Why are so many teachers leaving the profession?

By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.

Since 1984, Met Life has been conducting an annual survey asking teachers, parents and students their level of satisfaction within the teaching profession.

According to this year’s survey results, “Teachers are less satisfied with their careers; in the past two years there has been a significant decline in teachers’ satisfaction with their profession.”

This makes me wonder, why are there so many unsatisfied teachers out there? What makes a teacher less likely to stay in the profession and why are there so many schools full of younger teaching staff?

The answers are very clear. One of the reasons it is so hard to retain teachers today than ever before is because women today have so many more career options than they did in previous years. Years ago, a woman was expected to become either a teacher or a nurse.

Last week, I attended Grand Valley State University’s Learning Network in Detroit, Michigan. Presenter Dr. Richard Lemon did a wonderful job analyzing all of the different reasons behind the teacher attrition.

After attending the workshop and having various conversations with colleagues within the teaching profession, here are three reasons on why so many teachers are not satisfied with the teaching profession:

  • Job Security: There are fewer jobs today that are actually able to hold on to a person for over thirty years. New and incoming teachers are not as interested in staying in the profession because they’ve got more career options available with bigger pay and more benefits. They barely make the five year hurtle anymore. Teachers with stronger academic backgrounds are also more likely to leave the profession.  Some of these are moving on to administrative roles within their buildings, while others are jumping to different careers all together.
  • New School Challenges: Since there are so many charter schools opening, the highest teacher turnover takes place in charter schools. This is because the school’s culture hasn’t been set in stone and because there are so many things to do, most of the staff members at a new school have to work overtime which translates to putting in more work for volunteer hours.
  • Lack of Professional Development:  Higher expectation is placed on teachers and in most cases, the training isn’t always provided. Some teachers are not provided with the opportunity to attend valuable and research-based training in the different areas that would help them improve their craft, whether it is behavior management, creating a highly effective classroom, differentiated instruction, etc.

What can we do today to help keep more teachers? Here is my advice on how to retain more teachers:

  • Strong Mentoring Programs: The power of mentoring goes a long way in the teaching profession. I think back to my first couple years of teaching and how encouraging my mentors were to me. I was even fortunate enough to have an instructional coach when I first started teaching. Providing that extra support to new teachers will help them identifying their weaknesses and provide assistance so that they can master their skills. Without a strong mentoring program, a new teacher can easily get overwhelmed with all of the different requirements.
  • Professional Learning Communities: The use of PLC’s is so important in a building because they help utilize everyone’s true potential and help maintain a more productive work environment. Most schools also utilize a more vertical alignment with their staff discussions. Having the opportunity to communicate with other staff members enhances that “let’s work smarter, not harder” way of thinking. 
  • Train! Train! Train! The expectation on having a highly engaged classroom is even bigger today than ever before, especially with all the talks behind being a highly qualified teacher. It’s important to give feedback after observing a teacher, but it’s even more important to follow that feedback with valuable skills they can actually use in their classrooms. If you know that one of your teachers is having a hard time with behavior management, then give him/her the opportunity to attend a professional development on the topic. A very economical way of doing this would be to have them observe another teacher in the building that has masters that skill. Sometimes, utilizing other staff members in the building can be our best resource.

Just like any other job, it takes years of practice to master one’s teaching skills. Like defined in the book Outliners: The Story of Success, it really does take 10,000 hours to become a skilled professional in any field and teachers are no exception to that rule. If we want more teachers returning to the profession, than we’ve got to provide them with the support system that will make them more interested in staying. No matter how much money or time it will take to train our staff members, just keep in mind that it will take even more time and money to train someone completely new. With the proper feedback and training, every teacher can become a great teacher and if we help them master their teaching skills, then they will become much more interested in staying.


Filed under Classroom Teachers, Education, Teaching

5 responses to “Why are so many teachers leaving the profession?

  1. I hope you all like this blog entry. Please let me know what you think of the content.

  2. B. Dunn

    You definitely hit on the primary factors as to why individuals leave the teaching profession. The challenge I guess is figuring out how to prioritize the root causes of teacher attrition in a way that best supports teachers staying in the field. Great insight Zemen!

  3. JeriWB

    When my husband got a job on the other side of the country I was so relieved. It finally gave me an excuse to leave the classroom (for a year or maybe longer). All the reasons you provided do hit the nail on the head. However, I think many teachers leave due to the long hours and horrible pay. I am a good teacher, I just don’t think I can stomach working 55-65 hours a week for the rest of my life.

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