom. This audio was popular among other teachers, more than a dozen of whom used it in their own #TeacherQuittok videos. Meadows says that more than a year after leaving, she feels a hundred times “better mentally and physically.”
Meadows told VICE News that when she raised concerns at work about her workload, student discipline, and her own mental well-being, they weren’t taken seriously.
“I would tell my fellow teachers, ‘hey I’m at the point where I might quit,’” Meadows said. “And they’re like, ‘you’re good girl, just keep going, you got this!’ There was a false optimism among other teachers and administrators. They just weren’t supportive in a way that I needed.”
Leila Chauman was an elementary school teacher in New York City for five years before she resigned last June. She says she loved her students, but struggled to handle just how much else the job required.
“The expectations of the job compared to the reality of the hours that you have don’t match. The workload far exceeds the hours that you’re clocked in,” she told VICE News. “Say you’re there from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., realistically, you’re going to have to work 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on a daily basis to be properly prepared for the following day.”
Quitting wasn’t an easy decision for Chauman. But people’s willingness to be open about their exit on platforms like TikTok helped her see that her experience wasn’t unique. It also helped her realize that leaving would be better for her well-being in the long run.
“The job became, ‘how do I manage my own mental health, my own personal issues, while still showing up to this job, prepared and with a smile on my face?’” Chauman said. “It just got to the point, especially post-COVID, where I was curious to know what else there was out there.”
Since quitting teaching, Chauman has returned to bartending as she figures out her next steps.
“The shift to a less demanding job allowed me the freedom and peace of mind to focus on myself,” she said. “The peace of mind I wouldn’t have had the mental or physical capacity for as a teacher.”
Educators aren’t the only sector of workers with low morale. In an era where “quiet quitting” is the new norm and employees feel less invested in their day-to-day work, employee satisfaction is at an all-time low globally. Sixty percent of people reported being emotionally detached at work, and 19 percent reported being miserable, according to a 2022 Gallup report.
But teachers say they have more on the line when they’re deciding to leave, especially at a time when the classroom has become a political battlefield, and the national teacher shortage is worsening.
“Leaving the profession felt like giving up on a fight that means so much to me,” Meadows said. “I was essentially giving up on being a part of the fight for public education. There’s a lot of guilt about leaving that behind.”
Muniz started posting about his decision to quit to help break that stigma.
“I wanted to explain and show other teachers where I’ve been, and that I was in the exact same spot as them,” he said. “And if you keep going and keep that little sliver of hope available, you’re going to be okay.”
Edmunson says there are solutions to the teacher crisis: Higher pay and financial assistance for Americans interested in becoming teachers, either through scholarships or federal and state grants, are easy ways to help boost workforce numbers, particularly as they train. Without these interventions, teachers will keep quitting, with disastrous consequences for students, schools, and society at large.
“I don’t know what’s going to have to happen for somebody to listen,” a former teacher who posts under the name @glitterbeardtech said in a recent video. “Teachers are screaming this from the rooftops and they have been for over a year, and they just keep dropping and no one is there to replace them.”
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