Context:: Though there is a growing field of research on what makes teachers leave, little research includes an analysis of narratives written directly by teachers. Yet, amidst a growing body of teacher writing and a surge in digital media, there has emerged a new genre of teachers’ public resignation letters, many of which go “viral” when posted online. This research is contextualized by literature on teacher attrition and neoliberalism and framed within theories of teacher agency and teacher resistance.
Purpose: Within a context where the letters themselves are becoming more popular and the rates of teacher attrition continue to rise in troubling ways, this study explores a new genre by investigating the content and strategies employed in public resignation letters from teachers around the United States.
Research Design: This research employed a qualitative design, drawing on methods of content analysis, to analyze 23 publicly available resignation letters.
Conclusions: I argue that these letters represent a new form of public discourse. This discourse allows teachers to exercise their personal and professional agency in the form of resistance to dominant narratives about what public education is and should be and what current neoliberal reforms are doing to teachers and students. These among other reasons I uncovered through thematic coding are linked to contextual factors rather than individual ones, pointing to the limits of retention in a climate that does not support teachers’ agency. Further, the majority of reasons for leaving are explicitly or implicitly tied to current neoliberal educational policies. According to their letters, teachers left the profession because (1) neoliberal reforms and policies threatened learning conditions and (2) these reforms had negative consequences for teachers’ working conditions and beliefs. Specific neoliberal reforms and policies that were mentioned in the letters include: increased standardized testing and restrictions on curriculum, which teachers argued reflected a lack of care for students’ socioemotional needs; decreasing pay/benefits; and punitive teacher evaluation systems. In addition, the consequences of these reforms meant that teachers felt: a lack of time, a mismatch between their beliefs and the reality of teaching in today’s educational climate, and a lack of trust and respect for their profession, and a lack of control over their working conditions.