Teaching Profession The State of Teaching

Here’s What Keeps Teachers on the Job

The best aspects of teaching are what propels them to stay, despite the challenges
By Madeline Will, Elizabeth Heubeck, Ileana Najarro, Arianna Prothero & Sarah Schwartz — March 12, 2024 1 min read
Fourth graders do a warm up dance at the beginning of Helen Chan's math class at South Loop Elementary School on November 15, 2023, in Chicago.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Over the past few years, there have been countless reports of teachers considering leaving the profession, fed up with the stress, pay, and other challenges. But what keeps them in it?

As part of a special new project, The State of Teaching, Education Week reporters asked five teachers from across the country what keeps them in the classroom, and what has improved in the profession since they began teaching.

Their answers reveal the best parts of teaching—the meaningful interactions with students, the freedom to design interesting and engaging lessons, and the feelingof making a difference. And despite the challenges of the last few years, teachers have also noticed positive shifts in education.

sot visual stamp words only words only for inline promo

New national data on the teaching profession, vivid reporting from classrooms, and resources to help support this essential profession.
Explore the Exclusive Report.

These answers have been edited for length and clarity.

What keeps you in the profession?

   It’s the creative freedom that my principal allows us to have. Every year, if I try to do something different, that's going to keep me on my toes, and it keeps me excited—versus just doing the same curriculum over and over again, every single year. Every year I will try to challenge myself with something different and something new.

"My principal, she trusts me. And it allows me to play around with what I feel like will be best for the group of kids that I have in front of me. Without that, I feel like it’s just going to be like, ‘This is what is expected of you. You have to use this curriculum.’ And it’s very routines-based, almost too strict. When my principal gives us her expectations, it’s kind of like, ‘OK, now you tell me what you need. How can I support you to get you there?"

Helen Chan, 4th grade math teacher at South Loop Elementary School in Chicago

   Today, there was a kiddo that started off the school year having a pretty rough time. These past couple weeks, he has been phenomenal. Today in class, I saw a moment where he was by himself, and I told him, 'I want you to know how much all your teachers are so stinking proud of you, and we see how hard you’re working.' I know he’s not the kind of kid to be like, 'Oh, thanks!,' but just his little, 'yeah,' made my day, because I know that’s going to help him keep doing what he’s doing.

"It’s my driving force behind everything to help marginalized communities. Anytime I get to translate or teach science class in English and Spanish, I feel like I’m getting to use my superpowers to help kiddos that otherwise wouldn’t be getting that help. That’s definitely what keeps me going."

—Sofia Alvarez-Briglie, a 7th grade science teacher at Alcott Middle School in Norman, Okla.

   I know it's a cliché, but it's for the kids. It’s never a day goes by that I question whether what I'm doing has an impact on my community. When I work with kids every day, I know that what I'm doing is important, is useful, is necessary.

"Every freshman class, every senior class, is similar in that there are some differences, and there are some likenesses. And it's enjoying what is new while also trying to keep a level of, hopefully, quality and structure. You still feel comfortable knowing what you're going to be doing on any given day so that you [don’t] feel like you're having to reinvent the wheel constantly."

—Frank Rivera, a middle and high school English/language arts teacher at Chaparral Star Academy in Austin, Texas

See also

Jacqueline Chaney ask her 2nd graders a question during class at New Town Elementary School in Owings Mills, Md., on Oct. 25, 2023.
Jacqueline Chaney ask her 2nd graders a question during class at New Town Elementary School in Owings Mills, Md., on Oct. 25, 2023.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week

   I love working with kids. I always wanted to be a teacher. I believe in education. I think that education is the key for our students and for our society. It empowers people. And our society becomes better.

"As an [English-for-speakers-of-other-languages] teacher, [I have] the opportunity to become that bridge and close gaps with families that do not speak English, and [be] able to provide that example for them [and] resources—whether it's to translate for a conference, whether it's to share their concerns.

"Sometimes they don’t know how or who to ask. When they have someone that has lived part of what they are going through, they have that connection, and it becomes more real. That's what keeps me going."

—Griselle Rivera-Martinez, ESOL teacher at Enterprise Elementary School in Enterprise, Fla.

What has improved in the profession since you began teaching?

   Instead of just focusing on academics, school is more about focusing on the needs beyond the classroom: making sure students know what's going on in real life and how to survive in the real world, whilst taking care of them themselves. Learning how to be a leader, learning how to manage themselves. I feel like it's a big focus now for kids to learn that they are in control of themselves, and not other people.

"Students are encouraged to express their opinions and take actions to make changes to problems they see. It was empowering when I witnessed my students come up with action plans to combat global hunger last school year, while learning math.

"Technology provides us with more ways to communicate with our students and their grown-ups. It makes learning more enticing and engaging for students, and really enables teachers to think outside the box when we create activities and assessments for our students."

—Chan, who started teaching in 2009

   Technology—being able to check and monitor students as a whole. When my [Advanced Placement] kids, for example, take a practice AP test, it is so much faster for me to use Google Forms than to have to grade each of their individual assignments. And then I can see the averages of which questions are being commonly missed. I can do that over the course of years to say, 'This is something I really need to focus on in the future, because they're clearly not getting the inference that goes along with this particular type of metaphor, or this kind of description, or there's a word that they're missing here.' The diagnostic elements of it have dramatically improved.

"The ability to bring in different media [to the classroom] is really useful, too. When I first started teaching, access to things like Poetry Foundation was limited, or to YouTube. The ability to drop in an aria from an opera at the drop of a hat is really, really beneficial.”

—Rivera, who started teaching in 2013

   I feel like there are more opportunities for growth, and I try to take advantage of them. As an educator, you have to be a lifelong learner. We have leadership opportunities in our school. I stepped out of my own comfort zone to become a teacher-leader. I’m the team lead for 2nd grade meetings, so I share information with other teachers.

"It’s good to get outside of your school building and see what other teachers are doing, and this role allows me to do that. I’ve also taken advantage of optional training that helps me become a better teacher."

—Jacqueline Chaney, 2nd grade teacher at New Town Elementary in Owings Mills, Md., who started teaching in 2008


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Reframing Behavior: Neuroscience-Based Practices for Positive Support
Reframing Behavior helps teachers see the “why” of behavior through a neuroscience lens and provides practices that fit into a school day.
Content provided by Crisis Prevention Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Math for All: Strategies for Inclusive Instruction and Student Success
Looking for ways to make math matter for all your students? Gain strategies that help them make the connection as well as the grade.
Content provided by NMSI

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession From Our Research Center Here's What Teachers Think Their Salaries Should Be
Superintendents and principals also gave the salaries they think they deserve.
2 min read
Teacher at a chalkboard.
Teaching Profession Teachers, Tame the 'Sunday Scaries'
Many teachers feel a real dread of the pending workweek. Here's how to cope.
4 min read
Image of a weekly calendar with a sticky with a stressed face icon.
Laura Baker/Education Week via Canva
Teaching Profession Opinion My Life as a Substitute Teacher in Suburbia: Chaos and Cruelty
I was ignorant of the reality until I started teaching, writes a recent college graduate.
Charrley Hudson
4 min read
3d Render Red & White Megaphone on textured background with an mostly empty speech bubble quietly asking for help.
iStock/Getty images
Teaching Profession The State of Teaching This Is the Surprising Career Stage When Teachers Are Unhappiest
Survey data reveal a slump in teachers' job satisfaction a few years into their careers.
7 min read
Female Asian teacher at her desk marking students' work