Why Are Teachers Quitting?

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In a dynamic landscape of teaching, teachers and educators play a pivotal role in shaping the academic and pro-social development of children. Teachers often enter the field based on their altruistic motivation to “make a difference” in the lives of children.1 If teaching is such a passion-driven career choice that is critical in the development of humans for existing and future society, why then are teachers leaving the profession? 

Historical trends reveal that compensation, work overload, politics and leadership have been long-standing antecedents of teacher attrition rates.2 There is no single factor contributing to teachers quitting. Current research illuminates how these factors and others not only contribute to teachers quitting but some are overlapping, as they are also cited by teachers as reasons that influence teacher retention.3 

Teachers who plan to stay in their position indicated meaningful work, quality colleagues and compensation as contributing factors to remaining in their role.3 How can teachers navigate the factors leading to quitting and continue making a difference? This blog discusses contributing factors to attrition and retention and what teachers and leaders can do. 

In This Article:

Why Did You Become a Teacher?

It is common knowledge that most teachers enter the field hoping to make a difference. If you are an educator, think back to what brought you to the profession. The most common response when teachers are asked why they became an educator is that someone was an inspirational teacher for them, and they too, wanted to help influence the lives of youth. 
Teaching can be a rewarding career, and it is often considered a calling. Whether educators realize it or not, they leave lasting memories in the lives of the students they encounter.

Many teachers explain the joy and happiness they get when:

  • A student experiences an “ah-ha” moment
  • A student comes to them with trust and confidence
  • They know they made a difference

Like anything in life, there are both pros and cons to teaching. Remember the question, Why did you become a teacher. If the positives that brought you to education sound so delightful, then why are teachers quitting?

Reasons Teachers Are Quitting — What Causes High Attrition Rates?

An alarming average national attrition rate of 8% is one reason for examining factors contributing to teacher turnover.3 Teachers leave the profession for a myriad of reasons. Compensation, unrealistic expectations, work-life balance, leadership and workplace flexibility are just to name a few.

Compensation is easily a concern in the current state of society. Teachers devote their lives to their classrooms and students. They pour their personal selves into the development of others, hence that altruistic drive to make a difference. Getting paid to do so matters. Not to mention, all states require teachers in public schools to be licensed or certified in the specific grade level they will teach.4

However, compensation is not always the top reason teachers leave the profession. In fact, it ranks as the third most significant factor contributing to why teachers remain in the field.3 The reason for that could be because when you care so deeply about making an influence, pay is not always a factor. Or it may also be that a teaching career can also include medical benefits and good retirement, making the compensation desirable.

The expectations of teaching are often vast. The demands for teachers extend beyond the classroom and the 8 am to 2:30 pm schedule. Teachers are pulled in many directions and expected to perform to a top tier, as well as get their students to high-performing standards. Meanwhile, they are asked to implement new initiatives, build relationships, commit to extracurricular times, plan lessons, etc. Another potential cause of high attrition may be the lack of leadership support. Many teachers complain of the lack of support in managing disruptive behaviors or shared decision-making.

Educator perception of the school climate, including leadership support, greatly affects job satisfaction and retention.2,5 School climate includes the norms and values, structures and support. The overall ethos of a school includes the climate. As educators contemplate the factors impacting their decision to remain in the field, ensuring alignment between their personal values regarding meaningful work and the ethos of the school where they teach becomes crucial. One must believe in the mission and vision of the school to feel the work they are empowered to do there is meaningful. If teachers do not feel they can do meaningful work because they are in a place that does not align, they leave.

The list of factors causing teachers to quit can go on and on. The demand and unrealistic expectations can lead to burnout and stress, reducing teacher well-being. Teachers spend hours on end planning, grading and committing to their passion of making a difference. This often causes an imbalance in work and life, furthering the decrease in well-being. When teachers reach the end of their candle, they quit.

