Attrition crisis: why are so many beginning teachers leaving the profession?
Latest figures on the attrition rate of beginning teachers show that close to 50 per cent leave the profession within the first five years. When coupled with the looming retirement of many experienced teachers, this attrition rate becomes even more concerning.
Research exploring why beginning teachers leave the profession reveals there are clear challenges which underpin this attrition crisis. The research also identifies strategies to help combat these challenges and improve teacher retention.
An aspirational beginning
Research conducted by Robyn Ewing and Jaqueline Manuel at the University of Sydney reports that the majority of teachers have an aspirational view of the teaching profession prior to entering the classroom.
Primary motivators of pre-service teachers include viewing the profession as a “satisfying career”, wishing to “contribute to society”, a desire for “helping others” and the opportunity of “working with young people”.
Reflecting on the challenges
Teaching is undoubtedly a profession with particular challenges, including navigating curriculum, managing student behaviour, maintaining administrative requirements, finding work/life balance and other professional issues.
And for new teachers, who are learning on-the-job, these challenges can be even more acute.
Ewing and Manuel report key concerns of early career teachers centre on reconciling pedagogy and managing their classrooms. Typical challenges faced by early career teachers include:
- Worries about student assessment and achievement;
- Exacerbating workload due to over-planning;
- Issues managing a class with mixed learning abilities;
- Fixation on behaviour management;
- Challenges associated with time management; and
- Lack of self-assurance in completing reporting.
When aspirations are not met
Ewing and Manuel suggest new teachers often face professional challenges which are at odds with their pre-service aspirations and that this disconnect is a key contributor to early career attrition.
Teaching is a reflective profession. Ewing and Manuel note that teachers frequently reflect on their career progress at the end of the school year. Early career teachers often consider how their initial career aspirations have progressed and reformulate their goals based on this reflection.
When teachers believe their teaching experience has not aligned with their aspirations, Ewing and Manuel describe a significant “personal cost” associated with continuing in the profession under such circumstances.
Other key reasons for leaving the profession include: workload, lack of permanent employment, salary, a feeling of burn-out and realisation of a more attractive alternate career.
Mentoring pivotal to retention
Australian Teacher Magazine reports that teachers who receive quality mentoring are three times more likely to remain in the profession.
Dr Philip Riley, an academic at Australian Catholic University, has extensively researched teacher early career attrition. In an interview with Australian Teacher Magazine, he agrees that mentoring is pivotal in supporting new teachers.
“What happens [when mentoring is lacking], as a result, is that new teachers don’t feel like anybody is looking after them which is, in a sense, accurate and so then they leave,” he said.
“If [mentoring] is done well and people feel really supported – because mentoring should really support people – then it does seem to have a protective influence and it does build collegiality in schools and has all kinds of positive spin-offs,” he said.
Our union understands the importance of quality mentoring in supporting the career development of beginning teachers. Many collective agreements in our sector, negotiated by our members, contain mentoring provisions. A significant claim under negotiation in the Queensland Catholic sector would see release time for mentors increase to two hours per week, in addition to any other release time entitlements.
Collegial support essential
Building a sense of collegial support is acknowledged to be critical in helping new teachers settle in to their careers. Connecting and learning from one another assists teachers in navigating the shared challenges they face.
Our union established our Beginning Educators Network (BEnet) to assist beginning educators in forming these collegial bonds. BEnet meets regularly throughout the year at training sessions and meetings across Queensland and the Northern Territory. The BEnet Facebook page also provides regular news and advice, as well as a forum for members to discuss their shared issues.
Australian Teacher Magazine, September 2015
Early career teacher attrition: new thoughts on an intractable problem, Philip Riley and Andrea Gallant (2014)
Retaining quality early career teachers in the profession: new teacher narratives, Robyn Ewing and Jacqueline Manuel (2005)