Teaching is one of the most challenging yet rewarding professions in America. However, recent data reveals that teachers are leaving the profession in unprecedented numbers. The exodus of teachers is a complex issue with numerous underlying causes, and it has far-reaching implications for students, schools, and communities across the country. In this article, we will examine the top 12 reasons why American teachers are leaving the profession and analyze the historical trends that have led us to this point.
A recent National Education Association (NEA) survey of its members found that 55% of educators are considering leaving the profession earlier than planned, up from 37% in August. This has led to a net loss of around 600,000 educators in the US. There are now teacher shortages in many states including Texas, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Florida, Nevada, California, Illinois, Arizona, and Missouri. The American Federation of Teachers’ survey found that 74% of respondents were dissatisfied with the job, up from 41% in 2020, and 40% said they would probably leave the profession in the next two years.
Although teacher shortages have always existed, the combination of long-term trends, a healthy job market in other fields, and the difficulties of the pandemic have worsened the problem. The US does not have timely, detailed national data about teacher employment, so it is difficult to define a national teacher shortage. However, educators, education leaders, and experts at every level seem to agree that America values its teachers too little, leading to a crisis of morale and confidence in the profession.
The teaching profession has always had its challenges, but in the past, teachers tended to stay in their roles for longer periods. According to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics, the average teacher tenure in public schools increased from 13.4 years in 1987-1988 to 14.1 years in 2011-2012. However, this trend has changed in recent years. The same report shows that the percentage of public school teachers with less than five years of experience increased from 19% in 1987-1988 to 30% in 2011-2012.
Based on recent data, here are the top 12 reasons why American teachers are leaving the profession:
- Low salaries: One of the primary reasons for teacher attrition is low salaries. Many teachers do not earn a livable wage, especially when compared to their private sector counterparts. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average salary for a teacher in the US is $61,730, while the average salary for a private-sector employee is $68,703. Many teachers feel undervalued and underappreciated, and this can lead to burnout and ultimately leave the profession.
- Lack of support from parents or community: Teachers often feel unsupported by parents and the community at large, leading to a sense of frustration and disillusionment. This lack of support can take many forms, such as parents not showing up for conferences or not advocating for their child’s education. Teachers need a supportive community to succeed, and without it, they may become disheartened and leave the profession.
- Poor school or district leadership: School or district leadership can make or break a teacher’s experience. Poor leadership can lead to a lack of resources, micromanagement, and an overall lack of support. When teachers do not feel supported by their superiors, they are more likely to experience burnout and leave the profession.
- Retirement: Many teachers leave the profession because they have reached retirement age. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average age of teachers in the US is 42.6 years old, and many teachers retire after 25-30 years of service.
- Private sector opportunities: Many teachers leave the profession to pursue higher-paying private sector opportunities. As previously mentioned, teachers do not earn a livable wage, and many teachers feel undervalued and underappreciated. This can lead to teachers leaving the profession to pursue higher-paying opportunities elsewhere.
- Understaffing: One of the significant reasons for teacher burnout is understaffing. Over 28% of surveyed educators have reported that understaffing severely impacts students’ ability to succeed. With fewer support staff in schools, teachers must take on more responsibilities, leading to increased workloads, job stress, and burnout. Schools should prioritize hiring additional staff to support teachers and reduce their workload.
- Increased workload: Teachers feel overworked and overwhelmed, with some covering for absent colleagues out sick or quitting. On average, teachers work 50 hours per week, with many spending an additional 20 hours outside of school grading papers and preparing lessons. This can lead to burnout and negatively affect the quality of education students receive. Districts should consider reducing the workload on teachers by hiring more support staff, such as teaching assistants or librarians, and limiting extracurricular duties.
- Lack of support staff: 14% of surveyed educators reported many open and unfilled support staff positions at their schools, while 33% said there were several. Schools should prioritize hiring more support staff, such as librarians, counselors, and paraprofessionals, to assist teachers with tasks such as lesson planning, grading, and student discipline.
- Micromanagement: Teachers feel micromanaged by rigid curricula that turn them into little more than data collectors and standardized-test proctors. Districts should provide teachers with more autonomy to develop their curricula and teaching methods, allowing them to use their professional judgment to tailor lessons to their students’ needs.
- Negative rhetoric and attacks: Teachers feel under attack as schools become a front in the culture wars, and some are accused of “grooming” children through their oversight of an LGBTQ student club. This negative rhetoric and attacks can lead to stress and burnout. Schools must ensure a safe and inclusive environment for all students and staff, and district leaders must support their teachers and speak out against harmful rhetoric.
- Classroom discipline and behavior management: Teachers are responsible for managing classroom behavior and discipline, and this can be a challenging task. Teachers require support and resources to effectively manage classroom behavior, and the lack of these resources can lead to burnout and ultimately leave the profession.
- Curriculum and testing demands: Teachers feel overwhelmed by the demands of standardized testing and curriculum requirements.
In conclusion, the reasons for the high attrition rate among American teachers are multifaceted, and addressing them will require a concerted effort from school districts, policymakers, and communities. To retain talented and dedicated educators, schools must offer competitive salaries, provide supportive leadership, reduce workloads, hire additional support staff, and foster an inclusive and respectful school culture.