The Math Forum

Search All of the Math Forum:

Views expressed in these public forums are not endorsed by NCTM or The Math Forum.

Math Forum » Discussions » Education » math-teach

Notice: We are no longer accepting new posts, but the forums will continue to be readable.

Topic: Why Do Teachers Quit? And why do they stay?
Replies: 0  

Advanced Search

Back to Topic List Back to Topic List  
Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Why Do Teachers Quit? And why do they stay?
Posted: Oct 21, 2013 7:17 PM
  Click to see the message monospaced in plain text Plain Text   Click to reply to this topic Reply
att1.html (13.0 K)

From The Atlantic, Friday, October 18, 2013. See
Why Do Teachers Quit?

And why do they stay?

By Liz Riggs

Richard Ingersoll taught high-school social
studies and algebra in both public and private
schools for nearly six years before leaving the
profession and getting a Ph.D. in sociology. Now
a professor in the University of Pennsylvania's
education school, he's spent his career in higher
ed searching for answers to one of teaching's
most significant problems: teacher turnover.

Teaching, Ingersoll says, "was originally built
as this temporary line of work for women before
they got their real job-which was raising
families, or temporary for men until they moved
out of the classroom and became administrators.
That was sort of the historical set-up."

Ingersoll extrapolated and then later confirmed
that anywhere between 40 and 50 percent of
teachers will leave the classroom within their
first five years (that includes the nine and a
half percent that leave before the end of their
first year.) Certainly, all professions have
turnover, and some shuffling out the door is good
for bringing in young blood and fresh faces. But,
turnover in teaching is about four percent higher
than other professions. [See

Approximately 15.7 percent of teachers leave
their posts every year, and 40 percent of
teachers who pursue undergraduate degrees in
teaching never even enter the classroom at all.
With teacher effectiveness a top priority of the
education reform movement, the question remains:
Why are all these teachers leaving-or not even
entering the classroom in the first place? [See

"One of the big reasons I quit was sort of
intangible," Ingersoll says. "But it's very real:
It's just a lack of respect," he says. "Teachers
in schools do not call the shots. They have very
little say. They're told what to do; it's a very
disempowered line of work."

Other teachers-especially the younger ones-are
also leaving the classroom for seemingly nebulous
reasons. I spoke with nearly a dozen public and
private school teachers and former teachers
around the country. (I used pseudonyms for the
teachers throughout this piece so that they could
speak freely.) Many of them cited "personal
reasons," ranging from individual stress levels
to work-life balance struggles.

"We are held up to a really high standard for
everything," says Emma, a 26-year-old former
teacher at a public school in Kansas who now
works for a music education non-profit. "It stems
from this sense that teachers aren't real people,
and the only thing that came close to [making me
stay] was the kids."

In my interviews with teachers, the same issues
continued to surface. In theory, the classroom
hours aren't bad and the summers are free. But,
many young teachers soon realize they must do
overwhelming amounts of after-hours work. They
pour out emotional energy into their work, which
breeds quick exhaustion. And they experience the
frustrating uphill battle that comes along with
teaching-particularly in low-performing schools.

"What people are asked to do is only the kind of
thing that somebody can do for two or three
years; you couldn't sustain that level of
intensity throughout a career," said Thomas
Smith, a professor at Vanderbilt University's
education school. He was referring specifically
to charter schools, but his sentiment is one that
resonates with many beginning teachers in
challenging schools. "[It's] the same way that
people might think of investment banking. It's
something that people do for a few years out of
college, but if you want to have a family, or you
want to have some leisure time, you know, how do
you sustain that?"

Joseph is a former Advanced Placement U.S.
History teacher who loved his first years in the
classroom; after a couple of years, though, he
came to a saddening realization about the future
of his career.

"I realized that most older men I taught with
eventually felt pressured to advance into
higher-level administration as their careers
progressed in order to better support their
family," he said. "What many of them working in
high-need schools told me, however, was that
being successful at school directly conflicted
with being successful husbands and fathers. While
this is certainly true of any occupation, most
occupations don't leave your children asking you,
'Why do you go to more basketball games of the
kids at school than mine?'"

Pay is also an issue that came up in my
interviews. A starting teacher salary in the U.S.
is $35,672. [See

"What is expected of great teachers and the
amount they are paid is shameful," says Hayley, a
former teacher from the Northwest, referring to
just one factor in her decision to leave the
classroom to work for an ed-tech startup. "Yes,
if you love something you should do it regardless
of pay, but when you take into consideration the
time, the effort, the emotional toll and what
teachers are asked to actually do everyday, it
was painfully obvious that teaching is not a
sustainable job. I really wish it had been."
Hayley taught for three years before finding
herself emotionally drained, physically
exhausted, and interested in pursuing a career
that provided more balance and financial security.

