'The Stress Of My Job Was Making Me Sick' And More Reasons Arizona Teachers Quit

Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2017 - 7:00am
Updated: Tuesday, January 31, 2017 - 2:07pm

Summer break is a few months away, but some teachers already know they won’t be back next year.

“I will miss them, they are great kids and I wouldn’t ever really leave,” said Steven Perez, a seventh-grade math teacher in Glendale.  “I wouldn’t consider it, but it is what it is. I’ve got to take care of family first.”

Perez calculated his current salary wasn’t enough for his growing family to live comfortably.

“From strictly just a survival point, I had to find another option,” Perez said.

Steven Perez quote

The former Marine sergeant plans to apply to join the Glendale Police Department.

When he leaves, Perez will become one of the estimated 46 percent of new teachers education experts estimate leave the classroom within the first five years. Penn Graduate School of Education professor Richard Ingersoll made that estimation.

Perez said he doesn’t regret the decision to become a teacher, even if he’s made up his mind about leaving.

“I came to be a teacher out of a desire to make a positive impact in the community," Perez said.

Questioning The Future

The only thing Corinne MacTurk ever wanted to be was a teacher.

“I’ve known actually since I was in kindergarten and we had to talk to talk about what we wanted to be when we grew up,” MacTurk said.  

Now 25, she’s been in the classroom for almost five years and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Arizona.

Lately though, she’s describes her job like a bad relationship.

“If you knew you wanted to break up with someone in a year, would you really want to stick it out with them for a year?” she asks.

MacTurk still loves teaching and her kids, all 27 in her Chandler kindergarten class.

It’s the economics of living as a teacher that has her considering another career. She estimates she takes home $2,000 a month after taxes.

“I can barely like pay off my student loans and I can’t drive my Honda Civic forever,” she said.

‘My Job Was Actually Making Me Sick’

Tabitha Campbell waited out a four year pay freeze in the first half of her career as a high school math teacher.

“I actually ended up going back to school and getting my master's in educational technology because I needed a raise,” Campbell said. “I had to go and get in debt for students loans to get this tiny raise.”

The anxiety of the job took its toll as well.

Doctors diagnosed Campbell with Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune condition that attacks the thyroid, in June 2015.

“What we realized with my blood work and what I was feeling was that the stress of my job was actually making me sick,” Campbell said.

Campbell and her husband decided it would be best if she left the classroom.

Now she teaches English online to kids across the globe in China.

“I still get that interaction with the kids, it’s just through camera instead of face-to-face in the classroom.”

Research from the National Center for Education Statistics suggests most teachers who leave the classroom for a reason other than retirement are likely to continue to work in education in some way, like Campbell did.

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But some choose to leave the field entirely.

“I wanted to leave when I still loved it, I didn’t want to get burned out,” said Kari Zurn, a Chandler mortgage advisor and former teacher of 16 years.

Here’s how she describes what she does now: “I help people buy their homes. I help get them the money to purchase a house.”

Zurn said her 40th birthday was a wake up call. She was ready to explore a world outside of teaching.

“I just knew that my creative freedoms in the classroom were more and more limited, the profession had changed immensely since I started teaching in 1996,” Zurn said.

Her inspiration for teaching didn’t falter though.

“I loved the kids, the kids were my heartbeat, the ‘good mornings,’ the hugs, the light bulbs that would turn on when they learned something new,” Zurn said.

That light bulb moment is still one of education’s biggest selling points.

“For kids in high school who want to do something that means something with their lives, education certainly is a place for that,” said Shaun Holmes, superintendent for human resources at Mesa Public Schools.

However, like other districts, Mesa has struggled to fill open positions and started the school year with more than 100 vacancies.

“I really do think the economics of it all is a significant challenge,” Holmes said.

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