Invalid Reasons Teachers Quit

For another look at quitting teaching, see my article 9 Reasons To Quit Teaching (And 10 Reasons To Stick).

1135124_x_sign_in_3dOne of the most popular search queries that has sent people to my blog lately has been “why do teachers quit?” Doing a quick search of my site tells me that I have a number of articles that reference this idea, but have not yet explored exactly why it is that many teachers choose to quit teaching. This weekend, I will write two articles on that very topic. Today, we’ll consider the question Why Do Teachers Quit? and explore some invalid reasons they do so. Tomorrow, we will consider the same question and explore some of the valid reasons for quitting. You won’t want to miss it. Next weekend, we will consider How Do We Keep Teachers From Quitting? which should be a great follow-up.Before entering this discussion, I think it would be a good idea to give you a little bit of background and point you to some articles I have previously written that address this concept.

  1. The Dip
  2. Where Have All The Good Teachers Gone
  3. Nine Reasons To Quit Teaching (And Ten Reasons To Stick)

At the outset, I would like to ask for as much audience participation as possible. This is a key issue that I think all educators should approach with great passion. You who are reading this — YES YOU — have thoughts on the issue. Share them. Just leave a comment below and let this be a conversation among professionals. With that out of the way, here we go.

Why Do Teachers Quit Teaching?
First of all, I think we need to break the reasons down into valid and invalid justifications for quitting. Thought I have previously listed some of the invalid reasons, I want to look at them all somewhat more in-depth.

Invalid Reasons To Quit Teaching

  1. Bad students/administrators/curriculum/demographics
    This argument is simply an attempt to place the blame on someone other than the individual teacher. This is the most common reasons that teachers who have been teaching for quite a while retire. “Kids are different … Parents are different.” “No Child Left behind is a worthless program that does nothing but make public schools worse.” “Poor nonwhite parents don’t care about their kids.” These are all symptoms that point at something the teacher is doing ineffectively. Until we face the person in the mirror, we will keep finding excuses to not love our job.
  2. Too much paperwork/responsibility
    Another way to say this is “I’m unorganized and don’t have a system to handle this much responsibility.” This is probably the most common complaint I have heard from new teachers. This is not initially the fault of the individual teacher, though if it persists, the blame shifts. Initially, it is the fault of the more experienced teachers around that teacher who don’t offer any help. After time, if the condition persists, it becomes solely the fault of the teacher. There are plenty of resources available online that can help you learn how to be more organized.
  3. Too much negativity
    While this is a common state of many teachers in schools, we don’t have to hang around with negative people. I avoid the teachers lounge for this very reason. People who watch the news all the time tend to be negative about things much more frequently than people who don’t. One concept I picked up from The 4-Hour Workweek is to simply ask, “What’s new in the world?” when you meet people. If something major is happening, they’ll generally let you know. The information that is available right as an event is unfolding is generally not very accurate anyway. Go out of your way to find excellent educators to emulate, and you will discover that most of the time, they are very positive people.
  4. Not enough time
    This ties back in with organization above. It is really a matter of priorities, though. It’s been said before, but is worth reiterating: Everybody has the same amount of time. Those who are effective have figured out how to organize their life more effectively. Some simple steps to handling this can be found in this article, but they are: (1) Declutter, (2) Prioritize, (3) Befriend the trash, and (4) Practice selective ignorance. It’s amazing how much time these simple concepts will free up in your life.
  5. Not enough respect/not enough pay
    Here is another symptom of a much, much deeper problem. The deeper problem is a valid reason to quit teaching. If you quit teaching because of one or both of these two reasons, you are simply creating an excuse. You need to dig deeper and find out what the real reason is that you’re quitting!
About Joel Wagner 522 Articles
Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

20 Comments on Invalid Reasons Teachers Quit

  1. Great post. You know, you really should write a book.

    These are not good reasons to quit, but please understand other teachers perspectives. You teacher band, so a lot of your grading/paperwork is performance based and prob can be graded/evaluated right then and there.

    I personally believe that English Teachers and History teachers have it the worst in the school setting. Planning, grading and other administrative tasks are time consuming. Yes, a organization system helps this. But most teachers in these areas spend a great amount of time at home working on stuff for these classes. ex: Lecture notes, grading essays, grading tests, grading projects, organizing activities and prepping to minimize transition time. If you don’t take the work home, your students don’t benefit. So teaching is a time/life consuming task.

