McCoy, L. P. (2003, March 28). It's a hard job: A study of novice teachers' perspectives on why teachers leave the profession. Current Issues in Education [On-line], 6(7). Available: http://cie.ed.asu.edu/volume6/number7/
It's a Hard Job: A Study of Novice Teachers' Perspectives on Why Teachers Leave the Profession
This paper presents the results of a study on novice teachers' perspectives on why teachers leave the profession. Drawing on a combination of open-ended questionnaires, phone interviews, and face-to-face interviews with 105 teachers in their first three years of teaching, the author provides a portrait of their experiences and perspectives as related to leaving the profession. Data analysis generated several categories related to leaving the profession. These include: societal attitude toward teachers, financial issues, time scarcity, workload, working conditions, and relationships with students and parents. Among the needs identified by novice teachers were the following: respect for the profession; higher pay; smaller classes; support personnel for clerical tasks; release from extra duties such as coaching; adequate supplies; supportive administrators; active mentors; interested students; and, involved parents. The author concludes that teaching is construed as a "hard job" and that the needs of novice teachers must be addressed to encourage them to remain and excel in the teaching profession.
Table of Contents
Teachers in the public and private K-12 schools in the United States are currently the focus of considerable attention. In his 2002 State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush highlighted the importance of a quality education for each child and the importance of "a quality teacher in every classroom" (Bush, 2002). In a discussion pertaining to school reform, the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching Chaired by John Glenn (2000), also asserted, "The most powerful instrument for change, and therefore the place to begin, lies at the very core of education - with teaching itself" (p. 5).
Even though good teaching is recognized as the cornerstone of a good education, quality teachers are difficult to attract and retain. Teachers are leaving the profession in disturbing numbers. Several studies have documented this departure. A recent report conducted by researchers at the U.S. Department of Education, for instance, found that 20% of beginning teachers left the profession within four years (Henke, Chen, Geis, & Knepper, 2000). Kirby & Grissmer (1993) studied data generated from 50,000 Indiana teachers over a 32-year period and found that half of the teacher population in the study left teaching by the end of year four. Similarly, Konanc (1996) studied 81,000 teachers in North Carolina and found that one-third left by the fifth year. Ingersoll (2001) studied data from the Teacher Follow-up Survey of a national sample of 6,733 teachers conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics as part of the Schools and Staffing Survey, and found that there was a turnover rate of 13.2%. According to the survey, the primary reasons for the dissatisfaction of the teachers who left were: poor salary (45%), lack of student motivation (38%), inadequate administrative support (30%), student discipline problems (30%), and inadequate preparation time (23%).
The results of other large-scale teacher surveys provided further quantitative data regarding the opinions of teachers as they decided whether to stay or to leave the profession. Kirby and Grissmer (1993) identified five actions that could reduce teacher attrition: higher compensation, effective induction programs, increased parental involvement, professionalization of teaching, and assistance with the non-academic emotional and/or social issues of their students. A national survey of 3,560 public school teachers named the work environment as the main problem, and further found that only one-third of the teachers strongly agreed with the statement that they "felt supported by parents" (Lewis, Parsad, Carey, Bartfai, Farris & Smerdon, 1999). Loss of respect from students was the major problem identified in a phone survey of 914 K-12 teachers by Farkas, Johnson, and Foleno (2000). They also found that three-fourths of the teachers interviewed believed that they were seriously underpaid, and 86% said that reducing class size would improve teacher quality. A survey of 1,400 teachers by Henke, Chen, Geis and Knepper (2000) found that only small percentages of teachers were satisfied with the following aspects of their job: Only 26.5% were satisfied with students' motivation to learn; 32.7% were satisfied with student discipline and/or behavior; and, 31% were satisfied with parental support. Clearly, the handful of studies noted here suggest that many teachers are dissatisfied with various aspect of their profession.
While these related studies are important to understanding the breadth of the problems facing novice teachers, their quantitative results alone do not allow for developing a fuller or more dimensional analysis of the issue. Based on the need for more descriptive detail, the current study was designed to extend understandings about novice teachers' reasons for leaving the profession by specifically seeking the perceptions, beliefs, and personal accounts of the day-to-day experiences of a sample of teachers. Providing these narrative accounts is intended to lend to the overall literature that exists on the topic. While the issues pertaining to leaving the profession reported on in this study are similar to those found in the existing literature, the insightful details participants provide about teaching and their own reasons for leaving the profession, personalizes the lives of teachers. The intent of the work is to provide educators at all levels, particularly school administrators and policymakers, understandings about the nature of teachers' work and how their struggles in school affect their decisions to remain in the profession.
The purpose of this study was to describe teaching from the perspective of novice teachers in order to determine factors that might lead to their leaving the profession. Novice teachers' experiences and perceptions of their teaching career were collected through interviews, conducted both by phone and in person, and open-ended questionnaires. Participants were asked to respond to a number of basic questions: "What is it like to be a novice teacher? What are the best aspects of teaching? What are the worst aspects of teaching? Please tell your story." These multiple forms of data were triangulated throughout the course of the study to identify common themes and patterns that represented participants' realties. The initial analysis of the participants' narratives involved the identification of points of strife related to teaching. Several recurrent themes (problem areas) emerged and are supported by participant quotes.
The participants in this study were all graduates of a Master's level (Master of Arts in Teaching) teacher education program at a southern university. This yearlong program offered initial licensure for students in secondary (9-12) teaching. Admission to this program was competitive, and students typically had GRE scores in the upper quartile. The teachers in this study completed the program between 1991 and 1997, and had been teaching, or eligible for teaching, between one and three years at the time of data collection which occurred periodically over several years.
All 118 graduates from the program between 1991 and 1997 were invited to participate in the study. Current addresses were obtained from school records. A letter and questionnaire were sent to all 118 graduates.
Sixty-four graduates returned questionnaires after two reminders. To obtain data from non-responders, 35 telephone interviews were conducted with students who did not return the questionnaire. To check and verify initial conclusions, a small sample of 6 graduates who had not responded to the questionnaire and had not been interviewed by phone were interviewed in person. They were chosen because of their availability and relative proximity to the researcher. These six face-to-face interviews were used for member-checking, and these data corroborated the initial conclusions while adding additional descriptive detail. Thus, there were a total of 105 participants. Ages ranged from 25 to 44, with a median age of 28. The study sample was comprised of 49 males (47%) and 56 females (53%). All participants were secondary level (grades 9-12) teachers. The distribution of their subject specialization was as follows: 28 English (27%), 26 Mathematics (25%), 26 Science (25%), and 24 Social Studies (23%).
