Between January and November of 2020, more than 800,000 people working in state and local education resigned — and both Black students and teachers are feeling the effects.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives, but there’s one that has taken an incredibly dramatic hit: schooling. 

First, there was the shift to virtual learning, which had its own ups and downs. Then came the debates over how soon students should return to in-person learning, which was followed by masking and vaccination arguments.

So it’s no wonder that teachers are taking part in the “Great Resignation” and leaving the profession at record rates. Between January and November of 2020, more than 800,000 people working in state and local education quit, along with 550,000 working in the private sector. Plus, a 2021 survey by the RAND Corporation found that one in four teachers said they were likely to leave their jobs by the end of the school year, which was up from one in six prior to the pandemic, with Black teachers “particularly likely” planning to leave.

“It’s very hard for schools and school districts and educators to know what has been the best decision around moving forward in the COVID context,” says Dr. Camika Royal, an associate professor of Urban Education at Loyola University of Maryland. “People have been leaving because it becomes either the job or my health, or the job or my life. People are making the decisions that prioritize their health and their lives.”

Teach For America and Other Teacher Prep Programs Are Seeing a Lack of Interest

It’s not just current teachers who want to leave the profession. Overall, people are less interested in joining the field. 

“Now there are many schools, particularly in low-income areas, that are experiencing a severe shortage of teachers and having trouble recruiting substitute teachers, as well,” says Dr. Pedro Noguera, dean of the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education. “At the same time, enrollment is down in many of these districts. So that offsets the shortage of teachers to some degree.”

Teach For America, a nonprofit that places mostly recent college graduates in under-resourced schools around the country, is reporting its smallest incoming class in 15 years. The incoming class for the 2022-2023 school year dropped below 2,000.

In a statement to Word In Black, Teach For America wrote that 48% of its teachers “identify as Black, Indigenous, and People Of Color (BIPOC), with 19% self-identifying as Black.”

The organization noted that, because research shows Black students thrive with Black teachers, it works “to not only attract Black educators to the teaching profession, but also to ensure that they have the support and professional development needed to sustain and advance their careers and inspire the next generation of Black youth.”

Though the trend is showing up so dramatically in TFA, the problem isn’t limited to the organization. Around the country, enrollment in teacher prep programs has been declining since before the pandemic, and the number of people enrolling as education majors is decreasing too.

College is usually the time and place where people figure out what they want to do with their lives. But, Royal says, the pandemic has turned that on its head, especially since schools have been at the forefront of many pandemic discussions.

When it comes to the public education system, “young people have been basically asking themselves, ‘Do I really want to be a part of that?’” Royal says.

Both Black Students and Teachers Feel the Effects

Unfortunately, teacher shortages are most common in schools that serve Black students, Noguera says. And, seeing as they’re already a vulnerable population nationwide, Black students are in a very difficult position, Royal says.

There are a lot of stressors on teachers and students in under-resourced schools: poorer ventilation; community and COVID-related stress; COVID-related grief; and income loss in families.