According to the U.S. department of education, approximately half of all teachers new to the profession will leave the profession within 5 years. This stunning statistics raises many important questions for the future of education. How will students learn with a lack of qualified professionals in the classroom? How will the country incentivize young people to enter and stay in the field of teaching? The most important question here however, is “Why are so many new teachers leaving the profession?”
I was asked to write this post from the perspective of a first year teacher who doesn’t plan on leaving the profession within the next five years. As a recent college graduate, I already have “teacher friends” who plan on leaving the profession to transition into consulting, sales, and even part-time retail. The reasons for this vary but many of the complaints that I hear from my peers are that; they don’t feel supported, they sit through too many meetings, and they simply cannot teach when students come to school unwilling to learn. All of these complaints are valid but I cannot share in these complaints wholeheartedly. I feel like this year was a success. There may be many reasons for this but I decided to sum them up into five major insights. These are five things that have helped me this year and these will hopefully give some insight into why many new young teachers are leaving the profession.
1. I tried to always keep boundaries with students
In college, the education professors always stressed the importance of building relationships with students. Recent college grads are bombarded with this message. It is emphasized so much that it leads you to believe that you almost need to try to make your students’ your friend. In my first year I’ve realized that this is not what building relationships means. I’ve found that building a relationship with the students simply means making them feel comfortable and making sure that you show some genuine interest in them as a person. Trying to be a student’s friend seems to only lead to classroom management issues.
2. I didn’t take on too much even if it was asked of me
As a first year teacher, simply being in a classroom all day can drain you. As a result of this, I would not recommend that new teachers add more to their plate that would cause them to be drained further. I think this is part of the cause for such high teacher turnover. Teaching and sitting in meetings for 8 hours straight is a lot. Taking on other leadership roles in one’s first year is overwhelming. I experienced this first hand this year. I was asked to join a PL group of teachers that called for me to add other responsibilities to my plate. I tried it and realized that I was getting overwhelmed with meetings and other expectations. If I didn’t calm this down, I could see myself heading to a point where I might have considered leaving the profession as well. Luckily I pulled back and I’m enjoying teaching.
3. I chose a content area that I actually enjoy
This point does not apply to elementary school teachers but for first-year middle and high school teachers, I think this is very important. I teach science and I really enjoy it. I’ve always liked science and it is a genuine passion of mine. As a result of this, the students can see that passion when I teach. Along with that, it makes lesson planning and teaching easier. I actually enjoy and am interested in what I am talking about. If I had to teach language arts, I could easily see myself getting burnt out within the next five years.
4. I made sure to keep “the classroom/teaching” at school
I got this warning from experienced teachers at my school at the beginning of the year. They encouraged me to make sure that I do not consume my entire life with the classroom. I think this may be another reason why new teachers are leaving the classroom. They take the classroom home with them. With that said, I make sure to get all of my work done for school AT SCHOOL. The only things that I work on at home are lesson plans. I do not spend the majority of my “off” time thinking about the classroom or talking to my friends about what happened at school. This provides me with some mental clarity and it helps to keep everything that happens at school in perspective. Doing this has helped me to not become overwhelmed as well.
5. I tried to stay positive
In my first year there were always opportunities to focus on what was going wrong. I could focus on the behavioral problems that certain students had, or I could’ve focused on consistently low assessment scores from certain students. Doing this would have led to frustration. Instead, I constantly had to remind myself that although these negative things may be “louder”, there are more positives that I could focus on. If a student is acted out behaviorally, I had the option to choose to focus on the other 28 students who were doing what they’re supposed to do. If 5 students are scoring extremely low on assessments, I could choose to focus on the ones that were performing well. I still gave my attention to these “negative” behaviors/outcomes but I did not dwell on them. Doing so is another habit that may contribute to high turnover of new-young teachers.
Teaching is a very taxing profession. As a first year teacher I tried my best to make sure that I put myself in a position to maintain my love for working with students. Focusing on the 5 insights that I’ve listed above truly helped. Not doing these things may have led me down a path that took me out of the classroom and out of education.