Local teachers share why they’re leaving the profession

After spending decades in the classroom, they decided teaching was no longer the profession they had once loved.

For former Clark-Pleasant Middle School eighth grade teacher Corey Scott, it was more than a year before her December departure from teaching that she realized a profession in education wasn’t what it used to be.

“When I first started teaching, it was great, and in my 22 ½ years, I’ve always loved my students. I never really had discipline problems when I was teaching. I just really worked on making sure I had good relationships with all my students and it just evolved into parents being in control of everything,” Scott said. “If a parent had a complaint about you, no one had your back or gave you any type of support. They did whatever the parents wanted and we had to do whatever we could to make parents happy. It led to a complete world of chaos in education. The kids run the school.”

After a more than two-decade career that also saw her teaching at Indian Creek Middle School, Eminence Community Schools and Hoosier Academy, along with being an administrator at Eminence, it was the parents, not the students, who drove her away from education, she said.

She isn’t alone. A February survey from the National Education Association revealed 55% of educators were thinking about leaving their careers earlier than planned, up from 37% in August of 2021.

Scott said things have gotten progressively worse since 2015.

“My second year as an administrator, around 2015, 2016, I had a parent who cussed me out because I said that a drawing of a penis on a basketball meant to be a keepsake for the basketball season was inappropriate,” she said. “They cussed me out about how that was completely wrong, I was delusional, how her son did nothing wrong. From then on, it’s changed.”

Once parents stopped holding their children accountable, those children stopped listening to their teachers, she said.

“Kids were running up and down the hall, screaming and cursing. There were obscenities all over the place, racial slurs flying everywhere. No matter what we say or do, these kids are completely out of control. You can’t take them to the office because they won’t allow you and you can’t physically make them. They don’t have to listen to you. That is their mentality,” Scott said. “I just think it’s going to get worse. A parent can threaten to go to the paper, the press, TV, anything they want and everyone is going to have their backs before they hear the side of the educator and the school. Things spread like wildfire on social media. Everyone believes everybody except a teacher or an administrator.”

Shahn Riley is leaving his career in education this spring, a dozen years of which he spent in Johnson County schools, first at Franklin Community Middle School, where he spent a year, and the rest of the time at Center Grove High School and Center Grove Middle School. Most recently a Spanish teacher at Center Grove High School, Riley got into teaching to share his love of the language with other people.

When he met his wife, Kari, in California, she was an art teacher, but she has also left the profession, Riley said.

“Art was an elective, and parents couldn’t understand how students could fail art class. They were sitting and goofing off and they didn’t turn anything in,” he said. “I think she became discouraged with the stress with planning and grading and the things she loved about art she wasn’t doing anymore.”

After Riley moved back to Indiana with his wife and he continued his teaching career. With more and more students getting smartphones, however, he noticed they became less and less respectful of instructional time.

“It’s really hard to compete with something that provides instant gratification for someone’s attention,” Riley said. “Their attention span has changed. We live in a society where it’s expected that everything happens simultaneously, but in the classroom it takes time to build things and learn along the way. The patience level of students and parents have been affected by that.”

In the past three to four years, however, things have worsened. Before then, students would put their phones away when asked. Now, however, students act more defiantly, and parents side with them instead of teachers, he said.

“The profession in general became something that lost respect along the way. Anyone can research anything and they want to feel like experts. Before, I had support from 80% or more of the parents and now, it’s the opposite. Parents want to know why their kid isn’t engaged in the class and the implication is, it’s something I’m doing. Ironically, I feel I’m working harder than ever and coming up with engaging plans, but it’s not paying off,” Riley said.

“(Before), I still had support from parents most of the time, and asking students to put their phones away, they were compliant. At this point, it’s seen as a suggestion and not something they have to do. I see grades suffering and things that are easy to pick up, I have to explain two to three times because their attention is diverted. To compound that, when contacting parents, sometimes parents will say ‘it was important and I was texting them.’ Sometimes, they’re part of the problem.”

Another, more recent thing driving teachers away is the limitation of what lessons they can teach in the classroom, he said.

“There are restrictions on what we are able to talk about. We can’t offer opinions or talk about what we believe are human rights. We’re discouraged because they’re hot-button issues,” Riley said. “There are groups of people who have had massive human rights violations written in history. It’s not just an opinion, but they say ‘please don’t talk about that. Talk to us before you teach a lesson in any way.’ Kids need these lessons more than ever in today’s world. I want to teach kids to be better people.”