The participants were asked about their teaching experience. Fifty-five (52%) were currently teaching, 32 (30%) had taught and then left teaching, and 18 (17%) never taught. At the time of the study, 44 (42%) were teaching in public schools, 11 (10%) were teaching in private schools, 13 (12%) were working in education related positions such as administration, 17 (16%) were working elsewhere - usually in business, 12 (11%) were stay-at-home parents, and 8 (8%) were attending graduate school. Their teaching experiences were in 18 different states.
Participants' real names were not used in the study. Subjects and teaching assignments, however, are factual. Data were analyzed and generated six themes related to why teachers leave the profession: societal attitude, financial issues, time scarcity, workload, working conditions, and student/parent relationships. These factors were considered by participants as problem areas believed to be contributing to teachers leaving the profession.
The participants in this study believed that the attitude of society toward the teaching profession was unfair and detrimental to their overall functioning. They did not believe that they were valued, despite their advanced levels of education. In a recent nationwide survey of over 11,000 teachers and teacher candidates, Henke, Chen, Geis, and Knepper (2000) found that only 14.6% of the teachers surveyed were satisfied with the esteem in which society held the teaching profession. This was also true of the teachers in the present study who maintained that they did not feel respected, even though they had admirable goals in choosing a teaching career. They wanted to help young people. They wanted to share their love of learning. They wanted to improve society. Many of them were in the profession because of a love for their subject, and most were there because they liked young people and felt an altruistic sense of responsibility to the next generation.
Abby, a high school history teacher, explained her reasons for teaching:
It is satisfying (and gratifying) to know that I am contributing to the good of society and peoples' lives, both directly and indirectly, and on many levels.
Alvin, a former high school biology teacher described his motivations for pursuing teaching, emphasizing "a sense of mission" as an important component:
I think the single most important quality that will guide preservice teachers into the classroom is a sense of mission. It is this conviction that perpetuates enthusiasm, creativity, persistence, motivation, and dedication. Without this ingredient - futility waxes, interest wanes, and opportunities that are more rewarding financially (and socially!) become more attractive every day.
There is a common erroneous belief that anyone can teach (Glenn, 2000). The participants in this study viewed teaching as a professional pursuit. They had spent five years in college and graduate school preparing for their profession. They had earned Master's degrees and appropriate teaching licenses. They had passed the Praxis Exam, which is parallel to a Bar exam or other professional standard of preparation. Barbara, a former high school English teacher related her frustrations with what she perceived as the public's devaluation of and lack of respect for educators and the process of attaining their credentials:
Somehow, some way the American public has to renew its respect for educators. We have to trust that these people are trained professionals equipped to do a very specific, very challenging job. There is a tendency to believe anyone can teach, but anyone who has been in a classroom for any length of time would surely disagree. We must dispel the myth that "People who can, do. People who can't, teach." Teaching is a profession, not a back-up option. People who go into education usually do so as a first choice, not a last one.
Carol, a former high school math teacher who left teaching, described the lack of value placed on her teaching experience as she sought other employment:
Currently, I do not believe that teaching is thought of as a "profession." When I was interviewing in the business world, I was considered to have zero experience, even though I had taught for two years. Teachers need to be viewed as professionals.
The public perception of the image of the teacher is often far from the truth. As noted by Ladson-Billings (2001):
Perhaps it comes from the persistence of Hollywood images of teachers in our culture, but most people do not believe that teachers do intellectual work. Michele Pfeiffer in the movie Dangerous Minds, Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver, and Robin Williams in The Dead Poet's Society are examples of the images of teachers that are inscribed in the public mind. Such depictions on the silver screen rarely show the intellectual work of teaching. Hollywood teachers do not prepare lessons; neither do they take graduate courses or participate in professional networks.
Often times, the general public may not have a complete understanding of what occurs in a teacher's workday. The teachers in this study believed that they had a significant influence on the young people in their care, and as parents became less involved with their children because of their own pursuits, the teachers were often more familiar with the students' personal and social lives than were the parents. Their day was long and intense, with many and various duties. Yet the teaching profession is often accorded little prestige, and parents, peers, and even teachers have been know to discourage students who express a desire to pursue a teaching career. In a recent national survey of nearly one thousand teachers, Farkas, Johnson, and Foleno (2000) found that 66% of the population they surveyed maintained that they did not feel respected and appreciated, and 76% argued that teachers are made scapegoats for all the "problems" in education.
Denise, a high school English teacher addressed the issue of respect:
There is a lack of respect for teachers. It's not just the money, but also the attitude I get from administrators and politicians that teachers are trying to get away with something. We have taken these cushy jobs where all we have to do is stand up in front of a bunch of kids and BS for a few hours, and only work ten months of the year, at that teachers have it easy! Every time we ask for something (like, in my county, that the county pay our contribution to the state retirement system, for example), they make us out to look like whiners - give 'em an inch; they'll take a mile. The truth is, though, that teachers care so deeply and work SO much beyond our "contract hours." I can't tell you how many come in for weeks during the summer, as I do, and take on clubs after school (for which we are not compensated), and work during vacations. This lack of respect for teachers gets me down.
Similarly, Eva, a high school English teacher lends her observations:
Public school teachers face a fundamental lack of respect. We are not treated like professionals, and the kids know it. I've had everyone from students to friends to family members say things such as, "You're not going to teach for long, are you? You could be so much more." Sadly, it boils down to the fact that our society places high dollars on the things that it values, and by the looks of my one and a half percent raise this year, I'm not very valuable. This turns off the kinds of kids who would make good teachers. I've talked to many about it. It's really not money as money that's the problem, but money as it represents self-esteem in our society.
Fran, a high school math teacher, had this to offer:
Teaching could only be more attractive if people began to respect the profession. I fear that the only way that would ever happen would be to have the parents and community people somehow take a walk in our shoes and see that it is not a year-round vacation. Most of them would not want to spend 8 hours a day teaching their own 13 year old, much less 20 of their friends, but we don't get any respect. I don't really see that changing.
Despite the lack of respect, these teachers emphasized the value of their profession. They saw the numerous obstacles and societal problems that confront many young people. In their respective schools they dealt with both well-adjusted children, and also the children of neglect, the children of dysfunctional families, the children of drugs and violence, and children with a multitude of other problems. These teachers made considerable efforts, day after day. They struggled to encourage and educate all of the children in their care. Abby, a high school history teacher talked about her students, emphasizing the intrinsic value of her work:
Every time a senior seeks me out to share good news about a college acceptance or an underclassman looks for advice about school or a personal issue, I am reminded how precious the work is that I do. Precious because the product I create is not inanimate money or widgets, but living, breathing, working, and feeling young people who deserve and demand my best. I hope to hell I'm giving it to them.
