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Why Are Teachers Leaving the Profession?

It’s long been known that educators are abandoning their jobs at an alarming rate. New teacher departures are outpacing retirements of veteran educators, creating a “revolving door” effect in classrooms across the nation.

University of Pennsylvania researcher Richard M. Ingersoll, in the 2012 EducationWeek article “Beginning Teacher Induction: What the Data Tell Us,” noted that between 40% and 50% of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years. Further, attrition rates for first-year teachers have jumped by about one-third in the past 20 years.

This level of turnover is relatively high compared to professions such as lawyers, engineers, architects, professors, pharmacists and nurses. In fact, novice teachers now make up the largest group within one of America's largest occupations.

Why are so many teachers leaving so quickly?

Ingersoll described entry into the teaching profession as an isolating, stressful “sink or swim” experience. Indeed, back in 2008, the most recent U.S. data had indicated that educators left the job for reasons such as:

  • Unrealistic federal and state mandates
  • Lack of support
  • Student discipline challenges
  • Low pay
  • Lack of influence and respect

A more recent U.S. Department of Education Report surveyed teachers who had left the profession, asking them how their new positions compared to their previous ones. The former educators shared that in their new, non-teaching positions, opportunities for all of the following were markedly better:

  • Professional advancement
  • Professional development
  • Learning from colleagues
  • Recognition and support from managers
  • Influence over workplace policies and practices
  • Autonomy over own work

In addition, in the non-teaching positions, the following were better:

  • Salary
  • Professional prestige
  • Procedure for performance evaluation
  • Manageability of workload

What about outside the U.S.?

England faces similar challenges—in 2014 Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief of the regulatory body that inspects the country’s schools, reported that around two-fifths of teachers leave the profession within five years, despite massive investment in teacher training.

Wilshaw blamed inadequate teacher preparation programs and a lack of on-the-job support for new teachers.

And in a recent LinkedIn group discussion regarding England’s teacher attrition scandal, commenters echoed many of the challenges also cited by American teachers.

Veronica Tellez, teacher at Magnolia School District, said, “They leave the profession because of pay. The other reason is many teachers have to deal with discipline problems and no backup from their district administrators. Children that need help with speech and other learning disabilities are being denied because districts want to save money.”

Vinny Ridgway, from RTLB at Cluster 16, disagreed. “I believe that teachers are not leaving because of pay. This is a red herring. Yes, the pay is low, but what is even lower is the value society has about teachers. Poor institutional training in behaviour. Limited training in special needs. Institutional capture of the profession by universities. Higher parental expectation of teacher performance and student outcome.”

John Tapscott, an independent education management professional, added, “I think the main reason is that teachers are being made increasingly accountable for things over which they have diminishing control. It’s not reform that is needed but revolution. One thing over which teachers need to regain control is the curriculum. This would be the single [biggest] source of frustration--to know you are legally obliged to teach a program which is completely inappropriate to your students’ level of cognitive development, and then to get the blame when it fails, is the ultimate insult.”

What do you think?

In the poll below, weigh in on why you think so many new teachers are quick to leave the profession.


Article by Celine Provini, EducationWorld Editor
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