ARTICLE

Why Do Teachers Quit?

We asked your best advice for improving job quality and retaining teachers. Your answers reinforced the need for social justice in schools.

We recently posted this article to our Facebook page accompanied by the question: What’s your best advice for improving job quality and retaining teachers?

A typical FB post averages about five comments. This one inspired 55. Almost all were substantive.

Many comments pointed out administrative or systemic practices our readers saw as damaging to job satisfaction. Some readers felt disrespected by their administrations. Many stated they were underpaid. Meeting overabundance and micromanagement were recurrent themes. Several commenters called for changes to the overall education system (testing, teacher evaluation, unions, tax distribution, privatization, election protocols, etc.).

We were happy to receive a number of positive, proactive comments from teachers who had witnessed change or who believed it was possible via reforms that could happen at the school—or even the personal—level. Three stood out: 

…Utilize the smarts and hearts of experienced—perhaps even retired—teachers to offer more than just teaching techniques, but encouragement. Teaching is difficult, but it is not impossible. Perhaps our best teachers are born that way, but the rest can be taught good teaching practices and human relations skills for the classroom.

… One solution could be team teaching. If every classroom had team teaching, children would learn so much more because sometimes there would be two teachers there to work with kids and sometimes one could be with the class while the other planned for an upcoming lesson or unit or scored work in a meaningful way. 

… One of my best administrators was a man who…was always willing within reason to help me establish what I wanted and change the way things were done. He was a man who instead of asking “why?” asked “why not?” … It was EXTREMELY satisfying and gratifying to know that my voice was being heard, seriously considered, and that I had some power over the structure of my classes. 

These comments reminded us that the inclusive values and relationship skills our readers model and promote when working with children are important precisely because they are so critical beyond childhood. Upon reflection, we found that the themes of these comments directly mirror themes found in some of the culturally responsive pedagogical strategies that Teaching Tolerance recommends. Consider the applicability of these themes—in the classroom, at a faculty meeting and in the larger community:

  • Leveraging the strengths and wisdom of the larger community reduces isolation and helps create a broader sense of collective responsibility for educational outcomes.
  • Listening and remaining open to new ideas creates a safe environment where individuals feel empowered and respected.
  • Seeking and honoring multiple diverse perspectives capitalizes on a greater variety of strengths and leads to richer experiences. 
  • Supporting collaboration with and support between peers nurtures growth and ability. 

We know that, ideally, students would consistently experience and witness these principles and values throughout their entire school building. But we also know from our readers’ responses—to this post and to stories we’ve published recently about teacher bullying, about LGBT teachers and about retaining teachers of color—that this isn’t happening in many of your schools. And just as an absence of social justice in schools affects students, it affects the morale, safety and effectiveness of teachers—and the very profession of teaching.

So what’s our best advice for improving job quality and retaining teachers? Recognize that everyone, not just children, benefits when anti-bias social justice principles are incorporated into our work as educators, community members and citizens. And the more individuals who recognize this benefit, the more likely it will be that social justice principles escape the domain of classroom extension exercises and special, piecemeal trainings and become part of our school and community cultures.

The good news is there is an ever-expanding community of people working to spread this recognition. If you are reading this, then you are likely one of them. Thank you.

van der Valk is an associate editor for Teaching Tolerance.