Brad, also a high school history teacher, talked about his students and the inspiration they provide him:
I love the energy, creativity and different outlooks of the kids. When I close the door to the hallway, I can create a world for them and me that is our own learning experience. To see the light go on, the kid who wants to stay after, the child who gets from me what no other adult gives him. These make it worthwhile at the end of the day, the week and the year.
Whether they were preparing an honor student for a prestigious scholarship or a high school non-reader for a competency test, these teachers believed that they filled a number of student needs. And although they perceived that society did not adequately appreciate them, they nonetheless believed that they were contributing to it in influential ways.
In addition to a lack of respect, participants identified financial issues as another factor that contributed to leaving the profession.
On top of the perception that they are not being valued by society, teachers are notoriously underpaid in our country. Four years after their graduation, Henke et al. (2000) surveyed a large sample of college graduates between 1992-1993. They found that the teachers were tied with clerical staff and service workers for the lowest salaries. A recent report from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT, 2000) found the following to be the case for the 2000-2001 school year:
For new teachers, the $28,986 average beginning salary lagged far behind starting salary offers in other fields for new college graduates. For example, accounting graduates were offered an average $37,143; sales/marketing, $40,033; math/statistics, $49,548; computer science, $49,749; and engineering, $50,033.
The $43,250 average teacher salary fell short of average wages of other white-collar occupations, the report found. For example, mid-level accountants earned an average $52,664, computer system analysts, $71,155; engineers, $74,920; and attorneys, $82,712.
The majority of the participants in this study related that they were simply not paid enough to live comfortably. They drove old cars and lived in inexpensive apartments. Others struggled to save enough money to buy a home. Calvin, a high school science teacher, talked about his pay:
I love teaching, but I don't know if I love it enough to deprive my family and myself of necessities. I have a baby and another on the way. I can't see how I can ever save enough to make a down payment on a house, even with a second job in the summer.
For the participants in this study, teaching often required a second job in the summer to earn supplemental income. There were no summers of leisure, as can often be the public's perception. Many also worked another job in the evenings or on weekends during the school year. Teachers described their work as never-ending and exhausting, and believed that increased pay would make the demands of the work more bearable. The teachers in this study left the profession for many less appealing occupations because the work was easier and the pay was greater. Doug, a high school English teacher described his pay as an insult:
One of the worst aspects of teaching is pay, the monthly insult. I'll say right up front that more money could make teaching more attractive. It is very demanding and time-consuming work. The compensation just isn't appropriate. Changing the public perception would also help, although I don't know how this could be accomplished. It is a vicious cycle--low pay leads the "cream of the college age crop" to not (on the whole) choose teaching as a profession. They can and will find something else to do where they are less harassed and paid more reasonably.
Denise, a high school English teacher was also unhappy with her compensation, resolving her extra time commitments as "volunteer work":
Money is part of my discontent, frankly. I feel like this job is a kind of ministry; it is both my employment and my volunteer work. That's how I can justify 70 hour per week for $33,000/year.
Carol, a former high school math teacher acknowledged that the lack of monetary rewards affected her decision to leave teaching:
The kids, the relationships, the challenges were all aspects of teaching that I loved, but I needed more. I needed to be in a career that would reward you financially for the time and efforts you give. Ultimately my decision was because of the money.
As young teachers married and began their own families, they often had to find a position that would allow them to support their family; a move many had to make with regret. Glenn (2000) reported that the number one reason for teacher dissatisfaction was poor salary, a reason cited by 66% of the teachers in this study who left. Glenn also reported that teachers make 29% less on average than others with similar degrees.
Eva, a high school English teacher stated her thoughts on teacher pay:
We must place an external value on what professional educators do. Compensate them at a living wage that can support a family. As long as students know that their teachers are paid so abominably and treated as members of a servant class, there is no way that the "best and the brightest" will be convinced to enter or stay in this profession.
One problem identified by the participants with respect to teacher pay is that it is based on tenure and experience, and not on merit. Some teachers became demoralized by low pay and ceased to give their best efforts to teaching. The novice teachers in this study expected to work hard, succeed at teaching, and to be rewarded for their success. They reported, however, that effort and incentive mean nothing within the teacher-pay structured system that now exists. The creative and successful teacher is paid on the same scale as the poor teacher, because the salary schedule is solely based on years worked and degrees held. Teachers believed that they should be paid more across the board, and excellent teachers should be paid more based on merit. Abby, a high school history teacher compared her colleagues:
One of the worst aspects of teaching is that there is no chance for promotion or real recognition for a job well done - you will always be paid the same as Joe Shmoe, the teacher who reads the newspaper all day in class.
Doug, a former high school English teacher who entered business subsequent to teaching, related his dissatisfaction with the reward system, or lack thereof:
I wanted to work in a profession that rewards people based on merit not longevity. I saw both good and bad teachers. However, there was no difference in how they were compensated other than based on who had been there the longest. I chose to enter the business world instead where at least I could rise or fall based on my own efforts, whether good or bad.
Eugene, a former high school math teacher also criticized the salary system that sometimes paid ineffective teachers more than those he believed deserved better compensation, simply based on longevity:
The low pay and the salary system are a problem. There are so many teachers who are not effective in the classroom and who spend little time preparing, yet they earn more money than I do simply because they have shown up to work for more years than I have. I truly believe some kind of merit pay system must exist if schools hope to keep their best teachers. Schools do not do enough to reward/give incentives to their best employees; everyone is treated equal regardless of job performance.
The teachers in this study reported that money was a factor that influenced many novice teachers to quit. It was not greed, but simply a desire for an adequate living. The bright new teachers reported a need to be recognized and financially rewarded for the demands of the work and success in their classrooms. Teachers' compensation is a difficult issue, and data from the teachers in this study show that financial considerations do affect decisions to leave teaching.
Many new teachers were physically and emotionally fatigued to the point of exhaustion. They reported that they worked long days at school, and then took home lesson plans to create, papers to grade, and parents to call. They also worked nights and weekends on school-related work.
Helen, a high school math teacher, talked about her full schedule:
I rarely work less than 55 hours a week. I often times have to take work home with me in the evening or to do on the weekends. Added to the fact that teaching all day is exhausting, I am always tired.
