Why Good Teachers Quit
According to the 2015 American Institutes for Research report “A Million New Teachers Are Coming: Will They Be Ready to Teach?”—roughly 150,000 new teachers enter American classrooms each year (the majority of them in the K-12 public school system).
They enter the field knowing they will earn about 10 percent less than other college-educated workers—and knowing they can’t count on regular raises. The average starting salary for a first-year teacher is around $36,000. The average teacher salary in the U.S. is about $45,000.
Teachers are well aware that they have to work far more than 40 hours a week for these salaries, and that they have to buy their own classroom supplies, including paper and pens, even tissues to wipe runny noses, out of their own pockets.
Still, they enter the field in large numbers. But by the end of their first year of teaching, 8 percent won’t return for their second year. Around 17 percent will be in a different profession by the time five years have passed.
So what is it that drives even the best and most dedicated teachers from the profession?
Lack of policy control: A good teacher expects to be able to use his or her education and experience to decide how best to impart knowledge to students. But parents, principals, school district administrators, and local, state, and federal government agencies all have something to say about what kids will learn and how they will learn it. Whether it’s No Child Left Behind or Common Core or the “Next Big Thing” in education reform, teachers will be expected to conform to the latest regulations and ensure that their students produce the necessary results. Which can lead to…
The pressure of expectations: Good teachers care deeply if their students learn, and they want their kids to have fun while doing so. But education in America today is all about results. And how are results defined? By test scores. Students as young as 6 or 7 years old are taking high-stakes tests, and funding for their schools (and therefore their teachers’ salaries) can hang in the balance. This forces teachers to “teach to the test” in order to keep their jobs, and that’s not fun for anyone.
Scarcity of resources: Every teacher knows about DonorsChoose.com. It’s a website where members of the public donate money to make classroom dreams come true. Teachers have asked for everything from laptop computers to chapter books to microscopes to desks and chairs, all in an effort to equip their classrooms with the items that their local school districts either can’t or won’t place in the school budget. For most American teachers, who work in publicly funded school systems, political decisions have an impact on learning (since most local school districts are funded at least in part with local tax dollars).
Technology: Inequities among individual schools or communities and the rush to embrace advancing electronics before their benefit in teaching is truly known are just two of the many challenges that technology poses for America’s best teachers. In urban districts, teachers can become frustrated by the inability to use technology to assist their teaching due to old school buildings that can’t be fitted with the necessary infrastructure and the lack of financial resources to give kids access to technology at home. At the other end of the spectrum, many teachers see among their administrations a rush to embrace every technological advance before its value in the classroom can be determined. Teachers say they and their students can barely keep up with learning to manage the technology, never mind using it to learn the subject matter at hand. To give teachers a larger voice in edtech efficacy and usage, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation started “Teachers Know Best.”
In the end, teachers simply need to be valued more. To keep great teachers in our classrooms means better pay, a larger voice when it comes to policies and technology integration, and more resources.
What are some of the barriers that kept you from returning to the classroom? Share your stories with us!
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