It took a full year after retirement for former principal Anne Mackintosh to "get back to sleeping peacefully" and get her blood pressure "under control".
She retired as principal of Greerton Village School in 2019 after working in education for 45 years. She was a principal for 33 years across four New Zealand schools.
She said her doctor told her she "normalised" stress while working as a principal.
"It did easily take me over a year to emotionally divorce myself from school, which was my heart, and get back to sleeping peacefully, get my blood pressure under control and health back in step," Mackintosh said.
"And, above all, not being bowed down by the sometimes extremely heavy mantle of leadership."
Her comments on the high personal demands placed on educators come as data shows a rising number of Bay teachers and principals leaving the profession.
Mackintosh said there was often "a high personal price" to be paid when working in schools.
"Perhaps that is why so many leave and may not return."
While Mackintosh describes her career as "long, fruitful and rewarding", she said the job could be all-consuming.
"Kids, people in our learning community and the joy of teaching and learning were my passions.
"Now that I have retired, I have reflected greatly on my career and am gratified and so thankful that it was my chosen profession."
However, she did not miss "the pressure of poor funding and practically begging for additional funds for students, the constant battle of consistently supporting disadvantaged children with few avenues in which to seek timely support".
Mackintosh was among 1709 teachers and principals who left the profession in the Bay of Plenty Waiariki area in the past five years, and had not returned as of mid-July.
That's according to Ministry of Education payroll records for state and state-integrated schools.
The number of leavers each year rose steadily from 276 in 2016 to 417 last year. So far this year, to July 23, 133 had left and not taken up another position.
The ministry said it was optional for teachers to record a reason when they quit, so it did not have data on the most common reasons.
It was not uncommon for teachers and principals to leave the profession, sometimes for several years, before returning to teaching or management positions.
The numbers did not reflect teachers that had ceased employment indefinitely.
The ministry's deputy secretary early learning and student achievement Ellen MacGregor-Reid said schools and kura offer wellbeing support as part of their health and safety responsibilities as employers.
"And they choose what best suits their teachers," she said.
Last month the ministry made available supplementary nationwide workforce wellbeing support through Employee Assistance Programme services.
Western Bay of Plenty Principals Association president Suzanne Billington said the data reflected what was happening in the profession.
She said "many people" were choosing to work as relief teachers or in part-time roles because working full time did not provide what they saw as a "healthy, balanced" lifestyle.
Asked why teachers and principals in the Western Bay of Plenty were leaving the profession, Billington said: "Challenging students with a lack of adequate support to enable learning to occur without stress for the teacher and impact on the other students in the classroom."
'Burning out and just pushing through'
A 27-year-old Bay of Plenty woman who always dreamed of becoming a teacher made the difficult decision to quit after just two-and-a-half years in the classroom.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, she said she was "burning out and just pushing through" when she made the call to resign.
She was startled by the workload outside of the classroom in her first teaching job.
"It just kept coming, and a lot of the time it was very much paper focused," she said.
Her role started to revolve around administration rather than "being there for the children".
"I totally get the importance of paperwork and the necessary work you have got to do behind the scenes but when it becomes your focus, this was not what I envisioned teaching to be like."
Extra responsibilities outside of teaching within the school increased her fatigue, she said.
"You work late, you work on the weekends and you actually get burned out quite quickly ... It was not sustainable for me, and I just had to get out of it.
"I was pretty disheartened. When I got to the point that I decided I had to quit, it was really sad to say goodbye to the kids.
"I felt like I was giving up on them."
She has transitioned to a different career she has "fallen in love with".
"Some tamariki are missing out"
New Zealand Educational Institute Te Riu Roa president Liam Rutherford said keeping people in the profession meant making sure teachers were "properly equipped" to support tamariki.
The union did not collect data on why people left the profession, but anecdotally, members pointed to the impact of low staffing and high workloads.
"Beginning teachers are often being placed in scenarios where even their more experienced colleagues are struggling."
The government needed to urgently lower ratios and put a teacher aide in every classroom, he said.
Further recommendations were set out in the NZEI Pūaotanga report.
Waikato University Pro Vice-Chancellor of Education, Professor Don Klinger, said more students had entered teaching education programmes at the university than in the past.
He said anecdotally, beginning teachers that left the profession felt they were not "ready to deal with the complexities of a classroom", but better data on the reasons was needed.
Sufficient support and resourcing were important for retaining teachers and principals, he said.