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Why Do New Teachers Leave?

There are many theories as to why more than half of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years. Research suggests that many of the difficulties beginners encounter are environmental in nature, grounded in the culture of the teaching profession and the conditions of the school as a workplace.

Four major trends emerge from research literature:

New teachers feel overwhelmed by the expectations and scope of the job -- Teaching is a difficult job even for experienced educators. Teachers must meet the needs of all students in increasingly diverse school settings. They must efficiently handle excessive paperwork, become experts in time management, and establish positive connections between home and school. Meanwhile, many parents voice concerns about dealing with new teachers, fearing that they are largely unorganized, inexperienced, and unable to control student behavior.

New teachers feel isolated and unsupported in their classrooms --Education students are largely trained in a collaborative environment where teamwork, group activities and brainstorming are emphasized. In real life, however, teachers are usually the only adult in a room of children during the instructional day. The discrepancy between these two environments causes feelings of isolation and desertion. Emotional isolation is intensified when new teachers are assigned to physically isolated classrooms. And research suggests that few experienced teachers proactively offer help to beginning teachers, viewing the first year as a "if I could do it, you can do it" rite of passage. Other veterans may want to help, but feel their efforts would be viewed as interference. Many beginning teachers consider seeking help on their own as an admission of failure and incompetence.

New teachers are unclear about expectations -- Many of a school's formal rules and procedures are unclear to beginning teachers. There are also informal routines and customs new teachers must learn, resulting in conflicting expectations of administrators, other teachers, students and parents. A recent study of first-year teachers revealed that a common complaint of novice teachers was: "I never knew what was expected of me." This complaint was most common among those who left teaching early.

New teachers' own expectations don't match the actual job -- Novice teachers are optimists, certain that they can change the world and the children in their charge. Many embark on their first teaching assignments with highly idealized perceptions of teaching: they tend to envision themselves spending the entire day fostering their students' academic growth. But once they enter the classroom, many are disheartened to find a myriad of nonacademic duties and paperwork awaiting them. They become discouraged by lack of time, challenging work, needy children and high expectations - saddened that the reality is so different from what they envisioned.