Why Do Teachers Leave?

Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.”  – Jacques Barzun.

Many new teachers and the general public seriously underestimate the myriad challenges which teachers face everyday.  They do not really understand the variables and the complexities of the instructional process and the high level of bureaucracy in the teaching profession.  Teaching is difficult and is becoming even more so.  Some new teachers find themselves isolated in their classrooms after being thrown in at the proverbial deep end and left to sink or swim.  At times they are reluctant to seek help and mentorship is not always available.

The National Center for Education Statistics (U.S.) found that in 2005, 20% of new public school teachers and 16% of private school teachers left the teaching profession.  Retirement only accounted for 30% of the departures in that year.  70% of the teachers who left had other reasons for leaving.  The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future estimates that one-third of new teachers leave after 3 years, and that 46% of them leave within 5 years.  Anecdotal reports suggest that these percentages may be lower in some Caribbean schools.  Nevertheless, one can say that there is a significant rate of teacher turnover.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Schools in England and head of Ofsted, is quoted in theguardian.com (January 15, 2014) as having said: “It is a national scandal that we invest so much in teacher training and yet an estimated 40% of new entrants leave within five years.”

Here is a list of some of the factors which cause teachers in many countries to leave:

  • Inadequate salaries.  Teachers are generally paid less than employees with similar qualifications in the private sector.
  • The lack of opportunities for promotion.  These are very limited in the teaching service.  Teachers usually have to give up teaching and go into administration to get promoted.  There are very few administrative posts, and teachers are not generally paid on merit.
  • Lack of respect from many students, parents, and the general public.  Everyone considers himself to be an expert in education, so teachers are not accorded the level of respect enjoyed by other professionals such as lawyers, engineers, or doctors.
  • The heavy and increasing workload caused by the pressure of preparing students for high-stakes examinations.  This workload extends into nights, weekends and holidays and contributes to high stress levels.
  • Frustration caused by disruptive and unmotivated students who resist efforts to teach them.  This further increases stress.
  • Increasing levels of violence and threats of violence in schools.
  • A sense of disempowerment and conflict with the administration.
  • Classes which are too large and hard to control.
  • Inadequate school resources and poor working conditions in comparison with the private sector.

I have argued before that teaching is a vocation.  It is not for everyone and many of the rewards are not financial in nature.  Young teachers who do not feel the call to teach, who want to make more money, or who want to enjoy better working conditions and prospects of promotion, are not going to tolerate the negative factors listed above.  They will leave rather than stay and burn out.





5 thoughts on “Why Do Teachers Leave?

  1. This is a well thought out, and well written piece Mr. Pilgim. I taught for seven years in a very low income school, and I personally witnessed many of the problems outlined. I was, and I still am via contract work, a new teacher mentor. I have also been a member of a number of outside, school certification teams. In that role, I saw many of the same problems in other schools and districts. I enjoyed my work in the classroom, and my position as department head, Our administrators were very good and always had our backs I was able to achieve great success as a teacher, but I became disenchanted with the profession due to the overall lack of respect it receives from politicians, the media and laypersons.

    You are right. Almost everybody thinks they could teach, regardless of their lack of knowledge or understanding of not only the curricula,, but the sensitive dynamics of running an effective classroom. I wonder how many would last as long as a day? The hours alone would be enough to weed out most. I have also found parents and those outside academia are often unable to comprehend math at higher than a fourth or fifth grade level. Many cannot read or write at a seventh grade level. This does not prevent them from voicing their negative opinions of teachers though.

    I now use my skills to help train and provide tools for those still in the profession. I hope to affect positive outcomes for more students by helping teachers better cope with their incredibly difficult job.



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