“Why I’m Walking Away From Teaching”
“Why I Left the Teaching Profession, and You Should Too!”
“Why You Shouldn’t Become a Teacher”
We all know the reasons that teachers burn out, throw in the towel, and walk away from the teaching profession. We hear about them often. Countless articles, blog posts, and even professional research studies all point to same causes, likely popping up on your Facebook Newsfeed on a regular basis. Given the current state and perspectives of public education in America, it shouldn’t seem surprising that teacher retention is becoming more and more challenging. Low pay, stressful and emotionally draining working conditions, endless and growing work loads, lack of resources, lack of support…I could write a whole series of posts on why teachers walk away from the classroom and never look back.
In case you’re wondering, this is NOT a post about why I’m burning out, since I am most definitely not and likely never will. It is also NOT a post that discourages the passionate youth of America from going into the teaching profession. As I watch my four year old thriving in her first “real” year of school, coming home to excitedly “play teacher” on a regular basis, don’t even get me started on why those posts don’t sit right with me.
This post is about something different. Instead of focusing on all the reasons why teachers leave the the classroom, let’s take a closer look why they stay. More importantly, let’s look at factors that we can actually do something about. During grad school for Educational Leadership, my fabulous research group and I chose this topic because we adamantly wanted to know how to keep teachers, especially the best teachers, in the classroom. Thank you to my friends, April Hughes, Angela Dudley, and Eva Burnett for collaborating with me to complete this eye-opening assignment.
“While accurate measures of teacher attrition are important if school systems, administrators, and potential teachers are to effectively plan for the coming years, the need to identify factors which cause teachers to remain in the profession is perhaps of greater importance.” (Inman, 2004).
You’ve probably said these words before, as I know I have countless times. We say these words because they’re true. In fact, if you ask most teachers why they stay in the classroom, the first reason they will likely state is their students. They are the reason we entered the profession in the first place, and the reason we get out of bed in the morning. Rarely do teachers leave the profession due to their students. Our devotion to kids is constant, and our desire to positively impact their little lives does not and should not fade.
Now, there are things that we wish to change about this profession, but unfortunately, we cannot. We cannot change the circumstances of students who enter our school building. We cannot change their families’ circumstances. We cannot generate money and classroom resources from thin air. Ironically, according to our research, it turns out that those aren’t the things that matter MOST to teachers or affect their daily job satisfaction anyway. It turns out that working with children, is rewarding in and of itself. We love our students regardless of the school in which we teach, and we love our students regardless of circumstances.
The kicker is, most teachers’ overall job satisfaction involves far more than the kids. Because of this, my research group and I decided to examine which factors impact teachers’ decisions whether to stay or leave the classroom, more specifically the factors that we can change.
These are the four factors that can significantly and positively impact the retention of teachers.
We call these the “Game Changers.”
“The more types of support teachers experienced, the lower the likelihood of their leaving or changing schools.” (Guarino, Santibanez, and Daley, 2006). These are the types of support that teachers value most:
One of my favorite movies is “Remember the Titans,” the story of the joining of two high schools and groups of young men on a football team following the end of segregation in schools. After a particularly difficult practice, the players are arguing, and one player states to the team’s leader, “Attitude reflects leadership, Captain.”
Not surprisingly, it turns out that schools are no different, and that a positive school culture truly does begin at the top. “Administrators’ actions have enormous impacts on teacher retention. Teachers want to work in schools where they have greater autonomy, higher levels of administrative support, and clearly communicated expectations…Helping administrators understand their level of influence and guiding them toward building a positive working relationship with teachers and empowering teachers would enhance teacher retention.” (Skaalvik 2011).
Administrators must empower their teachers, treat them as professionals, and encourage them to grow and reflect by collaborating with others. They must respect and be respected by teachers, students, and parents.
Additionally, administrators must identify and empathize with the harsh realities of the teacher/family balance. This is something that I value more and more now that I am not only a teacher, but a mom to two young children. Administrators who forget what it’s like in the daily trenches of teaching will most likely lose touch with their teachers, and without administrative support, it becomes more likely that teachers will turn to other professions.