Dissatisfied with a demanding schedule that left little time for recreation and personal pursuits, Alvin, a former high school biology teacher, explained why he left teaching:
I left teaching after a year because I wasn't sure if this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The job wasn't nearly as glamorous as I thought it would be. I saw others my age come home from 9 to 5 jobs, go out to eat, go home to watch TV all night and then go to sleep. That's not the teacher's life. There is grading papers all night, parents to call, plans to make, and even then there is always something left undone. Then you get up the next day at the crack of dawn, only to start a long trek of non-stop activity. The time demand was awesome and left no time for a life outside of school and that's something I was not willing to give up at this time in my life.
Jessica, a high school math teacher relayed a similar experience:
I work 70 hours a week, and after 3 years it's not getting any better. When Friday night rolls around, all I want to do is fall asleep at 8 p.m.! Obviously that doesn't lead to a very exciting social life, or much of a "life" at all, if I can hardly stay awake long enough to go out to dinner with my friends and family. Even at holidays there are always papers to grade.
Fred, a high school English teacher also had difficulty with the amount of time required to do his job, pointing to the effect the time constraints had on family relationships:
The time commitment is the worst. During my first two years of teaching I worked 70-80 hour weeks, including time worked during the school day, in the evenings and over the weekend. Time commitment varies with the subject taught and with experience, but this aspect of the job nearly ran me out of teaching on several occasions and I witnessed one great new teacher leave teaching for this very reason. "It's my job or my marriage," she explained. "I never see my husband, and we're living under the same roof."
Gary, a high school English teacher remembered his first two years as both emotionally and physically taxing:
Fatigue is my dominant memory of those first two years, physical and emotional fatigue. In some ways it was truly foolish to keep going and I regularly considered quitting. I was socially starved. I was frequently sick. I was unnerved by stress and lost weight when I had no business losing it. I even broke down at one point early in my second year on a Saturday morning in my apartment, utterly overwhelmed by my insane decision to go at it another year. But I did, for such is the power of vanity and snow days. Both kept me going.
Participants' comments clearly indicate that teaching is a very time-consuming and intensive profession. The novice teachers in this study regularly spent long days working both at school and at home not only because of the demands of the job, but also because of their desire to do it well. They reported that it was not because they were inefficient; it was simply because there was so much to do. The actual time spent in the classroom teaching was only one part of the teacher's responsibility. There was also the time required to plan interesting and motivating lessons, to prepare the materials for those lessons, and to assess the students' progress. Additional time was consumed as the teachers analyzed and reflected on each lesson in order to self-evaluate and improve. Furthermore, there were parents to contact, colleagues to meet with, and often a sports-related practice or athletic event to supervise. They related that there were simply not enough hours in the day.
The data reveal that it is nearly impossible for a conscientious teacher to complete all that is expected of them in one school day. At the high school level, teachers were teaching five or more classes in a traditional school, and three in a block schedule school. For each class this meant that the teacher's task was to design a complete lesson lasting at least one hour. This lesson had to follow the state curriculum, be engaging and interesting to students, and include various components as required by the school district, such as a warm-up, class activities, and homework. The teachers wanted to use outside resources such as the Internet to connect the material to real world applications. Additionally, they reported that there were often several special needs students in the class, and each of them needed some special accommodation. They found that planning was not a trivial task; it took several hours to design one effective instructional plan.
Hugh, a former high school mathematics teacher described his experiences with special needs students:
I had one class that had six students with IEPs [Individual Educational Plans for special education students]. In theory, I had help with that class, but all I really had was a resource teacher that came by about once a week and said "Hello." So I was teaching a class of 29 lower level algebra students, and six were identified as needing special help and most of the others did, too, and I just couldn't get to everyone. It was very frustrating.
Kari, a former high school English teacher, shared her first teaching schedule:
Between the time I interviewed and the day I started, the other teachers in the department had divvied up the departing teacher's classes (including gifted students and yearbook/journalism). I walked into my first teaching position with five different low-level classes.
Carol, a former high school math teacher related a similar experience:
I was hoping to teach a balance of lower and higher level courses. I was more comfortable in student teaching with my honors classes. The students were less challenging and the material more interesting. It seems that other teachers feel the same way, so that the teachers with seniority get the "good" classes, while the new teachers get thrown to the wolves teaching all the "bad" classes. These labels are unfair, but the lower-level classes would have more students who would challenge me in terms of discipline as well as learning difficulties.
The perceptions of teachers such as Carol were that the new teachers were usually assigned the "leftover" courses. The veteran teachers had some choices in the schedule, but the new teacher often did not know her or his schedule until the beginning of the school year. Not only did the new teachers get the lowest level classes, but they also got the widest variety of classes, even out of their field of expertise. This all contributed to what one teacher called "an impossible workload." Hugh a former high school math teacher made a suggestion about scheduling:
An effort needs to be made to not give new teachers a schedule filled with the worst classes all day long. This will burn out teachers very quickly, and make them realize that you have to teach 10-15 years before you can get a "good" class and the low pay and horrible classes for 10 years is not worth that possible future reward.
No differentiation is made for a twenty-year veteran and a novice teacher. They are assigned the same number of courses to teach, and usually the new teacher has the more difficult courses, in terms of content and student population. After a teacher has taught a course once, if he or she is well organized, the previous course materials can serve as a resource for the next time that course is taught. That is assuming the teacher is assigned a similar teaching schedule on successive years. The beginning teacher must work even harder to build up this resource file. Ike, a high school history teacher remembered his first year:
During year one, the quality of life was poor due to exhaustion and simply trying to keep up with my classes (4 preparations, including two semester long courses that did not have textbooks nor an extensive curriculum). The workload is too heavy and could potentially be a factor if I leave teaching. The system is set up for mediocrity due to large class sizes, heavy outside requirements, and too many classes.
First-year teachers should have one less class to teach than other teachers. Most other professions allow for a breaking-in period for new employees, why not teaching? No matter what administrators might say, in the teach-a-day world, new teachers are expected to perform the same tasks at the same level as veteran teachers. They are assessed by the very same criteria as veteran teachers, and yet they are paid half as much while receiving little, if any, organized mentoring assistance. There must be a concession somewhere.
According to the teachers in this study, class sizes were another difficult feature of the teacher's day. In public high schools, most class sizes ranged from 25 to 35 students for a total of 125-175 students in a traditional school, and 75-105 in a four period block school. Henke et al. (2000) reported that the average number of students taught by secondary teachers each day is 115.8. Abby, a high school history teacher explained the effect of large class sizes:
Imagine any other professional trying to deal with the needs of this many "customers" at one time. If a physician were seeing patients, and grouped this many together, it is readily apparent how ridiculous it would be to expect her or him to address the needs of each person. The same is true for teachers.
