An Under-researched Reason for Teacher Attrition

6886478111_8bd0381e95By Nick McDaniels – Hey, education researchers! I’ve got a challenge for you. Prove to me that one of the main reasons teachers leave teaching is not because the company they work for is a terribly dysfunctional employer.

I’ve read about teacher attrition over the years because, as I see it, teacher attrition is one of the largest problems facing public education. However, I’ve seen very few, if any, solid pieces of research quantifying the effect of working for a dysfunctional employer as a reason for teacher attrition. I think the systemic, structural dysfunction of many school systems with high teacher attrition rates exacerbates or causes many of the oft-cited problems for teacher attrition. Many teachers, often more than half, who leave the profession, cite “workload” as a primary reason.

I am suggesting, however, that workload along with many other reasons teachers may leave, are amplified by general school system dysfunction as an employer, not as an implementer of large-scale education programming. There are things that schools systems with high attrition rates do that many people could not imagine other similarly-sized employers doing.

These systems fail to pay people, misapply or mis-implement benefits packages, inappropriately adjust retirement plans, fail to process certifications, and routinely violate federally guaranteed working protections. Just recently, in my school district, many people did not receive their first pay check of the year, others, including me, did not receive a cost of living adjustment that had been planned three years in advance, and still everyone is waiting on evaluations and commensurate pay raises from 2014-2015 to be processed. Not to mention that while all these problems were and are being sorted out, very few current, new, and pressing problems are being addressed.

And as I have seen and heard, many teachers are updating their resumes. It is everything else – the workload, the thankless nature of the job, the powerlessness against standardized testing and nationalized curriculum – that makes teachers leave. But it is also that large struggling school systems fail to provide the basic structures necessary for education workers to live their lives, let alone do their jobs. They fail to meet the needs of their workers and, as a result, they fail to meet the needs of their students.

Maybe my hypothesis is wrong, but until I see research proving me wrong, I’m going to keep calling it like I see it. And as I see it, people, including the most selfless teachers, eventually get fed up when they don’t have a pay check to cash.

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