Why teachers quit (and stay)

How can schools attract and retain good teachers? asks Liz Riggs in The AtlanticForty to 50 percent of teachers quit within the first five years, including nearly 10 percent who quit before the end of their first year says Richard Ingersoll, a high school teacher (for “nearly six years”) turned education professor.

“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.

Other teachers — and former teachers — tell Riggs about the exhaustion, the stress and the inadequate pay.

Working conditions are more important than pay, says Thomas Smith, a Vanderbilt education professor.

  He pointed to a study by the Benwood Foundation that offered teachers in Chattanooga large bonuses to go teach in lower-performing schools. The study found that few teachers were willing to move for this kind of offer. (In fact, according to Smith, the initiative had to be reengineered to offer bonuses to teachers already in those schools.)

To improve the quality of teaching, “improve the quality of the teaching job,” says Ingersoll.“If you really improve that job… you would attract good people and you would keep them.”

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  1. “Other teachers — and former teachers — tell Riggs about the exhaustion, the stress and the inadequate pay.”

    And on top of that, in many K-12 school districts, it’s dangerous for teachers to work there (students knifing their tires is a random example).

    And on top of that, K-12 teachers are the ultimate scapegoat – the students blame them for everything, the parents blame them for everything, the politicians blame them for everything – heck, even the principals, who were the one set of people who were supposed to protect them, blame them for everything.

    Who would want to work a job when your customers all hate you, and despise you for providing your service?

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    In this imperfect world, it is always possible to “improve the quality of the teaching job.” But, once students get to middle school, there is an irreducible limit to how good it can be. Because by that time teachers are trying to sell what most students don’t want to buy: knowledge of academic subjects.

    We try to make it entertaining. We try to make it relevant. We try to scare them, “If you don’t graduate, you’ll be saying, ‘Do you want fries with that?’ for the rest of your life.” And it all works–somewhat.

    But we all know deep down (and sometimes not very deep down) that we are condemned to be (mostly) failures.

    • It’s a job guaranteed for failure because:

      (1) of insane rules that make no common sense;

      (2) everyone coming after you, blaming you for their own failings (because they can) – the students themselves, parents, administrators, politicans, etc.

      (3) the push for universal college, when in fact only about 25% of the K-12 population could ever be ready for college, period.

    • Florida resident says:

      Dear Roger Sweeny:
      Any luck with looking at
      Robert Weissberg’s book
      “Bad Students, not Bad Schools” ?
      Your F.r.

  3. Keep in mind that the roughly half of education majors who don’t end up teaching may be a good thing. Young people who, after student teaching, realize they aren’t cut out for the classroom and don’t seek teaching jobs, are often making wise decisions. Young people who flunk out of other majors (or are in danger of doing so) and end up majoring in education, are not a big loss. Other than that, this story makes sense: the job is very demanding and stressful. More would stay if administrators were more helpful and if the geniuses who run school districts, state departments of education, and education schools would devote a lot more time to figuring out how to improve student behavior.