4 Why Leave

Why Teachers Leave the Profession

By: Sarah Wolff


Learning Targets

• Reader should be able to identify key factors that influence a teacher’s decision to stop teaching.

• Reader should be able to identify the effects of low teacher retention.

• Reader should be able to identify ways by which states and schools can boost teacher retention.




Why do teachers leave the profession? Teacher attrition has been on the rise for the past two decades and it is no surprise that it has become a major concern. (Brooks-Young, 2007). Every year, approximately one-third of the nation’s teaching force turns over and the retention rate of new teachers after five years is only sixty-one percent. (Kersaint, 2007). Researchers believe that teacher shortages are caused not by lack of interest in teaching, but by too many teachers leaving the profession. (Williby, 2004). What must be addressed are the factors affecting teachers’ decisions to leave, the effects on the students and schools of low teacher retention, and the possible solutions to increase teacher retention.



Factors Influencing Teacher Turnover

According to Smithers and Robinson, there are five main reasons for teachers leaving the profession: workload, new challenges, school situations, salary, and personal circumstances. Among those five main reasons, workload was the most important factor in affecting teacher turnover, while salary was the least important. (Smithers & Robinson, 2003).


Being a teacher is not an easy job. Teachers must teach their students, as well as complete paperwork, lesson plans, assessments, etc., and at times this can be overbearing. There is an increase on assessment and accountability of teachers, which means there is an emphasis on testing, evaluation, and passing state standards. Teachers are required to teach to state standards and for their students to pass standardized tests, adding another requirement to be placed upon teachers. Also, many times, teachers are expected to sponsor a club or activity on top of everything else they must do. This means spending more time at school working. Meeting these requirements and juggling these tasks can be hard and frustrating, especially for new teachers with little experience.

New Challenges

New Challenges often cause new, inexperienced teachers to leave the profession. For the most part, their first few years in the classroom are spent trying to get organized, get a grasp on the pace of teaching the material, and learning how to effectively manage a classroom. Disruptive or troublesome students can make a teacher’s job that much more difficult by having to deal with the students and in some cases having to take disciplinary actions

School Situation

School situation encompasses many different things. It can be how the school is run, who runs the school, what type of programs are available to teachers, geographical setting of the school, and much more. Geography can play a major role in affecting a teacher’s decision on whether to leave the profession. In rural settings, the main reasons for teachers leaving was due to cultural differences, the geography (i.e. being too far away from a city or town), and professional isolation. (Williby, 2004). For urban settings, the reasons for leaving were an emphasis to oversee extracurricular activities and whether they were teaching at an at-risk school. How the school is run is also another factor causing teachers to leave. A lack of administrative support is damaging to a teachers self-esteem, poor facilities cause teachers to become frustrated, and insufficient mentoring leaves the teacher with nowhere to look for advice, and ultimately cause teachers to leave.

Personal Circumstances

Since teaching requires a lot of time and effort, sometimes personal circumstances can affect a teacher’s decision on whether or not to leave. The most common personal circumstance that causes teachers to leave is family. This encompasses everything from pregnancy, spending more time with family, and taking care of family. For women who get pregnant while teaching, they may find it more cost effective to leave and become a stay-at-home mother (Kersaint, 2007). For other teachers, quality time with their family and taking care of their family is very important and the workload of being a teacher doesn’t allow them much time to do this. Age is also another personal circumstance that causes teachers to leave. Typically, it is younger teachers or older teachers approaching retirement that usually leave the teaching profession. For older teachers, there is a direct correlation with early retirement and pension-plans. (Ingersoll, 2001). This means that it is more likely for an older teacher to retire if they have a pension plan.


Effects of Teacher Turnover

The cost of teacher turnover is over $7 billion dollars a year. (NCTAF, 2007).

The effects of teacher turnover is astounding, not only for the school systems, but for the students as well. Teacher turnover can have a negative effect on student learning. Schools usually hire last-minute teachers who are under-qualified and inexperienced. (Kersaint, 2007). According to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, inexperienced teachers are noticeably less effective than senior teachers. These new, inexperienced, and under-qualified teachers passing in and out of the school systems can have an emotional and physiological effect on students and student learning.
For the school systems, teacher turnover is a fiasco. It drains resources, diminishes teacher quality, undermines the ability to close the gap of student achievement, and is financially burdening. (NCTAF, 2007). Resources are drained due to the need of experienced teachers to train and mentor new teachers. Financially, schools are suffering from teacher turnover because of the cost of recruiting, hiring, advertising, and providing incentives. (Harris & Adams, 2007). Ultimately, the effects of teacher turnover on the school systems directly impacts the students; the financial cost of teacher turnover takes money away from other projects that could be beneficial to the students, the quality of teachers hired directly impacts student learning and student achievement, and the school community and effectiveness can be destroyed.


