Teaching Profession

Survey Explores Why People Go Into Teaching in the First Place

By Elisha McNeil — October 29, 2015 3 min read
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Ninety-three percent of teachers say that the prospect of making a difference in students’ lives played a critical role in attracting them to the profession, according to a new United Kingdom-based survey.

Amid growing concerns around teacher shortages, the ‘Why Teach’ survey was compiled by education “think and action-tank” LKMco and the education-publishing company Pearson Inc. to explore what brings teachers into the profession and how schools can keep them engaged and motivated. The findings are based largely on a questionnaire given to more than 1,000 teachers in England.

Researchers found that, in addition to making a difference in students’ lives, the most common reason those surveyed cited for going into teaching is that they thought they would be good at it, with 93 percent also citing that as an important factor. A love for the subject, the chance to make a difference in society, and the desire to work with young people were also among top five reasons for going into teaching.

Survey respondents said they chose to stay in teaching for reasons similar to those that attracted them to the profession—with believing that they are good at it and that they are having an impact in students’ lives being the primary reasons. Practical concerns like paid holidays and compensation were found to be more important in keeping teachers than bringing them in the first place, with 38 percent saying the need for a job became the most important factor after entering the profession.

More than half of the teachers surveyed said they have considered leaving the profession in the last six months, with 76 percent of those identifying the high workload as a main concern. Forty-three percent said being unhappy with the quality of their school’s leadership or management and insufficient pay were significant factors. Teachers also considered leaving because of poor student behavior, not receiving enough support, and disliking the culture of schools. For some, other opportunities came up, and others said they just didn’t plan on being a teacher for their whole career.

According to the survey, teachers generally stay in the area where they grew up, with 79 percent of respondents said being able to commute from where they live is key. The teacher-respondents also said they considered a school’s culture and the quality of life in an area as other factors that influenced their location. The researchers noted that teachers are willing to commute for the right school and that these factors could even encourage them to move.

An analysis of the survey data also identifies four broad teacher types—practitioners, moderates, idealists, and rationalists. Researchers found that these teacher types, identified via a short quiz, are good predictors of other important aspects of teaching, such as the extent to which someone would recommend teaching to others and the ways they thought that the profession could be best improved. They suggest that the categories can help school leaders understand what motivates particular teachers and what can be done to support them in the profession.

“This research points to a simple conclusion: teachers want to make a difference for our children; when they feel they can’t for whatever reason, we risk losing them from the profession,” Rod Bristow, President of Pearson U.K., said in a press release.

LKMco Director Loic Menzies offered a similar perspective in the full report, stating that too often the system works to frustrate and inhibit rather than empower teachers.

“Ultimately, if policy makers and school leaders can reduce teachers’ epic workload, build a school culture that teachers believe in and provide opportunities for development and progression, then teachers will be more than willing to give their all,” he said.

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