Why Do Teachers Quit?

From The Atlantic:

Richard Ingersoll taught high-school social studies and algebra in both public and private schools for nearly six years before leaving the profession and getting a Ph.D. in sociology. Now a professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s education school, he’s spent his career in higher ed searching for answers to one of teaching’s most significant problems: teacher turnover….

Ingersoll extrapolated and then later confirmed that anywhere between 40 and 50 percent of teachers will leave the classroom within their first five years (that includes the nine and a half percent that leave before the end of their first year.) Certainly, all professions have turnover, and some shuffling out the door is good for bringing in young blood and fresh faces. But, turnover in teaching is about four percent higher than other professions.

Approximately 15.7 percent of teachers leave their posts every year, and 40 percent of teachers who pursue undergraduate degrees in teaching never even enter the classroom at all. With teacher effectiveness a top priority of the education reform movement, the question remains: Why are all these teachers leaving—or not even entering the classroom in the first place?

“One of the big reasons I quit was sort of intangible,” Ingersoll says. “But it’s very real: It’s just a lack of respect,” he says. “Teachers in schools do not call the shots. They have very little say. They’re told what to do; it’s a very disempowered line of work.”…

In my interviews with teachers, the same issues continued to surface. In theory, the classroom hours aren’t bad and the summers are free. But, many young teachers soon realize they must do overwhelming amounts of after-hours work. They pour out emotional energy into their work, which breeds quick exhaustion. And they experience the frustrating uphill battle that comes along with teaching—particularly in low-performing schools.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Jakeithus

    As on of the people who pursued an undergrad degree in Education, I agree strongly with this. Getting put in front of a classroom full-time as part of a practicum, it became pretty clear that teaching was not what I was meant to be doing. When you had a good lesson prepared, and could engage students with it, it felt incredible.

    The problem for me was that in order to make these good lessons, it did require an overwhelming amount of after hours work, and I would stress over my lesson plan all night and all morning until it was finished. It burned me out, and without that real passion for what I was doing, it became too much.

    While I can agree that more can be done to support beginning teachers, I don’t necessarily think a high turnover rate is necessarily a bad thing. I never would have known that teaching wasn’t the profession for me if I didn’t try it out to the extent that I did, and it was an overall positive experience that I gained a lot from.

  • Luke Breuer

    According to a public school teacher friend of mine, California is actively on a campaign to make teachers out to be little demons (ok this might be a bit of an exaggeration). Nobody in power seems to understand that a school is a community and you can’t really have one very healthy part without the rest being pretty healthy. John Deasy, superintendent of LA Unified, allegedly got monetary compensation for reducing the number of suspensions. I’m almost tempted to try to find an investigative reporter to look at this, because the reports I hear are that disobedience in LA Unified is increasing, since the students know there is now less chance they’ll get punished. To top it all off, it is the teachers who will likely get blamed for a drop in quality of education. Fancy that!

    I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 12, and the parts of the body who say, “We have no need of you.” There is this idea that competition between parts of the body is a good thing. Yes, let’s encourage people to sabotage each other to make themselves look better. That will surely lead to excellent results! For the children!!1

  • Benji Davis

    Thanks for posting this. In recent weeks, my wife (a fourth year teacher) and I have been discussing whether or not she should quit teaching due to the unhealthy effects both physical and spiritual from the stress she experiences at school. My wife is an excellent teacher. She logs many hours and invests emotionally in her children and the results are evident: excellent reading levels and test results in a school on the verge of losing accreditation in a urban and unprivileged district. The district she teaches in has only 14 accredited schools out of 40+ with several of those on the verge of losing accreditation. The state board of education is pressuring the district to improve; however, the new measures being implemented are the very reasons my wife and other good, young, and promising teachers are on the verge of quitting. From my perspective, it seems that the school superintendent and staff have placed additional work on top of additional work that takes the teachers 1) away from prep time and 2) away from instruction time. The additional work comes in the form of tests and assessments for the purpose of gathering data. It is to the point now that my wife is forced to reduce instructional time in order to administer the data gathering test and assessments. In short, my wife feels powerless to teach.

  • Mark Kennedy

    As a 24-year veteran teacher in middle and high school at-risk schools, I can say that the focus since 2001 and the No Child Left Behind Act has been on holding teachers accountable, as measured in their ability to get a steady, mechanical rise in student ‘learning’–a euphemism for student test scores. There is an ocean of literature which shows this is unfair to both educators and children, and further does not work, yet education ‘reformers’ are tone deaf to most research and empirical evidence. Instead, they advocate relentlessly for any kind of schools but public schools.

    The result of all this is the stress you mention on teachers–and kids. So teachers with any other option, or who are less stubborn than some of us, opt to leave. Kids cannot do that. But now there are stirrings of parents opting their kids out of high-stakes, fill-in-the-bubble tests (those which are used to measure students and teachers). There are actually websites and movements dedicated to opting out of high-stakes testing. I and others believe the house of cards which the non-educator, self-styled saviors of education have self-righteously labelled ‘education reform’ is beginning to collapse. (Very, very few of those ‘reformers’ have ever taught, and zero have taught more than five years). So to the teachers who are exhausted, stressed, and frustrated at the narrowing of the curriculum, I would say: try to hang in; it’s changing.

  • Susan_G1

    It is sad to read this. Whenever I come across a post about the decline in quality of public schooling (especially those that are trying to shame Christians into homeschooling), I try to defend it with real numbers, which show that in truth, the quality is slowly but steadily improving (based in part on fill-in-the-bubble testing.) Though one teacher I know has been at it, happily, for 16 years, all the others have quit under 4 years. My DIL is thinking of quitting now, in her 2nd year. The demands made on her life, not just days, but late summer days off, evenings, and weekends are steep, esp. for the pay.

    I homeschooled for all but the last three years of high school, and taught in several co-ops, and as hard as that was (in a state and district that demands more paperwork and accountability than almost any other – their goal was definitely to discourage us), I had it very much better than my DIL. My kids went to a good school, but the school had quite a bit of trouble keeping teachers. It really is a shame, because teaching is/can be so rewarding.


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