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Education Opinion

Responses wanted: Why do teachers stay?

By Jessica Shyu — July 17, 2007 3 min read

It gets a little depressing around this time of year when teachers talk about the last day to turn in resignation letters, when principals fret over having way too many openings, and the news media keeps up the chatter about why teachers quit. (This blog included.)

But as a fairly fresh newcomer to the education field, brimming with hope and optimism (although tempered with a taste of what teaching is really like), what I want to know is: Why do teachers stay? And what can schools really do to encourage teachers to stay?

My new-teacher friends and I have our theories and our personal experiences. Some of them are staying in the classroom while others are leaving. Regardless, everyone has their own theories about sustaining teachers in the classroom.

Why do teachers stay?

“I know that this sounds horribly hokey, but I have seen some teachers with 30 years of experience hate hate hate the principal, the school board, etc, but they simply bloom when they are with the students.” -- Rachel Wieland, former teacher, current Teach For America program director

“The reality of why teacher stay is that they have found a school or community which has welcomed them, given them opportunities to grow, learn, and to use their talents to benefit those around them.” -- former teacher

“I stay in teaching because I feel really good about the job I am doing. I know I am making a difference, I know I am doing what is right, and I go to sleep at night feeling really good about the work I’ve done.” -- Scott Therkelsen, third-year math teacher

“They started because it was a job, a paycheck. When they started, there weren’t so many stigmas being a teacher and the salary was good. Some of them realized they were good at their job and enjoyed it. Others realized they hated it, but had bills to pay.” -- former literacy teacher

“In my case, once I got into teaching it became entirely about my students as I love working with them. It is for them that I am considering staying in the field for more than my required two years.” -- Cristina Perez, second-year special education teacher

But what can make these fairly new and high-achieving teachers stay? This is where their responses really ranged. Some people said they would consider staying in the classroom long-term if they received greater support and coaching from their districts. Other people said they would remain if they really felt welcome and connected with their colleagues and community. They also said feeling appreciated would make them stay. It could be an acknowledgment of their hard work, a sincere thank you, a meaningful observation and discussion with their administrator.

What would make you stay?

“My decision to stay in teaching would be much easier if I felt that I was getting enough support from the district. I feel that in most cases the district acts more as an adversary than an advocate. I feel excessive paperwork, minimal training, poorly implemented programs (like PDSA, etc.) all get in the way of my teaching and prevent me from doing the work that I love to do.” -- Cristina Perez

"[Offering] better/new opportunities... [This] is the hardest to combat. But afford staff the opportunity to assume leadership, new roles, and to grow and develop. This will help some staff feel that they are still moving forward and not stagnating in a position. While you cannot grant an instructor a six digit salary, you take steps to make sure that they feel like they are making it when they walk out the door.”-- former Teach For America teacher

“Coach them. Teach them how to be successful. In any job, any profession, people simply want to know that they are successful. Those who feel unsupported and thus leave, are usually the ones who don’t know what they need to do better with the kids. I wish every school had a [Teach For America] program director for every 15-20 teachers. Eh.” -- Rachel Wieland

“I think what causes a teacher to stay in his/her school is the depth of the relationships they build with their administration and colleagues. I think if a teacher really feels like they are apart of something larger than themselves in that school and everyone is really working together that is can be a reason why some stay.” -- Alicia Bowman, former science teacher

Please share your responses. Whether you’re a new or seasoned educator, what makes you stay in the classroom? Also, what does your school do to encourage you to stay? I’ll be posting some on the blog throughout the week, so please check back!

The opinions expressed in New Terrain are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.