Each student is an individual, with needs and issues that must be addressed. In a class period, the teachers expressed frustration because they could not address the needs of 25 or more students. Gina, a former high school science teacher described the variety in her workload as well as in her students' abilities:
What I least expected was the amount of paperwork I had to do. Grading papers, progress reports, parent conferences, English-as-a-Second Language, exceptional students, ADD paperwork, and even work for absent students seem to take more time than "teaching."
To compound the issue, teachers also related many learning issues, where students had questions or misunderstandings that could easily have been cleared up with a few minutes of one-on-one time. They also reported discipline issues that got more serious when they were not addressed. Some students were bored. Some lacked basic skills and could not perform without help. In general, the teachers expressed being frustrated because they are educated professionals who could address these issues, if there were time to get to everyone. There was simply not enough time to address the variety of issues that simultaneously too place. Farkas et al. (2000) reported that 86% of new teachers report that the change most likely to improve teaching is reducing class size. Eva, a high school English teacher summed up her frustration with large class sizes.
This was not a matter of poor time management; it was a matter of too many students with too many needs and one harried teacher trying to be superhuman. There were times that I had a great lesson plan, only to have it totally derailed because of one or two students who needed individual attention and could not get it.
The total number of students that this professional was expected to evaluate, plan, and care for each day was as many as 150.
Jay, a former high school history teacher, explained the comprehensive job of the teacher:
Unfortunately, most people feel that they have complete authority in judging, even dictating, the roles of teachers, because at some point in their lives they have sat in front of a few of them. While most people have seen a teacher teach, however, few have seen a teacher work. Instruction is the public part of teaching--and the easy part. Preparing for instruction and assessing what one's students do is quite another matter--an incredibly important and time-consuming matter, and one for which very little if any significant time is provided at work.
Gina, a former high school science teacher suggested a solution:
You can't do anything too different from the 30-student per class/6 classes per day approach until you have more money for more teachers so you can reduce class size drastically and give teachers the time and opportunity to help the students who need a lot of help. School systems could hire enough teachers so that class sizes would be smaller. That would cut down on grading and help with classroom management and general quality of life.
In addition to teaching, the teachers were expected to complete a number of other types of tasks on a regular basis. Their administrators demanded attendance reports, discipline reports, detailed plans for exceptional students, make-up work for absentees and discipline cases, and extensive records of grades. Parents demanded that they be kept informed, both in regular written progress reports and by phone whenever there was a problem. Outside of the classroom, professional teachers reported that they performed other, menial duties. They were expected to police the school in lunch duty, parking lot duty, and restroom duty. If a substitute was unavailable for a teacher, another teacher was often required to "cover" or "baby-sit" that class instead of having a planning period. Clerical or secretarial assistance was very rare. Teachers spent hours at copying machines, running off their own tests and other materials. Carol, a former high school math teacher had a recommendation:
Assistance, please! Teachers need help just like every other professional does. A teacher needs to spend time planning awesome lessons and teaching, not typing up progress reports and doing data entry! There need to be more secretaries available to run off papers, set up meetings with parents, and type up calendars, maybe a secretary for each department.
Ken, a former high school English teacher agreed:
Schools should either get teachers a real aide (who can grade papers, help tutor kids after school, etc.) or give teachers one professional day a week to grade, record grades and do lesson plans--an academic day. Teachers could hold tutoring, do all the clubs and activities for half the day and work on paperwork the other half. This may not eliminate all the work that needs to be done, but would help so much.
At the close of the school day, extracurricular activities begin. Even though it is discouraged at the higher administrative levels, many new teachers report that they felt pressured to agree to coach a sport or cheerleaders or a club in order to be hired. While the time commitment varied, the data suggest that it was often extensive. With practice and travel to away games, this was in itself a full-time job after school, just when the teacher was desperate to find a minute to think about tomorrow's plans and today's grading and discipline reports. The same was true of new teachers who liked sports and were easily persuaded to coach, not realizing that they had just given up all of their work time. Helen, a high school mathematics teacher described her extracurricular duties:
You have to get there early, stay after to tutor, attend meetings, and then do an extra-curricular activity (like coaching), proms, dances, parent meetings, and concerts. When you finally get home you have to grade papers, make lessons, record grades and call parents. You are left with a very limited personal time to live your own life outside of teaching--and then you are too tired to do anything.
The teachers reported that their workloads were incredible. The "in front of the class" five hours was only a portion of what they did each day. For nearly all of the participants in this study, the class loads were heavy, with usually five classes per day. These five classes were almost never the same class, so each different subject required a unique "preparation" for the day's lesson. Each class had many students, usually 25 to 30, and each student wanted attention from the teacher. The teachers reported that just the thought of understanding and addressing the needs of up to 150 teenagers each day became exhausting. Then there were the clerical duties the teachers had to complete, such as attendance reports and duplicating materials. At the end of classes, teachers had to rush off to the gym to coach. Finally, when many of these teachers arrived home, there was always planning and grading and other work to do. Exhaustion was the mark of the beginning teacher. Several of the teachers in this study reported that the workload was so onerous that they had little time to sleep. Ivy, a former high school science teacher captures the general viewpoint:
The long hours are the worst. Especially as a first year teacher, the workload is overwhelming. In addition to actually teaching, you have to deal with homeroom, lunch duty, coaching, etc. A 45-minute planning period was never adequate to even begin to do all I had to do. I frequently worked 12-hour days, and then had to go home to grade papers and plan for the next day. I considered giving it up. It was the hardest job I have ever had, and I barely had time to sleep.
School administrators varied in their support of young teachers, and many teachers reported that this support was inadequate. The new teachers felt that they were evaluated and judged, but they would have preferred real feedback and suggestions for improvement of their teaching. They felt that they were often not supported in discipline issues or in conflicts with parents.
In many states, teachers are assigned a formal mentor to assist them in their early years. In fact, this is one of the major recommendations of the Glenn Report in fulfilling its charge to identify "ways of improving recruitment, preparation, retention, and professional growth" for teachers (2000, p. 2). In some cases, the young teachers reported an excellent relationship with their mentor, with the mentor providing valuable guidance. In other cases, the teachers reported that the mentor was overwhelmed with his or her own work, and gave little or no assistance to the new teacher. Lee, a high school science teacher, described his first years:
New teachers may feel very unsupported. I think that, in the two schools I have taught, I have had good department heads and good colleagues. Nonetheless, I don't feel that there was/is a support network in place to help young teachers (or even old teachers!). Everything seems to be my problem to figure out. Such an atmosphere is difficult to work in day in and day out.
