Having quality, experienced teachers instructing students is critical in keeping the United States competitive in the global economy. But within five years of starting their careers, nearly half of teachers leave the profession. Why?
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It’s not that teachers suddenly hate their students; many say they love them, but what they don’t like is the pressures of the job, difficult work conditions, and meager pay. These factors are leading to more and more teachers leaving the profession after a couple of years. Liz Riggs in The Atlantic recently talked with education experts and teachers to learn about the challenges teachers face. Here are three:
1. Respect — Of course, it differs between schools, but generally speaking, teachers at the bottom of the totem pole and have little standing when they start teaching.
Richard Ingersoll, a teacher for six years before ditching the classroom to get his Ph.D. in sociology, now studies why teachers leave the profession. He told The Atlantic he left because of the lack of power he had as a teacher.
“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 … 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.”
One 26-year-old former teacher said she was held to impossibly high standards and added, “It stems from this sense that teachers aren’t real people, and the only thing that came close to [making me stay] was the kids.”
2. Workload — To do the job well, teachers have to work long hours after the final bell rings. Plus, the emotional energy expended can be exhausting, particularly in struggling schools.
Thomas Smith, a professor at Vanderbilt University’s education school, said the intensity needed to perform at a high level can only be sustained for a couple years before burnout sets in.
“[It’s] the same way that people might think of investment banking,” Smith said. “It’s something that people do for a few years out of college, but if you want to have a family, or you want to have some leisure time, you know, how do you sustain that?”
A former history teacher said he enjoyed his first couple years, but quickly realized it was unsustainable.
“What [older teachers] working in high-need schools told me, however, was that being successful at school directly conflicted with being successful husbands and fathers. While this is certainly true of any occupation, most occupations don’t leave your children asking you, ‘Why do you go to more basketball games of the kids at school than mine?'”
3. Pay — What often pushes teachers out of job is the amount of money they make doesn’t compensate for the negatives of the job.
The average starting salary of a teacher is about $35,500. For teachers that work five to nine years, the average salary only rises to about $42,000, according to PayScale.
“What is expected of great teachers and the amount they are paid is shameful,” a former teacher from the Northwest told The Atlantic. “Yes, if you love something, you should do it regardless of pay, but when you take into consideration the time, the effort, the emotional toll and what teachers are asked to actually do everyday, it was painfully obvious that teaching is not a sustainable job. I really wish it had been.”
So how can more teachers be retained?
Research shows a combination of support systems for teachers, administrators that act as mentors, and student achievement in the classroom helps teachers stay teaching. Another big factor is how schools support teachers who have students that have behavioral problems.
Studies have also shown teachers with parental engagement are also more likely to stay. So, if you have children, be respectful to their teachers. Their jobs are hard enough.
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