Who Will Stay and Who Will Leave? Predicting Secondary English Teacher Attrition Risk

Article excerpt

In the more than 30 years since Lortie's (1975) groundbreaking work on the lives of teachers, numerous teacher educators and researchers have investigated how working in schools and the act of teaching influence teachers' decisions to leave or remain in the profession. Evidence concerning causal factors, from the perceived problems faced by beginning teachers (Veenman, 1984) to induction and mentoring (Smith & Ingersoll, 2004) to salary (Johnson & Liu, 2004), for example, demonstrates that it is rarely one dynamic but rather a combination of issues that affects a teacher's choice to leave the profession. As the profession seems to be no closer to stemming the exodus, it is imperative that we continue to study the factors that contribute to teachers' dissatisfaction and may motivate attrition. Indeed, the ongoing loss of promising new teachers, widespread use of out-of-area teachers, and the annual financial toll of $7 billion paid by U.S. school systems to recruit and train replacement teachers (Barnes, Crowe, & Schaefer, 2007) continue to drain financial resources and diminish the quality of education. Such understandings are vital in the context of changing educational influences--such as reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the implementation of local and national standards, and the use of standardized tests for promotion, policy, and pay decisions--and financial pressures because of a weakened economy--mandated furloughs, layoffs, fewer resources, increased class size, and so on--that affect teachers' daily work.

Teachers are generally considered directly responsible for student achievement and, thus, are often implicated in issues related to school failure (Burns, 2007). This is especially true for English teachers as "literacy achievement is a central target for testing in current accountability mandates, [and thereby it seems] literacy teachers and English teachers are particular targets for scrutiny" (Burns, 2007, p. 123). Understanding issues related to retaining qualified and competent English teachers seems paramount to improving overall student achievement. English teachers face tremendous pressure to prepare students for high-stakes examinations including exit exams and college entrance examinations. Although not all 50 states have mandatory exit exams, of those that do (24 states), all require a reading or English test and many also require a writing test; however, not all involve the testing of science or history (Center on Education Policy, 2009). Students who do not pass these exams are denied a diploma, and repeated low performance at the school level can result in public criticism, economic sanctions, and state takeover. Despite the range of factors (e.g., poverty, social promotion, learning disability) that could negatively affect students' literacy scores, most often the public blames their teachers. This accountability, in turn, affects teachers' performance and efficacy.

Through our work as teacher educators, we have seen beginning teachers become quickly disenfranchised and demoralized by what they are asked to teach when they enter schools: a narrowed and/or scripted curriculum and frequent standardized test practice. All of this is in response to accountability (and integrally related financial) pressures. Although studying all secondary content area teachers is important, the above reasons explain why English teachers in particular need to be examined.

Much of the teacher retention research deals primarily with the trends of the general teaching population, although several seminal studies suggest that the factors influencing teacher retention differ among fields (e.g., Guarino, Santibanez, & Daley, 2006; Murname, Singer, Willet, Kemple, & Olsen, 1991). Recently, there has been an explosion of discipline-specific research examining teacher attrition, migration, and retention issues, generally confirming that the influences on teacher retention differ even among similar specialties (e. …