A major U.S. Department of Education report found that only 34% of teachers had participated in a mentor/induction program (Lewis, Parsad, Carey, Bartfai, Farris & Smerdon, 1999). Glenn (2000) recommends that induction programs should "focus on transmitting not only content matter, but also vital knowledge and skills related to teaching itself" (p. 33). In some schools, where teachers worked together in formal or informal teams, they were able to provide guidance and a supportive atmosphere for the new teacher. Too often, however, there was no time for real interaction about instructional issues. Some new teachers felt isolated and alone, with no support or encouragement. Such was the case for Carol, a former high school math teacher:
I was very frustrated with the lack of support from my principal/administration in that after three observations I never got any feedback either in written or verbal form. I never really knew how I was doing. I felt I was doing a good job, but did not think the administration cared one way or the other.
It is a well-known fact that many teachers use portions of their salary to purchase teaching supplies. For the teachers in this study, there was usually a very small amount of funding set aside each year by the school for each teacher to purchase supplies. A new teacher often came into a situation where he or she learned the latest teaching techniques, which likely required new materials, such as algebra tiles as mathematical models. The school would not have these materials, so the teacher's choice was to abandon the innovative methods or spend personal money. Fran, a high school mathematics teacher expressed a need for more funds:
Teachers should be given all the supplies that they need - $25 is not enough! At all other jobs that I have worked at, whatever you need to do your job is provided.
Another concern was the fact that many (if not most) new teachers must share classrooms. In former days, each teacher had a classroom in which to organize materials and to create a physically motivating environment for students. Because of overcrowding, most schools now have many "traveling" teachers, which are usually the new hires. Lani, a high school chemistry teacher was a "traveling" teacher in her school:
One of my biggest obstacles was that I had to teach every class period in a different room. That meant dragging all of my lab equipment with me between classes. It was a huge pain, but I managed to have one lab for each class section one day a week. That mean a lot of time before and after school setting up lab equipment and making sure it was portable.
The "rover" moved around the school, using other teacher's rooms during the periods when they were not teaching. If they were lucky, they had a cart on which to pile all of their teaching materials. Both teacher and students were at a deficit when they were forced to meet in a classroom that lacked appropriate materials, such as a graphing board for mathematics or maps for history. In addition to the gross management problems, some teachers felt unwelcome intruding in the other teacher's space. There was often no private place to work during the planning period or after school. Hugh, a former high school math teacher remembered his "cart" days:
I had an audiovisual cart on which I stacked all of my materials, including books, make-up work for students, class sets of calculators, and my notes and plans. I pushed it up and down the hall every period. I felt fortunate because some beginning teachers had to carry everything in a big satchel. I could not leave materials in any of the rooms, both because I might need them and because the rooms "belonged" to the teachers who used them most of the day. I did this for two years, and I never did feel quite organized since I was arriving at the class at the same time as the students. I had a desk in the teachers' lounge, and no privacy whatsoever.
In addition to physical facilities, teachers' working conditions include academic issues such as state-mandated curricula and testing. Several new teachers reported that they were shocked at the shadow cast by standardized tests, decrying the effects of the tests on their working conditions. In most states there are detailed state curricula for most courses, and these must be followed closely in order for students to excel on state achievement tests. This control severely damages creativity in young teachers. Idealism goes out the window as they rush to cover the mandated material. Novice teachers reported that they were frustrated because they have little autonomy, either in content or methods of teaching. Max, a former high school history teacher, did not like the tests:
The state curriculum was something I really disliked. I had very little choice in what I taught because the curriculum was so extensive that it took rushing the whole year to really finish. There was a great deal of pressure to make my students perform well on the end-of-course test so that the state would think our school was doing well. I felt as though I was just teaching to the test, rather than in my student's best interest.
Nate, a former high school math teacher, was unable to teach creatively:
I was constantly frustrated with the conservative curriculum and controlled testing. Teachers teaching the same course were essentially expected to begin and end units on the same days. I actually had to prove to my department chair on one occasion that the emphasis I had put on a semester-long project in my geometry classes would not influence student grades more than one letter grade, and would not make my classes too different from other sections of the same courses. He was sure that it would. I took out a calculator and showed him that it could not affect grades in the way he feared. I won the battle, but not his approval. That event was something of a backbreaker for me. I found the very rigid tracking of students in mathematics distasteful. This battle over what I considered possibly the one worthwhile activity my students - all my students, regardless of their track - were doing was too much.
Another aspect of working conditions involves teachers' colleagues. Teaching can attract a few inadequate teachers. The data suggest that in a few instances these few could really destroy the morale of a school. Despite advice to avoid the teachers' lounge, novice teachers had to interact with the colleagues that were less than favorable and thus contributed to a dissatisfying working environment. For many teachers in this study, the administration typically did little to "clean out" the poor teachers, and this was frustrating to the novice teachers who wanted everyone to be as dedicated as they believed they were. After an initial period of a few years (three in North Carolina), teachers are granted tenure and can only be removed if it can be proved that he or she broke the law or violated school procedures. Ken, a former high school English teacher gave his opinion on this matter:
My biggest problem is with people who don't do their jobs. These people don't ever get to the screw up state because they don't even try - how can you mess something up when you never even give it a shot? The other bad thing is all the complaining about things without the willingness to try to change it. People assume that just because it happened one way in the past things will never change and we shouldn't even try. They just want to sit around and bitch about things and I can't stand that.
Alvin, a former high school biology teacher, agreed:
Get rid of bad teachers! The business world does not have tenure. If someone is not doing their job, they need to go! No wonder respect can be low for teachers with some of the slackers and bad apples there are out there. This could greatly improve teachers' images and make it more attractive to newcomers.
Rick, a former high school math teacher, concurred:
The K-12 teachers need to give the good teachers more support and get rid of the bad ones. There are some truly horrible teachers at our school and they are just earning a paycheck. It's not fair to the students. Teachers should also be paid by merit not strictly by experience.
Denise, a high school English teacher, had the same suggestions:
I have been most disillusioned by the number of teachers who do not enjoy their jobs and who have nothing positive to say. There has to be a way to get rid of bad teachers in public education. They discourage newer faculty members from keeping their enthusiasm. It is horribly unfair to the students they teach and to the school as a whole.
