New teachers are drawn to the profession by a strong desire to teach. They go into teaching aware of the demands of the job and the salary levels they can expect. Once in the profession, new teachers feel a tremendous sense of fulfillment and job satisfaction, much more so than college graduates of the same age working in other jobs. Despite this, teachers leave their chosen profession at higher rates than professionals in many other fields do. By some estimates, 40 to 50 percent of new teachers leave after five years on the job.
The numbers speak to the difficulty new teachers face during the first few years of teaching. Research shows that after one year, 11 percent leave; after two years, 21 percent quit; and after five years, 39 percent quit teaching. Teacher attrition rates then remain very low during the mid-career period and rise again as teachers approach retirement age. Researchers have attempted to identify the factors that cause teachers to leave a profession to which they were initially so strongly attracted. Various studies have shown that working conditions, more so than anything else, are the primary source of teacher dissatisfaction and play a large role in the decision to leave the profession. Stressful working conditions, notably large class size, inadequate instructional materials, and endless paperwork-coupled with a lack of support from administrators, a lack of respect from the public, and a relatively low salary-are the primary reasons why teachers give up on teaching.
Asked if they were given the opportunity to do it all over again, despite everything they now know, 82 percent said they would choose the profession again. Most (64 percent) also said they would choose the same pathway into the profession. The vast majority (90 percent) of teachers said they were confident they were making a difference in the lives of their students, and 86 percent felt that, if they kept trying, they could reach all their students. Teachers rated their pre-service preparation, support from mentors and peers, control over instructional decisions, and access to adequate instructional materials as having the most influence on their ability to teach effectively. While most teachers said they planned to stay in the profession, approximately 20 percent said they were considering leaving and cited salary, insufficient resources and materials, and the difficult and draining nature of the work as factors influencing this decision. They felt that these factors, along with unmanageable class size and poor physical classroom conditions, had a negative impact on their ability to teach effectively.
Conversations among teachers about their beginning years in the classroom mirrored the results of the survey findings as well as those of the national surveys. Teachers used words like arduous, confusing, chaotic, and overwhelming to describe their first-year experiences. Young teachers, as well as older teachers entering the profession from other careers, described teaching as one of the most difficult jobs they ever had.
Despite these challenges, the teachers demonstrated a great deal of commitment, resourcefulness, and determination to educate their students. They were proud of the progress they had made in terms of their own personal and professional growth, and what they had accomplished with their students. It is not teaching per se but the conditions in which they are forced to teach that are at the root of teacher dissatisfaction.
Some teachers described how inadequate classroom space impaired their instruction. Without a classroom to call their own, they were required to transfer instructional materials from one classroom to another. As a result, they lost time that could have been used for preparation, they were not able to display student work, and they found it difficult to establish classroom routines. If students had a wide range of needs and abilities, large class size made it that much more difficult for teachers to address individual needs, which, in turn, left them feeling frustrated and discouraged and questioning their choice of career.0
In addition to the time needed to plan and prepare for instruction, teachers felt overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork they were required to complete. In some cases, they were provided with very little support to complete critical documents such as student report cards and instruction educational plans. Teachers were also expected to take on non-teaching responsibilities and oversee extracurricular activities. While some saw such participation as an opportunity to become closer to their students, and to their fellow teachers, others saw it as a drain on their time.
Culture Is Critical
Being part of a professional environment in which teachers have high expectations for students, take personal responsibility for teaching them effectively, and have a commitment to improving their own teaching practices is a critical element in whether teachers feel supported and satisfied. Teachers spoke of the emotional and professional support provided by colleagues, administrators, and building staff.
Some teachers did not feel welcomed at the school, feeling varying degrees of isolation. Others felt learning how to navigate the social infrastructure was also a barrier.
Even teachers who described their schools as collaborative and supportive often felt they were on their own, and that the burden was on them to seek out colleagues or school administrators for help. One common refrain: Unless you were proactive about getting help, you were not likely to get any. Some teachers were too overwhelmed to ask for help; others were reluctant to approach more experienced peers, feeling they already had too much to do.
New Teachers List Most Pressing Workplace Conditions
– Large classes
– Insufficient classroom space or no assigned classroom
– Lack of books, textbooks and supplies
– Lack of a strong professional community; schools with cultures that encourage low standards among teachers and reinforce negative stereotypes of the teaching profession
– Weak or ineffective leadership
– Absence of clear discipline policies at the school or district level
– Not knowing what to expect; having to learn things the hard way
Jeff C. Palmer is a teacher, success coach, trainer, Certified Master of Web Copywriting and founder of https://Ebookschoice.com. Jeff is a prolific writer, Senior Research Associate and Infopreneur having written many eBooks, articles and special reports.