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Rethinking Rookies: Why Are More New Teachers Quitting Early?

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For decades teaching was considered a stable profession, with many individuals spending their entire careers at the front of the classroom. But the reality of a young teachers entering the teaching profession right out of school and only leaving when they retire is no more.

The subject of new teachers, and how long they’re staying in the profession, was the focus of a panel discussion at EWA’s 67th National Seminar in Nashville last month.

Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania went through a report he recently published examining the changing demographics of teachers. He says according to the latest Census data, teaching is the most popular occupation in the United States. However, the most common tenure duration for teachers was five years on the job.

According to Ingersoll this short-lived career is alarming for those who study the subject because in the late 1980s the most common level of experience for a teacher was 15 years. That figure declined steadily to one year’s experience by 2007. As a result of the economic downturn and fewer people quitting for other prospects, the most recent survey showed that by 2012 the most common level of teacher experience has jumped to five years. Despite that uptick, Ingersoll calls the generational drop in experience levels the “greening of the teaching force.”

Some other interesting numbers from the report include why teachers quit so early in their career (almost 39 percent want a different job and 45 percent are dissatisfied with the job).Teachers at private schools are more likely to quit than at public or charter schools, and men and minority teachers quit at a faster rate than any other teacher.

So why are teachers fleeing the profession faster than ever before?

Susan Headden of Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching said because teachers don’t have the support they need to be effective educators. (Read Headden’s new report on beginning teachers in the classroom here.)

Headden said a teacher in the first few years of his or her career is facing more pressure than previous generations of teachers because of higher stakes testing that have real consequences if students don’t perform well.

But Headden said the support to comfort a teacher through that stressful first year and provide effective teaching techniques and strategies doesn’t exist in most school districts.

“Meaningful induction means giving new teachers trained mentors, meaning fellow teachers who serve as counselors, coaches and therapists,” Headden said. “These mentors are number one, very effective teachers and number two, have been through training programs to teach adults. Effective mentoring programs give teachers support for two years and involve a lot of common planning time.”

Headden explained the emotional roller coaster a new teacher experiences through their first year:

First, there’s anticipation before the year when the teacher is excited and idealistic about the coming school year. Second, disillusionment sets in as the teacher gets frustrated, as things don’t go as well as thought. Then, rejuvenation occurs during the semester break where they recharge. Finally, the teacher reflects at the end of the year, considering whether to go through it all again, how effective they were and if they can improve the next year.

Headden said without emotional and professional support through that process, it’s no wonder teachers get frustrated and leave.

“These teachers are leaving before their schools ever gave them a chance to be the educator they wanted to be,” she said.

The repercussions of the vast number of inexperienced teachers and high turnover rate not only have a negative effect on student learning and teacher relationships, but the economy as well.

Chad Aldeman of Bellwether Education Partners talked about how the lack of teachers reaching retirement within the profession affects the pension system for teachers.

These teachers walk away from money being accrued during their short career because most states have a vesting requirement of five or more years, Aldeman said. And when 41 percent of teachers leave before their fifth year that’s five years worth of retirement money they’ll never get access to.

This situation is unfortunate for the teachers’ wealth, but why should the rest of the population care? According to Aldeman, if teachers are systematically missing out on retirement savings that will affect the state and burden it later.

The panelists concurred that it’s easy to look at the alarming trend of high teacher turnover and blame it on programs like Teach for America or other short term teaching tracks, but those teachers account for so little of the general population it’s a problem that spans across all teaching experiences.

Headden said as most states move into teaching to the new Common Core standards this problem could only worsen.

“This could be very challenging,” she said. “Even for the teachers who have been around for 20 years.”