Who Leaves Teaching? 1992 Versus 2009
A couple of days ago NCES released a new report on teacher attrition and mobility. Among many interesting findings, the report shows a 20-year trend—the percent of public school teachers leaving the teaching profession is steadily rising. The report, which is based on the 2008-09 Teacher Follow-Up Survey, doesn’t go into the reasons behind this trend. But thanks to some of the recent debates here on Public School Insights, I wondered how it related to the average age of our public school teachers. It could be due to the aging of the workforce—the number of teachers retiring. Or maybe the young, TFA-type teachers—in the profession for two years and then out—are playing a role.
So I went back to an earlier version of the survey, the May 1994 report based on the 1991-92 Teacher Follow-Up Survey. Of the six such surveys over the last 20 or so years, this one showed the lowest percent of teachers leaving the profession—5.1% that year (compared to 8.0% in the most recent survey, which was down from 8.4% in 2004-05).
What did I learn? Only about 28% of teachers who left the profession in 2009 did so because they retired, compared to about 33% in 1992. And about 9% of teachers under the age of 30 left the profession, about the same as in 1992.
So it’s not that more teachers are retiring—actually, proportionally fewer are. And it’s not that the young guns who commit for two years are leaving (though the percentage of teachers with 1-3 years experience leaving did increase).
Instead, the percent of teachers age 30-39 who left the profession doubled. The percent of 40-49 year-olds leaving the profession nearly doubled. And the percent of teachers leaving with 4-9 years experience increased nearly 50%.
Not what I had initially predicted. But not necessarily surprising. More teachers may be hitting their 30s and thinking, “Is there something better out there?”
And what happens after that? How do former teachers compare their new jobs to teaching? The survey didn’t ask this question in 1992, but in 2009, teaching didn’t show well. More than 56% of former teachers believe their new job gives them a greater ability to balance their personal life and work than teaching did (and nearly 34% said that it was neither better nor worse in this regard). Over 52% believe it allows more autonomy or control over their work (and over 30% say that it is neither better nor worse). And even in areas we know are important to young teachers, such as opportunities for learning from colleagues, teaching does not come out ahead—40.8% think it is better in their current position and nearly 40% it is no better or worse.
Of course, this is a select audience—those who left teaching to work in another job are likely to be less satisfied with teaching than those who remain. And the report does not indicate the effectiveness of the teachers who leave for another job—are they the most effective? The least?
Regardless, it’s worth addressing issues such as work/life balance, autonomy and collaboration in teaching. If these trends are any indication of what’s to come, we need to make sure that the teaching profession can compete for our strongest teachers.
* Hat tip to Linda Perlstein
- For teacher appreciation week:
- Thoughts on Midterm Voting and Civic Education
- Guess when? Chalk It Up
- Take part in Girls’ and Boys’ Academic Conduct research
- Missouri Earns Slightly Higher Grade in ‘Quality Counts’ Report