    I agree with you about the negativity. I stay in my classroom most of the time. Especially on lunch breaks. You need peace and quiet. And the Lounge serves as a relief place for most tachers. For me, this was resolved with my blog.

    Keep, up the good work!

    • I have to agree with you about English and History teachers, although even with these subjects you can have a little break by giving students the chance to read, write and answer questions. I taught 5 levels of French and although I like to think of myself as extremely organized in every way, the 5 preps make for a long day of nonstop teaching, talking, and enthusiastic participation. As a French teacher, I also can’t just open a text book and tell the students to read and answer questions for 5 or 10 minutes so I can prepapre for the next activity or class because, well, it’s a foreign language and French 1 and 2 can hardly read it let alone write it. Like Band, there is no down time as a language teacher while in the classroom. However, like you mentioned, band directors and orchestra directors are rarely taking work home with them. When I hear other teachers who teach only 2 or 3 preps, complain about all the work they have to do (and they don’t even sponsor the clubs that go along with their subject matter), I get pretty frustrated that they’re getting the same pay doing half the work I do. I actually quit last year and have been enjoying my time off just being a mom. Will I ever go back? Maybe, but I’ll be damned if I teach more than 2 or 3 preps and hold on to my sanity.

  2. Good points. What about using the concept of outsourcing and get other people to grade your papers?

    I remember having classes where we would exchange papers and grade them. “But students might cheat?” Yes, they will cheat!

    If you don’t put too much of a weight on daily grades in your grading procedure, this problem can be alleviated. This way the quizzes and tests will really determine results. Plus, some students learn better by just being given the answers and then going back to figure out why those answers are right.

    It’s at least worth a try, huh?

  3. There are certainly some truths here, but overall it is smug and facile, and I find a lot to disagree with.

    Just to pick one, curriculum DOES matter. If the state standards and associated mandatory tests and textbooks are completely inappropriate for your students it creates nightmares. I will never teach world history to poor children again after this year — it simply does not make sense to try and teach the finer points of Lenin’s New Economic Policy to children who do not yet know the difference between the government and a company.

    Another: Some students work in places where violence is a daily occurance and many, many kids and parents have mental and emotional illnesses. Can this “negativity’ be avoided by just not going to the lounge?

    Finally, on paperwork: I know a 20-year vet of special ed who says the time now required to fill out IEPs is impossible to do and still teach. Is she just disorganized? Or is she perhaps being expected to do more with less because of the stranglehold our state taxpayers put on education funds 30 years ago? (California).

  4. Chris, somehow you missed the point. I am not saying that all negativity can be avoided, but to make a conscious effort to avoid negative people (I specifically mentioned negative teachers, for instance), will work wonders as far as your own personal outlook on life.

    The special education teacher you mentioned probably could benefit greatly by going to a different district where they have figured out that teachers should be teaching. The same thing holds true with the curriculum.

  5. Of course, I understand what you meant about avoiding negativity where possible. My beef, however, was with the whole tone of the article, starting with the word “invalid.” Maybe if you said it more gently, like you do elsewhere on here (i.e., before you quit try these solutions, etc.) it would have seemed less condescending.

    It feels like you are putting everything back on the teacher — WORK SMARTER NOT HARDER — when the fact is there are very real issues in many many schools that are leading reasonable, hard-working people to quit. It also seems glib — just clean your desk, avoid the lunch room, move to another district, etc.

    Essentially, this is a silly construct. Not enough pay isn’t a valid reason to quit a job? Huh? Maybe it was enough when you were a single 25-year-old but now you’re a single parent supporting an elderly parent, too. Want to quit? INVALID. DIG DEEPER.

  6. Though I agree with most of what you’ve written here (and I tend to enjoy this blog) I disagree with the teacher pay issue. Some teachers really do need to find a job that pays better, especially if they are supporting a family on a single salary. My wife and I have chosen to live ultra-frugally to raise our family, but teacher salaries are really low in the beginning.

    • You’re right that sometimes life situations can force you to reevaluate whether or not you need to move on. Another option might be getting a second job for a while (or working throughout the summer) as a stopgap measure to keep you in the teaching profession…

    • If this were another profession, where there was not enough pay to support your family, would the answer still be get a second job to spend less time with your family? Or would it be start looking for another job? I do believe it would be the second of the two, why is teaching different? We as society don’t expect the engineer or the lawyer to sacrifice themselves but we EXPECT it of teachers. Why is this so?

