Why Teachers Leave Schools

John Butcher (aka Cranky) has brought to my attention a pilot exit questionnaire for teachers administered back in January 2017. The questionnaire, given to teachers leaving five “geographically and demographically diverse” school divisions, yielded 212 responses. The pilot project field tested a more comprehensive survey designed to gauge a perennial problem in Virginia public schools — teacher turnover — for purposes of analysis in future state Superintendent’s annual reports.

The results, as preliminary as they are, are fascinating. Of the 50 or so reasons teachers listed for leaving their positions, four clusters predominated: personal, such as retirement or a decision to relocate; salary (presumably too low); workload and poor learning climate; and lack of support from administration.

It will not surprise reader’s of Bacon’s Rebellion that I am particularly interested in two closely inter-related factors, “school culture and climate” and “student discipline/behavior.” Each of these factors was listed by one out of four teachers as a reason for leaving their jobs.

The analysis of the pilot questionnaire, conducted by the William & Mary School of Education, does not tell us the relative importance of the different factors. As the authors note, “the multi-categorical nature of many of the questions makes it impossible to know the weight respondents place on reasons for their departure. … Qualitative aspects of the survey should be expanded to allow respondents to describe the specific reasons for their departure.”

Another limitation of this particular questionnaire is that it reflects teacher views from only five school districts: Chesapeake, Fairfax County, Poquoson, Salem, and Washington County. It does not include any of the inner-city schools where discipline issues are most notorious. Therefore, it under-states the overall extent to which discipline (or lack of it) is a driving force in teacher churn.

Based on the anecdotal evidence I have come across, the breakdown in school discipline and the feeling among teachers that administrators are not willing to back them up is a huge factor at some schools.

The Virginia Department of Education compiles data on disciplinary infractions at every school in the Commonwealth. If the Virginia school superintendent is interested in doing a serious analysis, he would do at least two things: (1) allow teachers to weight the importance of different factors, and (2) probe the extent to which schools with the greatest number of disciplinary actions also are schools where teachers are most likely to cite disciplinary concerns and lack of administrative support as reasons for leaving.

I eagerly await the next annual report to see how Superintendent of Public Instruction James F. Lane approaches this cause for concern.

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5 responses to “Why Teachers Leave Schools”

  1. As for the Chesapeake school bus drivers, probably more on $$$ and student discipline (or the lack thereof).

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Probably the overriding issue to be recognized is that teachers are FREE to teach wherever they wish if they have decent academic and/or work experience/performance.

    What that means is that for a given highly qualified teacher, they’re going to go where the money is good and the behavior and academic performance of the students is high.

    It’s sort of a self-sorting process where the teachers with the best credentials get the best positions and the tougher assignments go to those who don’t fare as well as getting jobs at the higher paying/better schools.

    So the lower performing schools are easy targets for the critics but how would we “fix” it? We keep saying that kids who are discipline problems make life harder both for other students and teachers with the implication they should be “separated” but then we also say they should not be truants

    So what should be done and where does the money come from for that solution?

    I just won’t accept the criticism and condemnation from the critics unless they also offer alternatives – otherwise – what’s the purpose of their criticism?

  3. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Fairfax County always tries to interview a teacher who is leaving. How candid are the responses? Hard to tell. Lots of teachers leave because their family is moving. And money is often stated but it is an easy “excuse.”

    A key issue identified is interference from staff, etc. with a teacher’s ability to teach. Experience teachers tend to see themselves fully capable of handling the daily subject matter and teaching techniques.

  4. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I’m not sure the results would vary much for other employee categories. Instead of student discipline they might cite some other situation that made the workplace more stressful or less rewarding, but every job has its issues.

  5. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    By Far the most critically important people in our society are:

    First, mothers and fathers,

    Second, teachers in all schools, particularly elementary and preschools,

    With all parents, teacher, and kids living in safe, vibrant, and learning communities.

    Today our parents among the elite understand this for their kids.

    Our greatest failure is our collective failure to insure that all kids in America get the same opportunity to learn and thrive as the rich.

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