Boosting Teacher Retention

So now the question is, what can be done to boost teacher retention? Teachers leave the profession for several reasons from lack of administrative support to poor facilities to low pay. There are several steps schools can take to boost teacher retention.

To retain teachers that are inexperienced, schools can implement a well-organized induction program. This type of program would include mentoring and peer review evaluations. This allows teachers an outlet for help and instruction, as well as advice on how to improve performance. These types of programs also prepare teachers on what to expect and how to effectively do their job. Studies show that teachers who receive intensive mentoring are less likely to leave than those who receive little to no mentoring. (Williby, 2004).

Other ways to boost teacher retention include new administrative and organizational strategies. Since workload is the major reason for teachers leaving the profession, strategies such as job sharing or part-time work may be more appealing to some teachers, or time to get work done during the school day through extended planning time, etc.

Hiring incentives are also another way to boost teacher retention. Although salary is not the biggest force driving teachers away from the profession, incentives would give them more of a reason to stay. These incentives inlcude: hiring bonuses, health insurance, pension plans, and higher salaries.



All-in-all teacher turnover is a growing problem and must be solved. The reasons for why teachers leave the profession vary from teacher to teacher, but there is no doubt that something must be done to boost teacher retention. Teacher turnover effects student learning, student achievement, and the school systems. The cost is astounding, and new programs and strategies must be developed so teacher retention does not become an even bigger problem than it already is.


Multiple-Choice Quiz

1. What is the retention rate of new teachers after 5 years of teaching?

a. 51% 
b. 47%
c. 61%
d. 67%

2. What is the most influential factor affecting teachers’ decisions to leave?

a. Salary
b. School situation
c. Personal circumstances
d. Workload 

3. Susan is thinking of leaving the teaching profession because she feels like she has no one to give her advice, instruct her on classroom management, and provide assistance to her. What would most likely influence her to continue to teaching?

a. a bonus
b. mentoring
c. health insurance
d. peer evaluations

4. John has noticed a high level of employee turnover at his son’s school. What may this be concerning to John?

a. It shows there may be a problem with how well his son's school runs and functions.       
b. It shows that teachers hate their jobs
c. It shows that the students cause teachers to quit.
d. It shows that his son is not receiving the proper education.


1. c

2. d

3. b

4. a




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National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF). (2007). Policy Brief: The High Cost of Teacher Turnover. Retrieved February 4, 2009 from http://nctaf.org.zeus.silvertech.net/resources/research_and_reports/nctaf_research_reports/documents/CTTPolicyBrief-FINAL_000.pdf

National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF). (2007). Pilot Study: The Cost of Teacher Turnover in Five School Districts. Retrieved February 4, 2009 from http://www.nctaf.org/resources/research_and_reports/nctaf_research_reports/index.htm

Kersaint, G., Lewis, J., Potter, R., & Meisels, G. (2007). Why teachers leave: Factors that influence retention and resignation. Teaching and Teacher Education, 23. Retrieved February 3, 2009, from http://dx.doi.org.proxy.lib.odu.edu/10.1016/j.tate.2005.12.004

Smithers, A. & Robinson, P. (2003). Factors Affecting Teachers’ Decisions to Leave the Profession. The Centre for Education and Employment Research. Retrieved February 3, 2009 from http://www.buck.ac.uk/education/research/ceer/pdfs/factorsteachersleaving.pdf

Williby, R. L. (2004). Hiring and Retaining High Quality Teachers: What Principals Can Do. Catholic Education, v. 8 no 2. Retrieved February 4, 2009 from http://vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com.proxy.lib.odu.edu/hww/jumpstart.jhtml?recid=0bc05f7a67b1790e1e9c442f93fe94fd986b47420d3ca7fe3312252c4e58e0bc5099ef9fb44f5578&fmt=H


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