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Overworked former Kansas teacher has ‘nothing left to give’ public schools and she's not alone

A selfie of Kelly Kluthe
Courtesy photo
Kelly Kluthe
Kelly Kluthe, who has taught in public high schools in Kansas and Missouri, recently took a job at a private Catholic grade school, saying she has lost faith in public education.

Generally, teachers will “gut it out for the kids” until the end of the year. But a notably different tenor this fall has some Kansas educators speaking out against what they say is a toxic environment.

WICHITA, Kansas Kelly Kluthe is one of those rock-star science teachers schools need.

She landed an innovative teaching grant at Olathe West High. She speaks at national conferences about ways to make science lessons fun. She mentored new teachers through the University of Kansas Center for STEM Learning and the UKanTeach program, where she got her start.

She’s been teaching for a decade. Loves science, kids, public education.

And she just quit.

“While I love and believe in education for every student despite their circumstances, public schools as a system don’t love their teachers back,” Kluthe posted on Twitter recently.

“The working conditions have always been challenging, but they became downright unsustainable since the start of the pandemic,” she tweeted. “We’re overworked, undervalued, and constantly under attack from people who have no idea what the hell they’re talking about.”

Kluthe is leaving Crossroads Preparatory Academy, a public charter school in Kansas City, Missouri, for Notre Dame de Sion Grade School, a private Catholic school known for its small classes and college-prep trajectory.

That tweet about her mid-year departure drew thousands of responses from teachers across the country, many of whom say they’re burned out, depressed and disillusioned.

They point to struggles over teaching in-person and remote students simultaneously, filling in for peers during substitute shortages and feeling the pressure to make up for lost learning time. What’s more, they’re caught in the middle of controversial mask mandates, debates over critical race theory and challenges to books in school libraries.

Steve Case, a former teacher and research professor who ran the University of Kansas’ now-defunct STEM Center, says schools should prepare for a mass exodus of teachers in coming months.

“I’m very, very afraid of a collapsing system here,” he said. “We will see a very large number of teachers who leave teaching altogether and don’t come back.”

Case, who taught Kluthe at KU, said mid-year resignations that were once rare are becoming more common. Generally, teachers will “gut it out for the kids” until the end of the year, he said. But a notably different tenor this fall has some Kansas teachers speaking out against what they say is a toxic environment.

During a recent meeting of the Blue Valley school board, veteran teacher Dianne O’Bryan urged communities to ease up on the negativity or risk losing more teachers.

“For those angry, highly critical, accusatory parents in our district, please know that you’re a major contributing factor to teachers leaving,” O’Bryan said. “You have a choice to be angry, but we also have a choice to leave.”

Kluthe, 31, said in an interview that she didn’t intend to resign mid-year, but the stresses of teaching started to affect her physical and mental health.

“I was getting anxiety almost every single work night, just dreading coming to work,” she said. “I was starting to resent the students for behavior issues … when I know a lot of those things are outside of their control. It was just not a healthy place for me to be.”

On Twitter, she wrote: “I’m exhausted. I’m burnt out. I have nothing left to give. I need to step away and take care of myself for a bit.”

Her private-school job comes with less pay but also less pressure, Kluthe said — about 10 students per class instead of 23 or more. She also pointed to more planning time, a tight-knit school community and the “freedom to be creative and follow my passions.” She’ll teach fourth- and fifth-grade science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, classes, mentor peers and write a new social justice curriculum.

“I want to retire (as) a teacher,” she said, “but I need a school that will love me as much as I love my work.”

Case, the retired research professor, said Kluthe’s comments echo a growing frustration among teachers “who have not had a voice” in discussions around education.

“It’s like, yeah, we’re talking about it. We know all this stuff,” he said. “But nobody’s doing anything about it, and that’s where hope gets lost.”

Suzanne Perez reports on education for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.