Why do teachers leave teaching?

Posted on June 24, 2011


Inflexible recruitment processes and the frustrations of working as a casual teacher are the key reasons many teachers leave teaching, according to a new study.  Other young teachers are driven out by culture shock when moving from university into the classroom. 
These reasons for teacher attrition have been identified through a recent NSW research project based on interviews with  22 ex-teachers who had all left the profession by the middle of their working years.
The comments of the teachers highlight three issues.
The first covers the ‘culture shock’ of the transition from university to school practice, which offers less scope for higher-order thinking and less behavioural and intellectual autonomy. Their aspiration to teach creatively must come to terms with the demands to follow school procedure, oversee a certain amount of rote learning, and manage large volumes of work. New teachers can easily feel isolated from peers and school leaders, and from misbehaving or unmotivated students. If based in small communities, anonymity is suddenly impossible. These changes are intensified for young teachers living away from home for the first time. Schools with high staff turnover tend to generate cynicism among students and the school community, diminishing a new teacher’s welcome.
The second issue concerns processes for recruitment of teachers. Independent schools are more likely to offer places throughout the year, and have more flexible recruitment procedures than the government system, which is burdened by the logistical demands of a very large workforce. Candidates who face a long wait for a position may be attracted by other options, such as travel, alternative employment, or having a child.
The third issue is the impact of casual, fractional and supply teaching. For new teachers, still developing their general skills, casual work imposes the added burdens of learning the processes, policies, and names at each new school. Oppositional students may also sense a ‘home-ground advantage’ against a casual teacher. The lack of financial security offered by casual teaching had discouraged some respondents from returning to the profession after they had had children. It is also harder for casuals to build up the expected number of hours of in-service professional learning.
To ease the transition into teaching there should be greater ‘sandwiching’ between pre- to in-service teaching, with more elaborate partnerships between universities and schools. New teachers going to rural schools should be offered less face-to-face teaching time. Instead of current casual employment, teachers could be employed in a ‘roving’ capacity within one or two schools, with a guaranteed minimum of working days per week.


Teacher dis/appointments? Transitions in and out of teaching

Volume 31 Number 1, April 2011; Pages 12–23
John Buchanan
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