Considering the crucial role teachers play in developing our youth, the field of education needs to start exploring ways to improve teacher retention. Additionally, we must support teachers in navigating this minefield of factors contributing to attrition rates. What can we do? 

Tips to Navigate K-12 Teacher Retention

Since 58% of teachers responding to a national survey reported meaningful work as a factor driving them to stay in their position, it would serve the field of education to understand what we can do to uplift that meaningful work.3 What makes work meaningful for educators? 

The altruistic motivation to make a difference is a starting place. Teachers need to feel autonomy in their role.5 They should have a choice in their teaching practice so they can find meaning in their efforts. A leading expert in teacher retention and attrition, Professor Richard Ingersoll, shared in an NPR interview that a leading factor in teachers quitting may be due to a lack of input in their professional practice and their autonomy to make professional decisions in their classrooms. Ingersoll describes this as teachers having a voice and a say, which can foster creativity, expertise and self-efficacy.6

Aligned with autonomy and voice, teachers must also feel a sense of self-efficacy.7 When teachers feel their leaders and colleagues believe in their competence to support students, they are more likely to possess self-efficacy and a sense of job satisfaction.7 When teachers are able to do the job they feel called to do, when they feel supported and valued, competent, trusted and respected, they may be more likely to excel and continue in their role.

Leaders hold a significant role in providing that space and trust for teachers. A climate must be built that recognizes teacher abilities and provides them autonomy. For teachers seeking such support, you can openly communicate with leaders and share that need.

How can teachers have more autonomy, while also building self-efficacy and competence?

  • Give teachers a voice
  • Listen to the perspectives of others and respect them even if you disagree
  • Seek others’ opinions
  • Share leadership responsibilities
  • Solve problems collectively
  • Attend professional development based on interest

Two other leading factors for why teachers plan to stay in their role are collegial support and community.3 These are aspects teachers may have some more control over. Having strong work relationships with colleagues and building a community in the workplace is about belonging. The social interactions and feelings of belonging may be one reason for increases in job satisfaction. Teachers need to be able to lean on one another and share experiences, which can positively contribute to well-being.

How can teachers increase collegiality and community?

  • Create synergy and communal relationships
  • Set norms and expectations for communication
  • Offer support for one another (e.g. using the Tap-In/Tap-Out option
  • Provide relationship-building time in meetings and activities
  • Provide space and time for collaboration
  • Share resources

Top Ways to Increase Teacher Job Satisfaction

According to certified health coach and writer, Emily Holland, the top five factors of job satisfaction are:8

  • Engagement
  • Respect and appreciation
  • Fair compensation
  • Motivation
  • Life satisfaction

Engagement is about finding meaning in one’s work. Teachers need to have a clear understanding that their mission and goals align with that of the school. Maintaining the success of students at the forefront and working to foster student development should take precedence. This will support the meaningful work that can draw more teacher retention.

To build competence, self-efficacy and autonomy — key drivers of well-being and job satisfaction — teachers need to be respected. They need to feel trusted in their roles and receive recognition for their efforts. By providing a voice in decisions and supporting them through shared leadership, they are more likely to feel respected and appreciated, as well as satisfied in their position. This may be one way to help prevent teachers from leaving the profession.

Employees should be, and want to be, compensated for their worth. Compensation can come in various forms, including benefits and placing value on the worth of teachers. While financial compensation may not be controllable by teachers or leaders, placing value in their work through recognition and support can bridge that financial gap.

Motivation to continue teaching can be found through fostering belonging, autonomy and competence.9 By providing the conditions necessary for intrinsic motivation (autonomy, belonging and competence) and space for uplifting altruistic motivations that bring teachers to the field, leaders can cultivate increased satisfaction and ultimately, retention.

Life satisfaction, according to Holland, is directly linked to job satisfaction — positive or negative.8 This brings us back to meaningful work. If teachers can find meaning in their work and feel satisfaction in their work through relationships, autonomy, etc., they may be more likely to be satisfied in life. As teachers often feel their profession is a calling and they make it their life’s work, it is vital to ensure they are satisfied in their role, which in turn is their life.

