Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 1/1.2.2

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Attrition is defined in Webster's online dictionary as a reduction in numbers usually as a result of resignation, retirement, or death (Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary) (


 wearing down

 erosion

 abrasion

 weakening

Why Do Teachers Leave the Profession?

Tonya Pervall-Harvey

Learning Targets

 List at least five reasons cited by new and veteran teachers for leaving the teaching profession.

 Explain the costs to students and school systems that occur as a result of educators either transferring to a new school/school system, quiting, or retiring.

 Review strategies that school systems can utilize to keep teachers in the classroom.


According to the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics seventeen percent (621,000) of America’s elementary and secondary school teachers either transferred to another school, retired, or voluntarily quit (U.S. Department of Education 2008). Recent examination of the effects of this exodus of America’s teachers has uncovered unwanted costs to students, school systems, and the nation. Currently, programs to retain teachers vary from state to state and there is ongoing debate about which programs are most effective at maintaining a high quality teacher workforce in America.

As you read this article you will be presented with reasons why teachers leave the profession, learn about the unwanted costs related to their exodus, and be introduced to a program that one school system successfully implemented to help them retain their current teacher workforce.

Why Are They Leaving

About 3.2 million people teach in U.S. public schools, but, according to projections by economist William Hussar at the National Center for Education Statistics, the nation will need to recruit an additional 2.8 million over the next eight years owing to the baby-boomer retirement, growing student enrollment, and staff turnover-which is especially rapid among new teachers (Wallis 2008). Both new teachers and veteran teachers have stated personal issues, workplace characteristics, student population, available resources within a school, and low salaries as reasons for leaving the profession.

Personal Issues

Personal issues were cited by over eight percent of the teachers who left teaching at the end of the 2003-2004 school year. These teachers stated they either decided to stay home to raise a family, to take care of an aging family member, take a job in another field, go back to school to further their education, start their own business, or become a member of a religious community. Veteran teachers who retired early stated that the personal and monetary rewards of early retirement were greater than the salary compensation they would have received if they were to remain in the workforce.

Workplace Characteristics

Workplace characteristics were stated by less than one percent of the teaching workforce as a reason why they exited at the end of the 2003-2004 school year. Characteristics such as location, support networks, and mentoring opportunities were all listed as reasons for abandoning the teaching profession.

It has been documented that teachers working in high-poverty locations have a higher turnover rate than those working in low-poverty locations do (U.S. Department of Education 2008). Many expressed difficulties working in high poverty areas due to inadequate instructional resources, constant disruptive behavior from students, lack of parental involvement, and lack of administrative support. All of these conditions made it difficult for them to teach.

Each year new teachers enter the teaching field expecting to reap great emotional rewards. They are excited about teaching and are eager to contribute to a child’s academic, social, and emotional development. Those who cited lack of support networks and mentoring opportunities found that they were in environments that they were not properly trained to handle. The schools in which they were employed did not have very strong social networks in which the teachers collaborated to create lessons, discuss classroom difficulties, and brainstormed solutions to overcome these difficulties.

In other cases, novice teachers were assigned mentors but the teacher-mentor relationship was ineffective. The more experienced mentor in most cases failed to pass on the valuable lessons they had learned through their years of teaching such as, effective classroom management strategies, theories of various ways children learn, and effective teaching strategies based on the needs of each learner.

Social Problems Among Student Populations of Low Social Economic Status

 Indifference to homework and school work

 Disruptive behavior

 low academic levels

 lack of motivation

 lack of parental involvement due to the parents past negative experiences with the educational system and limited education

Student Populations

Student populations that include those living in high poverty areas, homes of low social economic status, minority racial composition, and low academic achievement levels experience high levels of teacher attrition. As stated above in the workplace section, working in schools with the types of student populations listed above can be very challenging. Some teachers enter the classroom unaware of the social dynamics that influence students and parents perception of the educational system due to lack of experience with these populations. They find themselves in school environments that are bombarded with various social problems in which they haven’t been properly trained to deal with. As a result of the challenges faced to educate children who come from homes of low social economic status and minority groups, an unprepared teacher may become frustrated and leave the profession.

