GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — High-stress levels, issues with administration, an increase in school shootings, and a pandemic are all reasons behind why thousands of teachers are stepping away from doing what they love. Now more than ever, teachers across the country are packing up their classrooms, not just for summer vacation, but for good.

“I am concerned for the future of education,” said SaraJane Herrboldt, a former teacher and author. “This is not new. We have been on this trajectory for several years.”

However, many educators disagree with the term “teacher shortage.” They say there isn’t necessarily a shortage of licensed teachers, but a shortage of teachers willing to do the work.

“The pushback is when we use that terminology, we’re not really addressing the fact that our school systems/the ways that we treat our educators is the real problem,” said Rebekah Schipper, leader of the nonprofit Opportunity Thrive. “When you look at it from an employment lens, we have a shortage because we do not have enough educators to fill the classroom spaces.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 300,000 public school teachers and staff left the field between February 2020 and May 2022.

“I think every teacher goes into the profession because they have a deep desire to make a difference and invest in their community, and to help kids,” Herrboldt said. “To choose to step away from that is a lot of really considering narratives of like, ‘Am I letting these kids down? Am I putting myself above the things I value that led me to this career?” she said.

Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Leadriane Roby said teachers have been leaving the industry at record levels.

“As our teachers normally retire out after 30 years, we might be seeing them leave mid-career, or earlier in their careers… after four or five years,” she said.

Several teachers, who wished to remain anonymous, told News 8 that many teachers are leaving the field because of the workload coming from the administration, low pay, lack of respect from the community, safety concerns with the increase in school shootings and the pandemic.

“It’s not just the stress of the job, but now it’s this political pressure and the impact of navigating a pandemic when none really knew how to navigate a pandemic,” Herrboldt said.

When it comes to finding a solution, many teachers said they just wanted to be respected across the board.

“It’s uplifting the profession, building relationships with people,” Roby said. “One of the things we model, and are trying to model as an administrator is (by asking), ‘How are you sharing the good, positive things that are taking place within the classrooms, and supporting your teachers?'”

Roby also said administrators should look at other possible solutions. She suggests looking at different ways to attract the younger population to teaching, creating a support system for teachers, and talking with lawmakers about their needs.