December 10, 2023
The Pandemic Mental Health Crisis Causing Teachers to Quit

Bethany Collins, who taught at middle schools in the Los Angeles area for more than eight years, left teaching in January after maternity leave wiped out her sick days—and her district told her she couldn’t take any more paid time off, even if she or her daughter tested positive for Covid-19. “Every minute I wasn’t with the kids, personally, I was beyond treading water with my mental health,” she says. “I was just drowning.”

In December, Emily McMahan gave up her career of 12 years as a special education teacher in Rutherfordton, North Carolina, after telling her therapist that her job felt like a prison, both physically and mentally. Most nights after work, she would sit alone for hours to try to get into a better headspace. It didn’t always work. “I couldn’t engage with my family,” she says. “I didn’t have time to exercise. I didn’t have time to cook. All these things in my life that brought me joy, I was giving up for a job.”

Brooke Barringer, a former fifth grade teacher in Redwood City, California, experienced unexpected weight loss and digestive problems that got so bad she sold her car for cash so she could quit without a new job lined up. Along with anxiety, Charlene Boles, an elementary teacher in Westminster, Colorado, had headaches, stomach problems, and a racing heartbeat she could never quite explain. Ellie Wilson, who taught fourth grade in Washington, D.C., before leaving in December, had anxiety flare-ups not only when she couldn’t take a day off but also when she could, because it meant other teachers were pulled away from their own classes to watch hers.