In asking teachers what they value most in terms of job satisfaction, a study by Inman concluded that 70% of teachers valued collegiality over daily working conditions and job security within their first ten years of experience (2004).
SEVENTY PERCENT! You guys…How long have I been saying that “Your teacher friends should be your best friends?!” Adult relationships are CRUCIAL. So how exactly do we define “collegiality?” In essence, it is teachers being kind and supportive toward one another. Engaging with and learning from one another. Leaning on and trusting one another. Working effectively together on grade level teams. Playing nice and playing fair. Putting what is best for all students first. Respecting one another’s differing opinions and educational philosophies.
As teachers collaborate regarding academic and behavioral issues, they provide emotional and intellectual support for one another. Teachers are more likely to feel empowered as they problem solve, share plans and ideas, and form strong collaborative relationships and bonds with colleagues.
“Resilient teachers and teacher leaders recognized that much of their professional development comes from sharing and interactions with others.”(Patterson, 2004). This interaction and continuing of teacher education promotes school retention because it allows educators to seek successful classroom methodologies that improve morale, thus positively impacting school culture. In Patterson’s research, he noted that teachers place a high premium on professional development and are willing to go outside the system, to get what they need.
Go. Outside. The. System. Again, this directly goes back to administrative leadership, because professional development opportunities should be as individualized as possible. Do your students learn in exactly the same ways? Do they need exactly the same things to be successful? Teachers are no different. Professional Development should never be a “one size fits all,” “fix it quick” approach. It should be targeted, meaningful, specific to teachers’ needs, and should always come with a package of long-term support, ready to use resources, and collaboration.
Now this one is a tough one, because you’re likely thinking to yourself, “I can’t change uninvolved parents or an unsupportive community.” Is it more difficult in certain schools or districts than others? Absolutely. But there is something to say about two schools in the same district with similar demographics and quality of teachers, when one school is thriving and the other is not. Are parents and community members welcomed into the school? Is communication clear and frequent? Are they invited to school events? Are they consistently provided with tools and resources that establish a positive bridge between the home/community and school? Are they treated as partners and stakeholders in school endeavors or as outsiders?
Administrators must promote the success and professionalism of their staff to parents and the wider community, thus enhancing “the public perception of teaching as a true profession.”(Inman, 2004).
In a supportive community , teachers feel valued, wanted, and motivated, which in turn encourages teachers to remain in the profession. “Without the support of the community, beginning teachers will continue to leave the profession for other endeavors which afford them positive feelings of efficacy and accomplishment. For communities to become more supportive of teachers and the conditions under which many of them teach, it will take a combined effort on the part of the school administration, other teachers, teacher education programs, and people in the community.” (Inman, 2004).
As you might have noticed, all four of the factors contributing to teacher job satisfaction and their commitment to stay in the classroom revolved around the following theme. This is something that we’ve always known, but regardless of common beliefs, we can actually do something about to improve teacher retention.
Who’s ready to change the game?
Please share this post with teachers, administrators, community leaders, and legislators.
Thank you to April Hughes, Angela Dudley, and Eva Burnett for contributing to this research assignment.
Digital papers by I Teach, What’s Your Superpower? (Megan Favre)
Fonts by KG Fonts
Patterson, J. H., Collins, L., & Abbott, G. (2004). A Study of Teacher Resilience in Urban Schools. Journal Of Instructional Psychology, 31(1), 3-11.
Skaalvik, E. M., & Skaalvik, S. (2011). Teacher job satisfaction and motivation to leave the teaching profession: Relations with school context, feeling of belonging, and emotional exhaustion. Teaching & Teacher Education, 27(6), 1029-1038. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2011.04.001
Guarino, C. M., Santibañez, L., & Daley, G. A. (2006). Teacher Recruitment and Retention: A Review of the Recent Empirical Literature. Review Of Educational Research, 76(2), 173-208.