Why teachers leave the profession

Thursday, 02 Mar 2023

Over the past few years there has been more attention given to the attrition of teachers from the profession. There are a multitude of factors contributing to this and more recently, I have had the privilege of sitting on the very committee that is investigating this – a combination of the Association of Independent Schools and the Australian Catholic University. 

I am pleased to note that our leadership has been very aware of these issues for many years and we have been focused on building a culture that supports new graduates and / or new staff to the College. As you can see from the research below, it is not as simple as ‘better pay’ – in fact this issue was not top of the reasons for leaving. Naturally, no one would baulk at the idea of more pay (who would?) and it was interesting to read last week a suggestion that more pay be applied to higher accreditation levels – something that historically has not been the case. 

Here is what we know so far about why teachers may leave the profession: 

1. Induction and mentor programs are beneficial for early career teachers.

• Teacher retention is stronger when teachers enter schools that are ready to support their professional development and transition into the profession.

• Sustainable and effective mentorship programs require multi-pronged approaches that prioritise capacity-building at multiple levels.

• Capacity-building requires support, training and adequate compensation for mentors.

• Mentorship must be systematic and institutionalised.

2. Close alignment between academic training and practice is crucial for preparing teachers to be effective and satisfied.

• While early career teachers report an understanding that teaching will be hard, there is still disconnect between what they learn in their preparation programs and what they experience in schools.

3. Positive and supportive school culture is one of the main factors associated with retention.

• One of the most significant factors that contributes to teachers leaving the profession (or a particular school) is their dissatisfaction or misalignment with the school’s culture.

• Even in schools where teachers face more challenging circumstances, positive school culture is likely to improve retention numbers.

• Positive culture can be supported through communities of practice, support through career transitions and resources for building collegial relationships.

4. Supportive leadership is crucial for retention.

• Like culture, teachers’ satisfaction with their environment is significantly dependent on their school’s leadership structure and team.

• Teachers need to feel supported by their school leaders, but they also need to have a voice in the decision-making processes at their school.

5. Equity: Schools with higher equity needs are more likely to face higher teacher turnover.

• Historically under-resourced schools, including those that serve higher need students, are far more likely to experience high turnover rates. This has a negative, compounding effect on equity (the ‘Matthew Effect’). This is particularly challenging when it comes to the financial burden caused by frequent turnover (e.g., costs for recruitment, mentorship, etc.).

• It is crucial that any retention and recruitment strategies emphasise equity as a core priority.

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