Why They Leave: The Reasons Teachers Give for Quitting the Profession

Thousands of public school teachers voluntarily leave their jobs each year, hurting student achievement and costing districts billions of dollars to find replacements.

Lynnette Mawhinney and Carol Rinke were once part of that churn. Now, with both women serving as professors at teacher prep programs, Mawhinney and Rinke have co-authored a new book that illuminates the many reasons teachers leave the profession and offers recommendations on how to stem the tide.

The book, There Has to Be a Better Way: Lessons From Former Urban Teachers, published by Rutgers University Press, is based on in-depth interviews with 25 former teachers from around the country who left the classroom on their own terms. Citing research that nearly half of all new teachers leave within five years, the authors tried to find the stories behind the statistics, focusing on teachers at high-poverty, high-minority, urban schools that suffer from frequent turnover. All of the former teachers interviewed, whom the authors term “teacher leavers,” taught in the greatest-need areas of secondary science or English.

Unsurprisingly, the authors don’t hit upon a single thread explaining why teachers leave in droves. One teacher had four principals in two years. Another taught four different courses in two years. Most of the teacher leavers anticipated education being a more stable profession. Twenty-two of the 25 teachers interviewed “admitted to being overly stressed and tired.”

One central theme: Students weren’t the ones driving teachers away.The authors also explore how racial insensitivity often pushes teachers of color out of the classroom.

The authors lighten the book’s tone by closing out each chapter with recommendations for policy changes to increase teacher retention. The ideas range from the more conventional — urging administrators to explicitly discuss different racial experiences — to uncommon, like pushing districts to shut off their servers evenings and weekends to force teachers to take a break.

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