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Professional Development: Why Do Teachers Quit?

Janelle Cox

Teachers enter the profession for a multitude of reasons: The experience of making a difference in the lives of children, to be a lifelong learner, because it is their chosen vocation, or even because they like having the nights, weekends, and summers off. Whatever the case may be, teachers start out on a lifelong career path, but somewhere along the line, many leave the occupation.

While all professions have some turnover, according to research, the teaching profession has about a 4 percent higher turnover rate than any other profession. Let’s look at why.

Professional Development: Fast Facts

First let’s examine a few facts. Research shows that about 16 percent of teachers quit their jobs each year, and around 40 percent of undergraduate students who receive a degree in teaching never even enter the classroom. Why would a college graduate with a degree never even utilize it? Research shows that young teachers (mostly after their student teaching experience) soon realize that being a teacher is a lot more than just weekends and summers free. Teacher prep happens before and after school and not to mention on the weekends. The lack of available teaching jobs also hinders undergraduate students from even trying to get a job unless they want to move out of state.

As for the 16 percent that leave their classroom jobs, this can be due to various reasons. A teaching career may come with a few perks, like only having to teach for about 180 days per year, but it doesn’t come with any promotions. Salary increases are earned by the level of degree that you have and how many years you have been teaching, and the lack of school funding means if teachers need something for their classroom than they have to use their money for it. Keeping up with the pressure of standard testing like the Common Core, along with the overcrowded class sizes, doesn’t help either. This is isn’t just a public school issue either. Research shows that private schools have also lost a lot teachers, but that may be from low salary because in the private sector teachers are extremely underpaid.

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Does Salary Play a Part?

According to the National Education Association, the national average starting salary for a teacher in 2012-2013 was $35,141. To some people this salary may seem OK, but if you look at what is expected of teachers, all of the time spent planning before, during and after school, and the time spent for extracurricular activities as well as the emotional toll, that salary can be considered disgraceful. Teachers take on the role of a surrogate parent, counselor, disciplinarian, mentor, role model, planner and many more. When you take all of that into consideration, that salary just is not sustainable.

Some studies suggest that a higher salary doesn’t necessarily lead to a higher retention rate among teachers. Some teachers would rather work in an environment where the conditions were stable and where they felt they were valued, rather than getting a higher-paying job. For example, one study found that when teachers were asked to go teach in a lower-performing school for a large bonus, very few teachers were willing to go. This proves the point that more money doesn’t necessarily mean that teachers will stay.

What Does This All Mean?

Based upon other educational statistics, there is a range of factors that influences teacher retention, with teacher satisfaction being on the top of that list. Schools that know how to manage and respond to student behavior have far better teacher retention rates. Along with schools that give value to their teachers by really listening to them and allowing them a voice in all matters. Parent involvement and student achievement are among other factors. Overall, teachers who receive these elements are more satisfied with their job, and will stay at it.

What is your view on teacher retention? Why do you think teachers quit the profession, and why do some stay? Please share your viewpoint in the comment section below, we would love to hear your opinion.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.