What can leaders do in school communities to increase job satisfaction and teacher retention?

Effective leadership in school communities can significantly impact job satisfaction and retention among educators. By fostering a supportive and collaborative environment, leaders can cultivate a sense of fulfillment and commitment among staff by:10

  • Connecting what employees do to what they care about
  • Revising your mission statement to connect with employee values or provide them say in the statement
  • Showing how an employee’s work is related to the organization’s purpose
  • Encouraging employee collaboration that represents diverse interests and goals
  • Making work more enjoyable through positive working conditions
  • Providing shared leadership
  • Providing autonomy
  • Affording teachers more time 
  • Encouraging work-life balance
  • Empowering teachers
  • Supporting self-efficacy through feedback, recognition and professional development

Begin Your Educational Career at GCU Today

Let’s face it, more and more teachers are quitting, and retention is getting harder and harder.11 The field of education as a whole has an obligation to reduce attrition rates across the nation by uplifting the field, supporting one another and changing the landscape. We need to elevate the value of our work, acknowledge and appreciate the significance of teachers’ contributions, offer opportunities for autonomy and collaborative decision-making, and cultivate mutual respect and competence among stakeholders.

Cultivating workplace relationships and building one another up can increase job satisfaction and, ultimately, retention. If we want to improve the future of our students and make a difference, it is our responsibility to address the factors that lead to teachers leaving the profession and enhance those that increase retention.

The College of Education at Grand Canyon University is committed to preparing and nurturing educators and school administrators who strive to deliver quality education in the classroom. Learn more about our education degree programs and the resources GCU offers to help cultivate future leaders and educators.

1 Arthur, J., Kristjánsson, K., Cooke, S., Brown, E., and Carr, D. (2015). The Good Teacher: Understanding Virtues in Practice: Research Report. The Jubilee Centre for Character & Virtues. Retrieved on Dec. 12, 2023. 

2 Bendixen, L.D., Plachowski, T. and Olafson, L. (2023). Criticalizing teacher perceptions of urban school climate: Exploring the impact of racism and race-evasive culture in a predominantly white teacher workforce. Sage Journals: Education and Urban Society. 55(8), pp. 949-974. Retrieved on March 8, 2024. 

3 Bryant, J., Ram, S., Scott, D. and Williams, C. (2023, March 2). K-12 teachers are quitting. What would make them stay? McKinsey & Company. Retrieved on Jan. 15, 2024.

4 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, Sept. 6). How to become a high school teacher. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved on Feb. 21, 2024.

5 Fang, J and Qi, Z. (2023, Oct. 5). The influence of school climate on teachers’ job satisfaction: The mediating role of teachers’ self-efficacy. Plos One. Retrieved on Jan. 15, 2024. 

6 Fradkin-Hayslip, A. (2021). Teacher autonomy, motivation and job satisfaction: Perceptions of elementary school teachers according to self-determination. Semantic Scholar. Retrieved on Jan. 15, 2024. 

7 Phillips, O. (2015, March 30). Revolving door of teachers costs schools billions every year. nprEd. Retrieved on Feb. 22, 2024.

8 Holland, E. (2019, Sept. 8). 5 Key factors to finding job satisfaction. Chopra. Retrieved on Jan. 15, 2024.

9 Deci, E. L. and Ryan, R. M. (2008, Aug.). Self-Determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development and health. Research Gate. Retrieved on Jan. 15, 2024. 

10 Stein, D., Hobson, N., Jachimowicz, J.M. and Whillans, A. (2021, Oct. 13). How companies can improve employee engagement right now. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved on Feb. 22, 2024. 

11 Peck, D. (Jan. 11, 2024). Teacher burnout statistics: Why teachers quit in 2024. Retrieved on March 8, 2024.

Approved by faculty for the College of Education on March 8, 2024.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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