Recruitment & Retention

Why Teachers Quit: The Broken Windows Theory

By Anthony Rebora — June 29, 2010 1 min read
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Mildly Melancholy, who’s had her ups and downs in the profession, has decided that the last day of school this year was also her last day as a teacher. “For real this time.” Any policymakers or school leaders out there who are looking into the reasons why young teachers leave the profession might want to ponder her explanation:

It's bittersweet, because there are some kids I will miss, and there are some teacher experiences I will miss, and there are some amazing colleagues I will definitely miss (well, not like I ever had time to talk to them). But I will not miss the behavior nonsense and the lacking administrator support. (Do you know that the principal never once set foot in my room? Except once she had to borrow our broom. But never to see our class, to evaluate, to lend a presence, nothing. Does that tell you a little about our school? How about the fact that the clocks all stopped like two weeks ago and they haven't been fixed? You know the broken windows theory, right?)

Novel school reform idea: Fix the damn clocks!

UPDATE, 6/30: On the other hand: Miss Eyre, writing on NYC Educator, notes that while she’s had “a million reasons to quit” or transfer this year—and they sound like pretty darn good reasons—she’s determined to come back in the fall. For her, the myriad drawbacks of teaching are outweighed by the intrinsic value of her role as someone who matters to kids:

So why am I going back? Forget for the moment that it's a paycheck and a group insurance plan; as a reasonably competent youngish lady, I could surely dig that up elsewhere if I tried hard enough. No, let's look at the fact that, for better or worse, kids are counting on me in September, and that, frankly, I like that. I like knowing that I, personally, matter. I like knowing that there will be at least some kids in that room who care about learning something from me. And I like knowing that I can make an impression on at least some of them. I hate to cast my lot with the "relationship" educators wholesale, but, well, relationships do at least kinda matter. And good ones with children make a big difference--not just for them, but for us, the teachers, as well. Without them, our job is, well, just a paycheck and a group insurance plan.

The obvious question, I think, is why can’t teachers—and we’re talking pretty specifically about urban teachers in this case—go about the valued work of building relationships with students without the often demoralizing and maddening working conditions? That should be possible in an advanced society, no?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.