Opinion: Daily Journal

Beware the Teacher Resignation Spin

The end of the school year is in sight, which means that North Carolinians will be subjected to a slew of “take this job and shove it” missives from the state’s public school teachers. As usual, the attention given to them will be overblown.

In April, for example, USA Today published a letter by former North Carolina teacher Deanna Lyles. She resigned in the middle of the current school year to begin work as a traveling librarian.

In her widely circulated op-ed, Lyles objected to accountability, bureaucracy, and poor working conditions but not her salary and benefits. In fact, she admitted to taking a pay cut to work at the library.

Gripes about accountability, bureaucracy, and poor working conditions in North Carolina public schools are nothing new. In 2012, Kris Nielsen underscored all three in a lengthy resignation letter to the Union County Public Schools. The letter gained national attention after it appeared on a Washington Post blog, and Nielsen now bills himself as a “dedicated activist against corporate education reform.”

A year later, a school media specialist created ResignNC.org to document stories of departing and unsatisfied teachers. Similarly, an instructor for the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University began her own tracking effort on Facebook in 2014. Neither was able to collect more than a handful of stories.

In fact, the accounts published and collected above are notable only because relatively few teachers leave the profession due to dissatisfaction with teaching or because they want to enter a new profession.

Teachers who resign for these reasons get the most attention, despite the fact that they accounted for only around 2 percent of the 96,000 teachers employed during the 2013-14 school year.

Approximately 1,000 teachers resigned because they were dissatisfied with teaching. Another 734 teachers left North Carolina to teach in another state. There was a year-to-year increase in both categories, but reporting limitations make it impossible to determine which aspects of the teaching profession prompted teachers to change careers.

According to the annual teacher turnover report, the overall statewide turnover rate was 14.12 percent during the 2013-14 school year, a slight decrease from the previous year. Much of what the state classifies as turnover were teachers who resigned to teach in another North Carolina public school system, retired with full benefits, or resigned because of family relocation. Just under half of the nearly 13,560 teachers who left the classroom last year cited one of these three reasons for their departure.

In fact, teachers continue to find new opportunities in North Carolina schools. Over 4,000 teachers left the classroom last year but remained in education in some capacity. Most resigned to teach in another public school in North Carolina or accepted a nonteaching position in education.

Nearly 2,500 teachers retired with full or partial benefits, and around the same number left the profession to address personal matters such as family relocation, health, child care, or continuing education.

So why does the media spend so much time focusing on a relatively small segment of the turnover population?

I do not believe that it is a coincidence that the publication of teacher resignation letters, op-eds, and features has appeared to increase since voters elected a Republican legislative majority in 2010. The mainstream media, liberal think tanks, and public school advocacy groups believe that the key to undermining, and eventually unseating, the majority is to depict Republicans as enemies of the traditional public school system.

What better way to do so than to encourage disgruntled teachers to air their grievances in a newspaper article, television story, website, or public forum?

Dr. Terry Stoops is Director of Research and Education Studies at the John Locke Foundation.