Available Resources

Lack of teaching resources such as technology, up-date-textbooks, and support staff teacher’s aides make it harder for teachers to do their jobs. In this age of accountability, teachers are expected to produce evidence of high levels of academic achievement and at times are barely given the resources needed to reach this goal. Some opt to give up their jobs as a result of the lack of resources to attain these mandated levels of success.

To View Tables and Charts of The Reasons Why Teachers Leave Please Visit the US Department of Education: Institute of Education Sciences website at

Low Salary

Low salary has been a factor that teachers consider when making the choice to leave the education field of employment. Some teachers have expressed concerns about having to take part time jobs to help cover the costs of financial obligations. Others have expressed a desire to simply make more money. For both groups, it was more beneficial to gain employment in another sector that offers higher compensation than to remain in a field that can be emotionally, physically, and financially draining.

Unwanted Costs

As teachers leave the profession each year, school systems have to pay to recruit, hire, and train new teachers to replace them. This continuous process drains funding and leaves school systems with inexperienced teachers. This trend is occurring at higher rates in high poverty schools. Teacher attrition comes with the unwanted costs of:

 recruiting, hiring, and training a new workforce

 lower numbers of experienced teachers in the classroom

 decreased academic achievement as a result of diminished numbers of experienced teachers

The unwanted costs of teacher attrition can be decreased with the implementation of programs that have documented success.

Documented Success

Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nevada (National Committee on Teaching and Americas Future 2007)

Clark County had twelve schools in the 2002-2003 school year with extremely high teacher attrition rates. On average teachers worked in those schools for 1.9 years. The average teacher experience in one of the schools was 1.3 years. In 2004 this district started a pilot program to address the need to build and retain a high quality teacher workforce. The strategies this school system implemented included:  giving the principal access to teacher applications two months earlier than everyone else and having them hand pick the applicants who would fit into the social culture of their school

 holding a urban studies program in the summer to acclimate the new teachers to working in an urban environment

 providing full time mentors for the new teachers

 increasing the salaries of these new teacher by one step on the teacher pay scale

Three years later, the retention rate in these twelve schools was between eighty-five and ninety-five percent.

Review Questions

1. Teachers leave the profession for various reasons. Which of the reasons listed below would not be consider one of those reasons:

a. to join a religious community

b. to pursue another profession

c. to teach students at home

d. to work for themselves

2. Workplace characteristics prompted some teachers to leave the workforce. One of these workplace characteristics is listed below. Which option below is cited as a workplace characteristic?

a. an excellent location

b. extensive support networks

c. ineffective mentoring opportunities

d. supportive principals

3. Mr. Johnson is a novice high school math teacher. He works in a title one school characterized by high poverty rates, low academic achievement, and highly disruptive students. He has volunteered to take an urban sociology course that explains the daily challenges students of low social economic status face and effective teaching strategies for this population. Based this description of Mr. Johnson he is:

a. concerned about available resources

b. frustrated with his students achievement

c. planning on leaving the teaching profession

d. trying to understand ways to teach his student population

4. Human resource specialists at Oakland City Schools have noticed a trend of high turn over rates for the past five years at their most academically challenged school. They have decided that this is not a problem because the costs of keeping teachers as they move up the pay scale is greater than the cost of hiring new and inexperienced teachers. Which one important fact are these specialists overlooking:

a. academic achievement will be increased

b. academic achievement will not change

c. academic achievement will decrease

d. academic achievement will fluctuate up and down







The Condition of Education, U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2008).

Lambert, Lisa. (2006, May 9) Half of Teachers Quit in 5 Years, Working Conditions, Low Salaries Cited. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

Policy Brief: The High Cost of Teacher Turnover, National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. (2007)

Teacher Attrition and Mobility: Results from the 2004-05 Teacher Follow-up Survey, U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2007)

Wallis, Claudia. (2008 February 23). How to Make Great Teachers. Retrieved February 7, 2009, from,8599,1713174,00.html