Why Do Teachers Quit?
You may not be fully aware, but America is facing a teacher shortage. The reason there aren’t enough teachers for classrooms across America is because too many teachers are quitting the profession.
That’s the short answer. The longer answer is the K12 system isn’t designed to be functional or adaptive to the 21st century. But we will come back to that later in this article.
For now, what you need to know is that nearly 35% of new teachers quit the profession before the end of their 3rd year. That’s according to data collected by the US Department of Education.
And if you want to truly understand why teachers are quitting, let me tell you my story.
If you look at my experience, expertise and success, you might be wondering, “how on earth would I know what teachers go through?”
The truth is that I was a statistic.
I began my career inside the classroom, first as a teaching assistant and then as a full-teacher. I taught computers back in the day, and then I became a high school social studies teacher. But I ran up against every single obstacle, hurdle and problem teachers in 2022 face.
The system was designed in 1875, therefore all of the problems teachers face have been the same for the last 100 years. Both my parents were teachers, so when I used to ask them questions about why things were the way they were — they used to tell me “that’s the system, you learn to deal with it.”
That was not reassuring to me. And it’s not what 21st century teachers want to hear either.
In 2020 and 2021, the NEA (National Education Association) and EdWeek both conducted teacher surveys, in order to better understand what teachers were saying and going through during the Pandemic.
To their surprise, the answers they received were no different than before the Pandemic, before the school shut down in March 2020, and before remote learning on Zoom.
The number one reason teachers cited for “wanting to quit” was a lack of support from their school, their administrators and from the community.
That’s not NEW news! In fact, teachers haven’t gotten support since the beginning of the system itself.
How do I know this? Because I was a statistic. I decided to quit being a teacher in my 3rd year. I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t understand how a building filled with highly educated and intelligent people could behave so idiotically.
Nothing made any sense.
If a teacher has a question, there is no place for them to go to get it answered.
That’s just plain ridiculous.
But that’s reality for teachers. In addition, the K12 system has set up this fake and false sense of professional development. The title means something, but the execution is far from salvageable.
If you want to truly understand why teachers are quitting, try and put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you go to work and your boss gives you an assignment without any instructions. Now imagine, you work for several hours and still can’t figure it out, so you go back to your boss with the hope of asking questions for clarification, but when you knock on your boss’ door, they tell you they’re busy and “you can do it!”
Think about that for a moment. Did you doubt your skills? When you went to your boss for clarification, did you not believe in yourself? Of course you did. You didn’t go to your boss for a “pep talk”, you went to them because they handed you an assignment that you don’t understand what they want.
The problem isn’t you — the problem is the communication from them.
That’s just one hurdle teachers are forced to overcome on a daily basis.
The response from building administrators is to tell teachers, “you are doing a great job!” And lots of pats on the back.
Is that what you were looking for? There’s a huge difference between recognition for a job well done and encouragement to keep moving forward. Of course teachers need encouragement and morale support, we all do.
But teachers don’t need it everyday. Instead, what would be more helpful is if someone would show them the research on expert level instruction. And teach them the best practice techniques to improve their performance in class. And any tips and advice on how to reach EVERY single student in their classroom.
The bottom line is that teachers want to be GREAT at their job, just like you or me want to be great at our profession.
What that means is teachers are no different than anyone else who goes to work and earns a paycheck to provide for their family.
I quit being a teacher because there was NO PATH to success. I could see in that 3rd year that “this was it” and it was never going to get any better. I couldn’t see myself being happy. I couldn’t see myself feeling accomplished. And lastly, I wasn’t helping my students.
What I needed was a comprehensive Teacher Development program to show me every best teaching practice. What I needed was a formal program to help me go from the areas that I struggled with to become an expert-level instructor for my students.
What I wanted was to feel like I went to school everyday and the system that enveloped me “cared” about my career growth, not that I showed up to work that day.
The only way to elevate teaching and to make teachers feel appreciated is to stop gaslighting them with the mistakes they make in class. I was a teacher for three years, I made plenty of mistakes.