Higher pay doesn't necessarily lead to a better
retention rate, though. "[Some] studies suggest
that teachers are more interested in working at
schools where the conditions of work are good
rather than in getting paid more," Smith, the
Vanderbilt professor, said. He pointed to a study
by the Benwood Foundation that offered teachers
in Chattanooga large bonuses to go teach in
lower-performing schools. The study found that
few teachers were willing to move for this kind
of offer. (In fact, according to Smith, the
initiative had to be reengineered to offer
bonuses to teachers already in those schools.)

With the exception of retirement, studies suggest
that there are only a handful of overarching
factors that push teachers out the door-family or
personal reasons, other career opportunities,
salary, administrative support and overall job
dissatisfaction. These are largely the same
issues that arose in my interviews. Some were
wholly unhappy or drained and left in pursuit of
another career completely, some wanted more
money; some wanted both. [See

Another study done by the National Charter School
Research Project suggests lack of job security is
a factor in teachers' decision to leave public
charters; however, this was not a concern of any
charter teacher I spoke with. Most teachers
sounded simply frustrated, overworked and
underpaid-sentiments that are certainly echoed in
the research. [See

The teacher-turnover problem has a flipside, of
course: If 40 to 50 percent of teachers leave the
classroom within the first five years their
career, that means that 50 to 60 percent of
teachers stay. Who are they? Where are they
teaching? What is keeping them?

Becky is a retired teacher who taught for nearly
30 years in just about every capacity imaginable.
After starting in Chattanooga in a public school,
she moved all over the country, teaching in
Houston in a low-income school and then Chicago
in a wealthy suburb before teaching at a private
school in Ohio.

She loved teaching, but even in her years before
retirement, she still felt the weight of the work
on her constantly.

"When you're in your early 60s and you're still
coming home with 65 hours of grading over two
weeksŠthat's very overwhelming. [But] I love
working with teenagers. I love the relationships
and I love being able to help them."

This overwhelming desire to help students is a
common thread among all the teachers I speak
with. They all cared for their students deeply,
but even this couldn't keep teachers like Hayley
or Emma in the classroom. Simply put: everything
else-the workload, the emotional toll, the low
pay-was just too much.

A range of factors influences teacher retention,
according to Ingersoll's research, but he tells
me that the way administration deals with both
students and teachers has a "huge effect" on
teacher satisfaction. He cites this as being one
of the potential ways to keep teachers without
spending billions of dollars increasing salaries.

"Those schools that do a far better job of
managing and coping with and responding to
student behavioral issues have far better teacher
retention," he says. And, in both public and
private schools, "buildings in which teachers
have more say-their voice counts-have distinctly
better teacher retention."

Ingersoll has also done extensive research on
beginning teacher support and found that teachers
who have even just two small initiatives in place
(working with a mentor and having regular
supportive communication with an administrator)
are more likely to stay in the classroom. [See

Based on other education statistics, parental
involvement, student achievement and the career
entry point for teachers can also impact
retention. Parental engagement and high student
achievement are key factors. Where these numbers
grow, teachers are more satisfied and presumably
more likely to stay in the profession. And
teachers who sought teaching as their first
career are more likely to stay in the classroom
in comparison with teachers who entered the
profession mid-career. [See ]

Regardless of why teachers stay or leave, the
revolving door of teacher turnover is a problem
that affects students and entire schools.
Ingersoll maintains that it doesn't have to be a
problem that continues to spiral out of control;
the revolving door can be stopped. And while
there are a number of ways to fix it-from
increasing salaries to mentoring young
teachers-the mindset behind the solution is

"Respected, well-paid lines of work do not have
shortages," Ingersoll says. He adds that he is
happy with his new career, but he would still be
a high school history teacher had it not been for
the lack of respect and low salary he
experienced. For a lot of teachers I spoke with,
this seems to be the common sentiment: If the
overall attractiveness of teaching as a
profession gets better, the best teachers will
enter the profession, stay, and help increase the
effectiveness of schools.

"To improve the quality of teaching," Ingersoll
says, you need to "improve the quality of the
teaching job." And, "If you really improve that
jobŠ you would attract good people and you would
keep them."
SIDEBAR: Related Story -- I Almost Quit Teach for America
SIDEBAR PHOTO: Paramount Pictures
NOTE: There are numerous comments on the article at the website.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

Point your RSS reader here for a feed of the latest messages in this topic.

[Privacy Policy] [Terms of Use]

© The Math Forum at NCTM 1994-2018. All Rights Reserved.