Why do teachers leave the profession? (New qualitative study)

Teacher shortages have become a huge issue in many regions. Often the focus is on attracting new people, but I do think that the most important starting point should be the retention of the people who are in education. That’s why this kind of research by Ama Amitai and Mieke Van Houtte is so needed. Both academics examined through qualitative research – interviews with 21 teachers who left the job – the reasons why teachers are leaving the profession:

It’s relevant to note that the respondents do have mixed feelings about leaving the profession:

Former teachers univocally reported that their main source of job satisfaction was their interaction with students, feeling trusted by them and engaging them to learn, ‘as you are raising a whole generation, which is something you can rarely do in other jobs’. Some teachers even described their students and colleagues as almost becoming ‘a part of their family’, creating a high sense of relatedness. Because teachers often felt a personal and close bond with their students, leaving was a painful and emotional process for the majority of the respondents. Depending on the teacher, they hesitated several months up to years before leaving the profession. Some teachers expressed feelings of guilt when they struggled with intentions to leave or when they actually left, mostly when acknowledging that attrition has negative consequences for students. Their main source of job satisfaction – the sense of relatedness with students – started to disintegrate when teachers experienced push factors that eventually resulted to attrition.

What are those push factors?

For novice teachers:

  • As said for young teachers: Job insecurity
  • High workload
  • Class management and student diversity
  • Lack of support
  • Demoralisation

They were thoroughly questioning teaching in their schools, describing how teachers and schools fail firstly to teach students well and secondly to improve social justice through education.

For experienced teachers:

  • Flat career structure. This surprised me a bit, as some earlier research showed this to be different, but I can follow this explanation:

For the more experienced teachers the main push factor was also situated in their job conditions, in which there were few opportunities to diversify job functions, as there was no so-called vertical promotion. The idea that ‘you are going to do the same thing your entire career’ limits the search for new knowledge and development, but also teachers’ ambition to challenge themselves.

Abstract of the study:

High teacher attrition rates are an international problem. This study explores what former teachers pinpoint as their main exit reasons from teaching. Interviews were conducted with twenty-one former teachers in Flanders (Belgium) about push and pull factors. Our findings show that teachers mainly relate their exit to characteristics of the profession. For novices, the characteristics of the profession resulting in attrition are job insecurity and an exceeding workload, while the decisive factor for experienced teachers is the professions’ flat career structure. Moreover, the school context reinforces career doubts, especially for novices who experience issues with class management and feel demoralised.

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