The Propello Press | Education Insights, Resources, and Tools

Quiet Quitting in Education

The art of teaching presents an interesting duality between challenge and reward, being a profession that requires a lot of hard work and dedication that often results in immeasurable feelings of fulfillment. However, the reality is that teacher turnover has reached record highs this past year – as high as 16% in some states – while other reports indicate that nearly 30% of K-12 educators are thinking of leaving their jobs. The space between an official resignation and contemplation of leaving lies somewhere in the gray area of a trend that has taken hold of headlines over the past year  – quiet quitting.

A quick rudimentary vocabulary lesson – quiet quitting is a phenomenon in which teachers, in this case, perform only the obligatory duties of their job, executing the bare minimum of expectations without exerting any energy in going ‘above and beyond’ solely to remain employed. More often than not it’s a clear indication of burnout, which ultimately results from prolonged physical, mental, and emotional stress.

Unlike the average corporate setting, it’s not just the bottom line of the business at stake here. As teachers continue down the path of exhaustion, the intelligence and prosperity of future generations could be at risk.

First and foremost - this is a call-to-action for educators, administrators, students, and parents to be aware of the many signs of quiet quitting in the classroom. It can manifest itself in many ways, but here are a few of the most common indications:

Chronic fatigue. Despite a good night’s sleep, teachers who are nearing burnout won’t be able to mask true exhaustion. Even with the best of intentions, any individual pushing to perform a task or striving to show up at their best while experiencing symptoms of burnout can struggle with fatigue as they go through the day. 

Decreased creativity. When teachers feel inspired and motivated, that energy translates into dynamic and creative lessons for their students. They tend to experience days where the work doesn’t feel very much like work. Burnt out educators, on the other hand, might struggle to find the creative spark that once came easily, and instead end up putting in additional time and effort to achieve the same result. 

Emotional exhaustion. There is no denying that teaching is an emotional craft. Most who pursue the profession are emotionally invested in their work and the well-being of their students, but when the exhaustion promotes quiet quitting-like behaviors, you’ll find teachers who have a difficult time connecting with their students.

Increased absenteeism. Whether it’s taking advantage of sick days or personal days, or slowly weaning their participation in school committees or activities, a teacher may very well quit all aspects of active engagement within the school community except for the job itself. It’s important to note this isn’t for lack of trying; when the weight of the various job-related responsibilities feels its heaviest, there’s objectively less bandwidth to participate and deliver.

We have to rally behind our teachers – amplifying their cries for support in order to better serve these pillars of our society. Compounding the issue is the reality the students face when reliant on a disengaged teacher. When there’s a disconnect between the teacher and the student, not only does it negatively impact student engagement, but also leads to behavior problems and academic difficulties. 

While tempting to avoid the subject of the pandemic altogether, it would be irresponsible to ignore the lingering impact it’s had on the education system, which has directly affected this quiet quitting trend amongst educators. Teachers have had to demonstrate resilience, flexibility, and adaptability more than ever before, dealing with increased workloads, heightened stress, and changing policies. 

Throughout the height of the pandemic, communities rallied behind teachers with full force – leading with empathy, offering support, pulling resources from every which way to ensure they had every opportunity to show up feeling energized to lead their students in a time of vast uncertainty, fear, and change. Parents jumped on board where possible to assist with at-home education as schools continued to close their doors. 

As school systems fall back into a pre-pandemic cadence, the pressures have returned tenfold, with teachers assuming all responsibilities for the widening achievement gap, not only working diligently to ensure all students are hitting the appropriate standards, but also juggling various behavioral and learning challenges that students may be experiencing as a result of the pandemic. Parents were handed greater accessibility and visibility into school operations throughout the pandemic due to increased communication amidst constant change, and teachers are bearing the brunt of mismanaged expectations as they attempt to shift back into a pre pandemic classroom model.

The proof is in the numbers – a recent report from the Learning Policy Institute indicates teacher retirements increased by 44% between 2019 and 2020, and resignations increased by 34%. 

The outlook is not completely hopeless. There are actionable steps all parties involved can take to slow this quiet quitting trend amongst our educators. First and foremost – be aware of the signs that may indicate teacher burnout, and address the issue head on. 

Whether through collaboration, sharing resources, or simply offering emotional support, it’s possible to reduce a teacher’s workload slightly in an effort to ease some of the burden they may be feeling. 

It’s essential for school leadership to encourage and model self-care and preservation, ensuring that teachers feel empowered to prioritize their own well-being and establish boundaries that promote a healthy work-life balance. 

Look for creative ways to redistribute school funds and resources so no one is put in a position to stretch themselves to the point of burnout, whether that ultimately allows school districts to fund additional classroom teachers, provide teacher aides, or supplement traditional curriculum resources.

There’s no denying teacher burnout and quiet quitting are growing issues in the field. By driving greater awareness and taking small actionable steps, we can help ensure that teachers are able to perform their jobs effectively while feeling supported, and that students are able to receive the education they deserve.