Dear Unemployed Teachers: You’re Not Alone

So you became a teacher, followed your passion, jumped through all the fiery hoops of licensure and exams. And you still find yourself amongst the unemployed teachers. Maybe you launched your career 30 years ago. Or maybe it was last Fall. Maybe you were fresh to the career, nervous but excited for the crazy years ahead, or perhaps you had years of experience under your belt.

But it didn’t matter when the pandemic happened. The recession happened. The usual bureaucracy happened. And suddenly, you found yourself a teacher with no one to teach. If this is you, you’re not alone – there are many unemployed teachers right now.

More than a million unemployed teachers in 2020

According to a study conducted in June of 2020, the pandemic hit schools and district budgets hard, resulting in more than a million teachers losing their jobs in April alone. And that’s without factoring in the teachers who chose to retire early due to Coronavirus and distance learning concerns. Today, so many people who once lived for the classroom now find themselves in the new, seemingly empty territory of not teaching.

As one of the million-plus unemployed teachers out there, I can tell you firsthand that, while these numbers explain my situation, they fail to soothe my grief. Losing a teaching job isn’t like losing any other job. Not being a teacher makes you feel like something has been stolen from your core. Have you heard that going through a breakup is like losing a limb? That’s what many unemployed teachers are feeling.

No one tells you that teaching is addictive. It feels good to have kids look up to you and believe that what you have to say is worth knowing. Even more, your adult peers can’t help but elevate you, remembering some of their favorite teachers and getting excited about how smart and cool and inspiring you must be. You may even feel guilty for that, a nudge in the back of your mind reminding you of all the kids you didn’t reach, all the times you wanted to cry because you just weren’t enough.

Yet soon your job is how you introduce yourself, right after your name, “I’m so-and-so, and I’m a teacher.” As if this must be known about you for someone to know you well right off the bat. As if leaving the title off makes you nothing.

Now, when you introduce yourself, you don’t know what to say. Is there some kind of cute little “once a teacher always a teacher” rule for unemployed teachers? Maybe you just wish there was. Then you could be spared of that empty space after your name, the one everyone fills with something. Because adults can’t just be who they are. They have to matter. And what matters apparently fills a hole about three seconds long and a million miles deep.

Being unemployed is already horrible. But losing a teaching job is like losing who you are. That might sound like a super spiritual experience, but it’s more like floating through space with an oxygen tank but no rocket. You’re alive, but your direction has disappeared, leaving you stranded.

However, to myself as well as my million-plus unemployed teacher compadres out there, I say this: Taking your life back is possible. Here are some simple steps we can all take to start moving forward.

Steps for unemployed teachers to start moving forward

1. Take care of yourself, recognizing that the job was never “you.”

Your job is not who you are. You are a beautiful human being with inherent worth. You deserve a good night’s sleep, regular exercise, good food, and hugs. This can be one of the hardest things for former teachers to accept, that we have value outside of our profession. Being unemployed might be the perfect opportunity to check in on your own mental and physical well-being.

2. Take the opportunity to reflect on your practice.

What is something you were proud of from last year that you want to take on to a future classroom, even if it’s not this year? How could your lessons be improved for the next time you teach? You may not be motivated to do this. That’s okay. But if you do, you will at least be reminded of why you were (and still are!) a great teacher, and that’s definitely worth the energy.

3. Create a loose plan for the year.

Grab a trusty notebook, open a Google Doc, or treat yourself to a fancy new planner as you consider your current opportunities and goals. What alternate employment might you do during this time? Could this be a chance to take some online courses? Is subbing an option for you? What other goals do you have? The goal-setting and planning process can take you out of the doldrums of your loss and help you look forward to the future.

4. Take the opportunity to reconnect with people and things that are life-giving to you.

As a former teacher, you know better than anyone that free time is a priceless commodity. Seize this extra time to get coffee with old friends, dust off that instrument in the back of your closet, get back to the book you’ve been halfway through reading since August of 2010. There’s no time like the present to relish in the little things in life.

These steps won’t change your employment status. We’ll still be unemployed teachers. But, my dear fellow teachers, your employment status doesn’t have to change you. Never forget that.


Like it? Share with your friends!

Iris Planchet

Senior Member

Iris Planchet is a middle school Language Arts teacher. She loves teaching about her favorite books, including House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer and Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. Outside of reading and writing, you can find her baking, playing guitar, or playing board games with her family.
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