Why Teachers Quit (or Stay)

Joseph is a former Advanced Placement U.S. History teacher who loved his first years in the classroom; after a couple of years, though, he came to a saddening realization about the future of his career.

“I realized that most older men I taught with eventually felt pressured to advance into higher-level administration as their careers progressed in order to better support their family,” he said. “What many of them working in high-need schools told me, however, was that being successful at school directly conflicted with being successful husbands and fathers. While this is certainly true of any occupation, most occupations don’t leave your children asking you, ‘Why do you go to more basketball games of the kids at school than mine?’”

Pay is also an issue that came up in my interviews. A starting teacher salary in the U.S. is $35,672.

“What is expected of great teachers and the amount they are paid is shameful,” says Hayley, a former teacher from the Northwest, referring to just one factor in her decision to leave the classroom to work for an ed-tech startup. “Yes, if you love something you should do it regardless of pay, but when you take into consideration the time, the effort, the emotional toll and what teachers are asked to actually do everyday, it was painfully obvious that teaching is not a sustainable job. I really wish it had been.”

The Atlantic has an excellent piece looking at why teachers quit (family reasons, salary limitations, how emotionally taxing the job is, how little support they receive from the administration) and why they stay (because of the kids, of course, and because they are in circumstances where there is strong support from administrators). Richard Ingersoll, who taught high school social studies and algebra in private and public high schools and then left to get a Ph.D. and become a professor at Penn sums it up thusly: “Respected, well-paid lines of work do not have shortages.”

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