Abby, a high school history teacher, shared a solution that works for her:
Among my fellow teachers here, there are a fair amount of people who are tired, and burned out. These people are discouraging and disheartening. I make every attempt to avoid these people.
Thus, the teachers reported that their working conditions were not always positive. The model of administrative supervision and support for novice teachers was often unsuccessful. Similarly, there was no guarantee that the mentor system would result in a mentoring relationship, often leaving the new teacher without a professional support system. Materials and facilities in schools were frequently inadequate, and young teachers sometimes had neither an appropriate place nor adequate materials for working and teaching. The data reveal that novice teachers often complained of the influence of colleagues who were not happy teaching and who had reached the stage where they constantly complained rather than trying to facilitate improvements.
Relationships with Students and Parents
Perhaps the most important element of teaching is a teacher's relationship with students. The teacher must create and maintain a learning environment and good working interactions with students. A common problem reported by beginning teachers was student apathy. Many of the novice teachers reported that students had no interest in learning. In addition to attendance problems, a number of students often came to class without pencil, paper, and textbook. It was difficult to force or entice them to participate in classwork, and virtually impossible to get them to do homework. Owen, a former high school mathematics teacher, was frustrated by his students' apathy:
The vast majority of my students had no interest in learning math and I quickly tired of trying to force them (or entice them). They refused to bring paper or pencil to class, refused to do homework or classwork, and frequently came to class late or not at all. Most of them, to my great surprise, were not at all belligerent or confrontational about their refusal to do anything in class; they just had no intention of working at anything.
Mattie, a former high school history teacher, could not deal with the frustration:
I just became very frustrated teaching to a class of 20 students and about 5 were interested or at least concerned with their grades. I decided not to return, because I was so exhausted and depressed at the end of the year. I just couldn't see "wasting" my time in a classroom where the kids don't care about themselves or what you're trying to accomplish.
Eugene, a former high school math teacher, also reported problems with apathy:
I was frustrated with the apathy of the students. Many days I felt as though I was standing up there talking to myself. It was the longest year of my life. I was an emotional wreck because I felt as if the kids/parents didn't care enough to try or participate.
Lumsden enumerated similar problems and called teachers "frontline social workers" (1998, p. 1). She further explained that the teacher's role has expanded from teaching and mentoring students to dealing on a regular basis with numerous social problems that hinder their participation in teaching and mentoring.
The novice teachers viewed many students as spoiled and selfish. They maintained that both students and parents insisted on high grades without any attention to standards and the responsibility of the student in the educative process. Furthermore, they argued that it was rare to find students who were intrinsically motivated and interested in learning. Fran, a high school math teacher, tried to understand the students:
Kids just have so much to deal with outside of school today (media, sex everywhere, divorce, tragedy, and political scandals) they've become cynical, untrusting, and disrespectful. Perhaps that's the key--they have little respect for themselves, their teachers, their parents, and institutions in general. How do we get that respect back?
Brad, a high school history teacher, shared his thoughts on student motivation:
Discipline was a big issue. But even that is a bigger issue than just a school problem. Kids have little respect for adults, rules, and education. It seemed almost impossible to convince a student that learning was important.
For many of the teachers in this study, a few discipline problems could completely wreck a class. Some students ignored the teacher and disrupted the class to the point that no one was able to learn. The most common behavioral problems identified by these novice teachers were class disruptions, and students' disrespect for the teacher and school by talking, swearing, yelling, or fighting. When teachers followed discipline models and tried to instill personal responsibility, they were often frustrated by the lack of response from students. Jay, a former high school history teacher, had major discipline problems in his classes. He described it thus:
The students were incapable of even sitting in a chair - at the least disturbance they were out of their seats or yelling across the room. I had 28 or 30 students in each of those classes, 5 or 6 of whom were mainstreamed special education students. I dreaded every single day I went there, because I knew that something extremely unpleasant was likely to occur--maybe a fight, or someone throwing something, or just general chaos. I tried everything I possibly could--I asked for advice from principals and other teachers, I tried different strategies, but nothing worked that well.
When administrators and parents were involved, the students recognized it as a lack of support for the teacher and then became even less accountable. Teachers reported that there was no real punishment. They felt that troublemakers were allowed to disrupt the school day over and over.
As discussed earlier, the students in these teachers' care had a wide range of individual needs. They needed attention and encouragement. Teachers surmised that if students were unable to get the kind of attention they may receive in a much smaller class, they would act out and get it in any way they could. It was the opinion of teachers that many students lacked basic skills and pre-requisite skills and were themselves frustrated by the schoolwork they were given. In response, they disrupted the class and often fell further behind. Large class sizes prevented the teachers from averting this acting-out behavior with personal one-on-one assistance and encouragement. The data reveal that real violence, such as weapons and gangs, was uncommon in these teachers' schools. However, there were instances where teachers felt unsafe in their classrooms. Nan, a former high school math teacher, described her disciplinary concerns and her reluctance but need to engage in strategies to curtail a lack of cooperation:
The worst aspects of teaching were discipline problems, discipline problems, discipline problems. I found that the only way to get a lot of the kids to cooperate was to yell at them or punish them. Some of the kids just don't respond to any creative disciplinary strategies. I hated not feeling the freedom to smile and be kind to several of my classes because that would lead to misbehavior. I never anticipated how mean I would have to be to get the students to cooperate.
Abby, a high school history teacher described discipline as one of the "bad aspects of teaching":
Another bad aspect of teaching is the lack of respect and desire to learn from the students. We don't have much violence or many true discipline problems at our school, but there is an underlying lack of respect for authority from the kids. They basically do whatever they want whenever they want. It doesn't really matter to them if they are learning anything or not because they can't see past this weekend much less see how what they do in school is going to affect their lives. We were told, "If you kick a kid out of school (for disciplinary reasons) he ends up on the streets, so keep him in school at all costs." Because of this mentality, students who want to learn suffer.
Phil, a former high school math teacher, shared his beliefs about discipline:
If class sizes were smaller, then discipline would be a smaller problem. The children don't have consequences for their actions and that results in a limited respect for teachers and makes it very hard to teach. One bad apple can ruin a whole class for a teacher. I was 80/20 babysitting when I had hoped to be 90/10 teaching.
Nate, a former high school math teacher, found that discipline was his most difficult task; at times viewing himself as a "prison guard":
I hated that my primary role was that of "prison guard." I was expected to keep the students confined to the classroom, keep them quiet, and get my attendance sheets in on time. I had to deal with student discipline problems, and I was outnumbered and on my own. I had to discover how to help the slow-learning students, challenge the bored students, discipline the disruptive students, and leave in peace hard working students, simultaneously in one classroom.
