A teacher suddenly quit her job after 24 years because parents drove her to a breaking point: ‘We didn’t sign up to be a glorified babysitter’


Brenda C., a 60-year-old teacher who requested anonymity for privacy reasons, has been an educator for grades 7 and 8 over the past 24 years. However, stress from high parental expectations and years of insufficient behavioral support for her students reached a breaking point for her. Brenda had hoped to retire at the end of the school year, but the pressure of dealing with demanding parents made it unbearable. In a video posted on TikTok, she urged parents to back off from pressuring teachers, saying, “You need to get off the backs of your teachers.”

Many teachers, especially those in low-income areas, face the challenge of managing large classrooms and high, often unrealistic, expectations from parents. This stress, coupled with burnout exacerbated by the pandemic, has led to a teacher shortage. Some educators suggest that rather than leaving the profession, struggling teachers should seek districts that provide adequate support for both students and teachers, fostering a sustainable career.

Brenda spent most of her career teaching English language arts and social studies to middle schoolers in various districts across California’s Bay Area. Her last position was in a lower-middle-class district with many children of military parents, which she found to be transient and lacking in parental involvement due to the nature of military life. This contrasted sharply with a previous position in an affluent district with fewer behavioral issues over her twelve-year tenure.

She submitted her resignation on February 14, before the school year concluded in June, after reaching her limit. Between her mother’s health issues and a particularly difficult parent meeting, she realized her mental health took precedence over continuing in her role. During that meeting, a parent's comment about meeting individual needs in a classroom of 34 students pushed her over the edge, highlighting the impossible expectations placed on teachers.

Brenda lamented that some parents struggle with one child’s needs, let alone a teacher managing 34 children simultaneously. Sarah Pugh, a 32-year-old teacher in the Metro East suburban area of St. Louis, shares Brenda’s frustrations. Teaching elementary students for ten years, Pugh notes these stresses are amplified in districts lacking sufficient support for instructors and students facing behavioral challenges.

Pugh points out that extra supports require funding, which many schools lack. Her district prioritizes smaller class sizes, typically around 20 students, to better address individual needs, a luxury not all schools can afford. In low-income areas, children often face additional stresses such as housing instability, trauma, and single-parent households, leading to a gap in behavioral skills teaching at home.

Pugh emphasizes that teachers and parents must work as a team to address behavioral issues. Students from economically challenged backgrounds often struggle to self-regulate emotions and exhibit attention-seeking behavior that disrupts classes. Common issues include manners, turn-taking, and conflict resolution.

Behavioral problems can persist unaddressed, as seen in Brenda’s middle school experience. Brenda explains that teachers did not sign up to be caretakers, psychiatrists, or spiritual leaders, yet they are often forced into such roles.

High stress and burnout levels have caused many teachers to leave the profession, contributing to a shortage in 41 states and Washington D.C., according to a 2022 U.S. Department of Education report. Research led by Tuan Nguyen at Kansas State University estimates a shortage of 55,000 vacant teaching positions, with an additional 270,000 filled by underqualified teachers.

A Gallup poll of over 12,000 full-time U.S. employees highlights that K-12 teachers report some of the highest burnout levels, with 52% feeling burned out "always" or "very often" compared to 35% in higher education and 32% in retail sectors.

Pugh believes that enhanced support for students with behavioral problems can reduce stress for teachers and improve behavioral outcomes. Her district might serve as a model for other districts. They launched a "Character Strong" program, teaching kids to express their needs and manage emotions respectfully. The district also employs two full-time social workers focusing on social-emotional learning in small groups.

Effective practices in her district include administrative involvement with teachers in key decisions, and providing paid time for professional development focused on trauma engagement. Pugh advises teachers overwhelmed by stress and lack of support to consider finding a better-suited district rather than leaving the profession entirely. Not all schools face the same challenges, and finding the right one can make a significant difference.  

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