    • Well obviously if the person doesn’t want to be a teacher, then staying in the field is a horrible idea. However, if they really do want to, it would be catastrophic to advise them to leave teaching simply because of the money.

      If someone told me, “I love mechanical engineering, but can’t seem to find a job that pays me enough to do it. Should I quit engineering because the money isn’t working?” My advice would still be to find a second job to make it work, or to take a temporary leave of absence from mechanical engineering, get a higher paying job for which (s)he is qualified, and formulate a plan to get back into it as quickly as possible.

      Doing what you love is a high key to job satisfaction. In fact, many successful people don’t even have a college degree. They just set on pursuing their dream and ended up making a lot of money in the process.

      The bottom line here is that if money is the issue, you need to look deeper and find out what the root cause is. From there, you have a much better idea if you just want to move to a different district, pursue another career, or stick with doing what you’re doing where you’re doing it.

  7. What does one’s life circumstances have to do with a teacher’s pay rate. If you have more burden, you have to work through the summer or do tudoring … That’s just life folks. If you think you want to go back to school, get a degree for a higher paying job and that would be easier, then DO IT. Stop whining. There are lots of people doing much harder jobs, with less pay, and more responsibilty, and no possibility of upgrading their skills. It seems to me that the teaching profession is being held prisoner by a “complaining, whiny, poor-me” climate. Quit it. Teach if you love to teach, and realize we all have challenges in this life!!!
    Sharon

  8. Im unorganized and dont have a system to handle this much responsibility.

    This is very true of me. I can’t handle it at all, it’s stressing me out, and affecting my health. Yes, it’s “my fault”. But that does not make it an invalid reason to quit. I just want to remain sane, and I’ll blow a fuse if I carry on like this.

    • Sarah:

      You sound so hopeless. While I agree that it can get overwhelming, I also don’t think that your own personal disorganization is the only reason you’re contemplating leaving teaching. If it truly is, then I would implore you to seek out some alternatives. Visit Zen Habits and learn how to be more organized.

      If it’s not your only reason, then you owe it to yourself to figure out what other factors are causing you to lose your sanity and frustrate you so much…

  9. Personally, I don\\\’t believe it is up to us to judge why a teacher leaves the profession. I understand that you want to force teachers to think about the reasons. But, ultimately, it\\\’s up to the individual. Just like a teacher cannot save every student, the teaching profession cannot retain every teacher.

    I actually left teaching, and for reasons with which you would probably disagree, given the litany of reasons you say are invalid reasons for leaving the profession. As you can see, I eventually returned, but leaving was the single best decision I could have made.

  10. Of all the reasons posted, I disagree with #1 the most. If you work in a school that does not follow due process and allows students to get away with noncompliance in and out of the classroom, then why would you stay. NO amount of passion can make any one stay in any job, if they feel they are verbally, emotionally, and even physically abused by students. The teacher’s job is teach, provided good classroom management, and not to be a “parent” to students who refuse to listen. I have a serious problem when administrator cease supporting their students and allow continually, habitual disruptive students to remain in the classroom. I can deal with all the other stuff, but unruly students who refuse to learn, and who keep other from learning and the teacher from teaching are a perfectly valid reason for leaving the classroom.

    • I agree. I think there is a misunderstanding. I should have clarified that I’m talking about leaving the profession entirely. Of course if the work environment isn’t conducive to solid education and administration doesn’t seem to be helpful for you, you should find a different school or district entirely and start again.

      There are great schools out there, and there are some that are not so great… :)

  11. I miss the part where I said that teaching doesn't require time or skill. Care to enlighten us where you disagreement is rather than just resorting to name-calling?

  12. 'Had to laugh when i read this list of invalid reasons to quit teaching. It sounds as if it had been written by our state and local boards of education, to explain why the declining quality of education really is all, 100%, the TEACHERS' fault, and no one else's. It nothing at all to do with skewed precepts of what education should be, poor parental support, administrative molly-coddling and political correctness, and a myriad of other imperfections and wrongs that badly need correcting. Here's the first thing that needs correcting: there is no such thing as a wrong, bad or invalid reason to step away from being an educator. If a person decides it's not his/her gig–for whatever reason–that's valid. Period. No one else is reqired to say "…that's okay..I AGREE with you!" Peddle it elsewhere, brother.

  13. "Had to laugh when i read this list of invalid reasons to quit teaching"

    You got it right Adam. There are no – valid or invalid – reasons, none. Just a decision that an individual makes about their own life, period.

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