In addition to relationships with students, teachers must build relationships and partnerships with parents. For many of the participants in this study, parents often appeared unwilling to accept responsibility for their children. Lewis et al. (1999) reported that only one-third of teachers agreed strongly that parents support education. These findings indicate that teachers perceive parental support to be inadequate. Teachers found that parents were too busy to become involved. They were quick to blame the teacher for any problems, and unwilling to acknowledge that they had unreasonable expectations of teachers. Most had no interest in participating in the learning process, or in encouraging their child to do his or her best. They asked teachers to lower standards instead of insisting that their children raise theirs. Mattie, a former high school history teacher, had problems with parents:
Administrators should stop bending the rules every time a parent complains about something. These kids know that they don't have to follow the rules if they don't want to because mommy and daddy can make a call and get them out of trouble. I had some bad experiences trying to enforce the school's honor code, which landed me in front of the Board of Education. It seemed I was the only one who cared about standards.
Helen, a high school math teacher, offered the following analysis:
The emotions involved when parents are confronted about their children's behavior, lack of motivation, lack of intelligence, or other issues can lead otherwise rational people to behave irrationally. Guilt issues arise. "Maybe I'm not a good parent, maybe I don't spend enough time with Johnny, maybe I don't supervise Johnny sufficiently, maybe I passed my poor math genes on to Johnny" and parents can react defensively, lashing out at the teacher instead of examining how they perhaps could improve upon the situation, whatever it may be.
Brad, a high school history teacher, gave his view of parent relationships:
If too much is expected from students, parents complain, principals get nervous, and teachers are told not to expect too much. I remember being warned of administrators who would take the parents' side over the teachers. It was true.
The teachers in this study described students as both the best and the worst aspect of teaching. There were students who worked hard and enjoyed learning. There were also troubled students who showed no interest in learning and thus presented disciplinary problems that kept others from learning. Teachers had to deal with all of these students. Again, they report that the impossible part of this task was the sheer number of students that they were expected to individually guide. And the data reveal that parents were unlikely to support the teachers' efforts.
Eva, a high school English teacher, summed up her dilemma and the issues that would help her to decide to remain in teaching. She provides a representative view and is worth quoting at length:
My teaching experience has been extraordinary. I am now teaching all seniors; I have established a fine reputation; I experience no discipline problems; I have become a valued and involved member of the school community; I have established fulfilling professional relationships with the faculty; I have the opportunity to teach both the "best and brightest" honors students and the "general level" students who make you feel as if you really matter. It is important for me to articulate these facts because, on the surface, they should point to a happy, fulfilled fortunate teacher. To some extent, they do.
That same teacher is exhausted from staying at school until 5:30 p.m. coming home, having dinner, and beginning another 3-4 hours of school work. That same teacher is overwhelmed by the 65 senior term papers which she spent her Christmas break reading. That same teacher is burdened by the responsibilities of Student Council, which she was handed her first year teaching and which consume almost every day's "planning" period. That same teacher is tired of rushing through a ten-minute lunch to get to lunch duty on time, where students see her, a professional educator, standing duty and reminding them to pick up their trash. That same teacher is frustrated by the number of students that walk through the door period after period and the frantic pace of the six-period day. That same teacher is angry at the bureaucracy and paperwork that reveal little awareness or concern for the reality of a teacher's day. That same teacher is dismayed by the working conditions and by the lack of money for even the most basic of supplies and the most important of staff development opportunities. That same teacher is disappointed in the desperate hiring decisions that are made because of teacher shortages, hiring decisions that impact everybody in the school when standards are lowered and "teaching" is nonexistent. That same teacher is heartbroken over parents who enable students who could be doing better or who care little about their student's genuine learning and more about the all-important grade.
Now, the hard question: If changes were made would I stay in teaching? The answer is a resounding yes. I would be paid adequately, I would have a professional environment in which to work, I would engage in meaningful teaching because I would have fewer classes to manage and fewer students to reach, I would have time to plan well, to stay current in research, to offer detailed, authentic assessment. The myth still floating around out there is that teachers are and should be internally motivated, that the rewards of working with young people and impacting their lives are rich enough. No teacher whom I would respect would argue against that statement. However, I have come to understand that no teacher (or administrator, or university professor) whom I would respect would allow the statement to stop there. It is not unreasonable to demand improvement. This is the cry of a rational, dedicated, creative, hard-working, passionate, and tired public school teacher who knows things should and could be different, but who does not know how to go about changing them right now.
As illustrated by this call for help, this study gives insight into the perceptions, experiences, and needs of novice teachers. An analysis of their reflections provides an understanding of their motivations and their discouragements as they ponder their profession and decide whether to remain in teaching or to leave as many others have. In short, they describe the teaching profession as "a hard job." It is a hard job because teachers do not believe that they are esteemed by society. They feel unappreciated because the teaching profession is not respected in American culture. It is a hard job because teachers are not paid on a level commensurate with other professionals. Low teachers' pay is often cited as a major issue with dedicated teachers who need to support a family. It is a hard job because teaching requires an unreasonable time commitment. Teachers argued that they worked inordinately long hours both during and after school to complete necessary preparation, assessment, and teaching duties. It is a hard job because the novice teacher's workload is heavy. Beginning teachers further maintained that they are often assigned a full load of large and difficult classes, with some being responsible for teaching as many as 150 students each day. It is a hard job because working conditions in many schools do not support novice teachers. Novice teachers complained about ineffective mentoring programs, uninterested and inaccessible administrators, and inadequate supplies. And it is a hard job because teachers' relationships with students and parents are difficult. Novice teachers report that management of student behavior, including motivation and discipline, is extremely challenging, with parents often failing to support their efforts. The data in this study show that the days of novice teachers are grueling and that many novice teachers consider leaving teaching.
There is a need for both further research and action in response to these findings. Novice teachers should continue to be examined in different contexts using similar qualitative methodology. Case studies of novice teachers would be valuable in comparing teacher characteristics, teacher preparation, school settings, and administrative practices. In order to support the President's goal that every classroom should have a quality teacher, we as a society must seek to elevate the teaching profession. Educators, administrators, and policymakers must understand the culture of teaching and respond to the voices of novice teachers in order to support and retain a quality teacher in every classroom.
Leah P. McCoy is a mathematics teacher educator. She received her Ed.D. from Virginia Tech and is currently an Associate Professor of Education at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Her research interests include integration of technology in mathematics teaching, equity issues, and teacher education. Professor McCoy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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