What my building administrators didn’t seem to understand was that I didn’t make those mistakes on purpose. I simply had no idea what I was doing. I needed help. I needed support. The problem that all teachers face in 2022, is that the System HAS NO SUPPORTS in place.
So I quit teaching in my 3rd year, like over 1 million teachers have done over the last decade.
We have a teacher shortage because the K12 system and administrators REFUSE to acknowledge there are NO SUPPORTS for teachers.
Enough about the problems. Enough about the teacher shortage.
The question remains, “How are we going to fix it?”
Here’s the good news!! I already came up with a viable and proven solution. Is this the ONLY way to make the system work? The answer is NO. There can be many options to fix the system, but right now this is the ONLY solution that has been proven to work.
The Teacher Development Program
Even though I quit being a teacher in my 3rd year, I was not done with education. Like I said, both my parents were teachers, so it was in my blood, which is why it annoyed me so much the K12 system could be so out of touch with 21st century reality.
The problem is that schools across America provide NO SUPPORT to teachers. What that means is that teachers need to be shown the research and best practices so each of them can become an expert-level instructor.
That’s actually what every teacher wants to be. Teachers do not want to struggle in class. Teachers do not want to get into arguments with students. Teachers do not want to be unfair and biased. But when teachers don’t know what the research says and they don’t know which strategies work and why, they are left to guess and do their own research.
That’s simply unfair to teachers. What they are expected to do is very challenging to begin with and more than that, teachers are the backbone of our Democracy. We need expert-level instructors in every classroom.
It’s not fair that one student would have an expert-teacher and their friend in another classroom has to listen to a struggling teacher.
The only way to raise the level of ALL teachers is to provide them with a formal Teacher Development program. What this is, is a formal 2–year program for ALL teachers to work on their individual skills and performance.
You could call it professional development, if you want, but this is PD on steroids!
Yes, this comprehensive teacher support program helps any teacher learn how to become an expert-level instructor in two years.
Proving The Critics Wrong
It might just be me, but it’s deeply satisfying to prove my critics wrong. I have been told my whole life my ideas and innovations would never work and they were “pipe-dreams.”
So when I first launched the Teacher Development program in my K12 program back in 2009, naturally critics told me I was wasting my time. Unfortunately there is a lot of negativity in our schools. Similarly there is a not of animosity and criticism pointed at teachers.
I ignored all of the harsh comments and feedback.
I was determined to help my staff become expert-level instructors. When the first cohort was finished, 2 years later, teachers and schools within a 50-mile radius contacted me.
When you do something really good for people, it’s hard to keep it a secret.
My staff had never seen anything like it before. For the first time, teachers had somewhere to turn to. For the very first time, teachers had someone to ask professional level questions. For the first time, teacher evaluations and observations were used to improve their performance, not ruin it.
The Teacher Development program was simple to follow. It helped teachers focus on key areas of their teaching practice and with the daily walkthroughs that I conducted, they got consistent feedback and notes on how close they were getting to expert level.
For the first time teachers had a PATH TO SUCCESS.
If a teacher had issues with their lesson planning, they learned how to lesson plan better. If a teacher had issues with classroom management, they learned about the research on how to structure a classroom and how to use their lesson plans to help keep students on-task.
The end result speaks for itself.
Teachers had less stress because the mistakes they made in class were learning opportunities. They could acknowledge the mistake and then learn how to avoid the same mistake the next time.
By the end of the 2nd year, all of my teachers were working a maximum 45-hour work week. Part of that reduced work load had to do with the innovative 3-part lesson plan system I showed them.
For the first time, teachers had “free time” or “ME TIME!!”
About the Author:
D.Scott Schwartz, M.Ed. is the founder and CEO of Leaf Academy, an online school for 21st century skills and an education think tank that researches and studies best practices for teachers and administrators. He has been recognized as an expert educator by the NJ Legislature and leading educational researchers.
He does consulting work with mid-to-large sized businesses, education attorneys and school districts.