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Why Teachers Quit


One top reason why teachers leave the profession is their lack of mastery in one of the basic skills necessary to be successful in the field: effective management of student behavior.

Although basic classroom management is taught in teacher preparatory classes, few college graduates leave their education classes with the ability to successfully deal with the disruptive behavior that will undoubtedly present itself in their new classrooms.

Why haven’t more teachers mastered this critical skill? It is the nature of the beast. Classroom management skills are not intrinsic and are not easily taught through instruction. Effective classroom management is best learned through experience. And experience is just what a freshman teacher lacks.

Education experts do not agree on what constitutes effective classroom management. Research on why teachers leave the education field has been done by numerous organizations such as The New Teacher Project and The Research Alliance for New York City Schools. Classroom management and teacher retention theories abound. So there is no ‘cookbook recipe’ to follow. A new teacher must discover what approach best fits their comfort level for the management of the students in their classroom. However, there are some strategies to help keep students on task and in line.

Despite differences in approach, all successful classroom management programs share basic tenets. The consequences for misbehavior must be clearly defined and consistently applied. Teachers who maintain a persona of dispassionate strength, confidence, and authority are most likely to ensure success. Strong and consistent management and organizational skills have also been identified as leading to fewer classroom discipline problems. In addition, cultivating a nurturing and empowering school culture is very important. Furthermore, academic achievement, teacher efficacy, and teacher and student behavior, are directly linked with a postive concept of school and strong classroom management. Encouraging and establishing student self-control through a process of promoting positive student achievement, high expectations, and good behavior, should be the aim of every school.

Classroom management has three major components:

  1. Content Management – “Occurs when teachers manage space, materials, equipment, the movement of people, and lessons that are part of a curriculum or program of studies” (Froyen & Iverson, 1999, p. 128)

– Example: Ms. Dobson demonstrates content management when she begins the day by leading her students in a very short hand routine that involves clapping and listening. The hand movements focus the students’ attention on the teacher and signal that it is time for a learning activity.

  1. Conduct Management – “Refers to the set of procedural skills that teachers employ in their attempt to address and resolve discipline problems in the classroom” (Froyen & Iverson, 1999, p. 181).

– Example: Mr. Steinman’s students are learning about the human heart by gathering and analyzing data on their own heart rates. The teacher demonstrates conduct management when he assertively corrects irresponsible and inappropriate behavior by firmly reminding his students that one of the goals of working together is to respect one another. In addition, he warmly encourages them to respond one at a time.

  1. Covenant Management – “Focuses on the classroom group as a social system that has its own features that teachers have to take into account when managing interpersonal relationships in the classroom” (Froyen & Iverson, 1999).

– Example: One of Mrs. Victorino’s students resists working with his peers because he didn’t get to play the role he wanted. His teacher demonstrates covenant management in an attempt to solve the discipline problem. She expresses concern for the student as an individual, trying to build a relationship of trust and understanding. She genuinely listens to his complaints. Mrs. Victorino also reviews the process the group used to assign roles, and reaffirms its fairness. Then she prompts him to reflect on the importance and value of his contribution to the group as a whole.

Teachers must also be flexible enough to throw tried-and-true tactics out the window if they no longer work. Each new classroom of students will require a carefully honed set of classroom management techniques. It is the veteran teacher who is best able to accomplish this task and be a mentor to other younger teachers.

In most cases, the degree of success achieved by first-year teachers is dependent upon the support of the school administration. Schools with a strong mentoring program have higher teacher retention and a greater degree of overall school success. During training, it is best for administrators and educational specialists to remember that classroom management skills do not ‘come naturally’ to most new teachers. It is the kind of skill that should be practiced and mastered beforehand, but is too often learned right in the classroom, as necessity dictates.


Froyen, L. A., & Iverson, A. M. (1999). Schoolwide and classroom management:  The reflective educator-leader (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall


I. Rose De Lilly is a published writer, educator, and award-winning poet. When she is not working on her graduate degree or teaching children to read, she writes engaging articles for She enjoys traveling, spoken word, bike riding at the beach, finding new restaurants, reading, carpentry, and collecting miniatures. Connect on Linkedin!



  1. Excellent article and spot on. My son likes the teachers who can manage the students who are disrupting the class. He likes toughness but consistency. Surely this could be taught – at least role played?

  2. The best teachers are those who have a true calling for it. My degree is in secondary Ed. I taught high school English for awhile, but at the time I looked like I was a student. I wanted to “save” inner city schools where they lacked proper materials and attention. But I was unprepared for the hostility, aggresive behavior and drugs. It was culture shock. I left and went into social work where I belonged.

  3. Terrific article with one piece missing: WHY is it so much harder these days to manage classroom behavior? Because too many kids are coming into the school system lacking the essential social skills and character traits that set them up to participate effectively in a classroom environment.

    Even the best classroom management techniques and programs can’t be as effective as THEY should be if you have kids who do not understand that their job is to sit quietly, pay attention, be respectful and listen to your teacher and peers, and actually DO your work – your BEST work – completely and on time.

    It’s a perfect storm: kids who don’t know how to behave and teachers who too frequently aren’t taught how to control them. No wonder teachers say they spend more time on classroom management and discipline than they do on teaching!

    Programs that simultaneously work on both side — give teachers a framework for management at the same time they teach kids these essential skills — are proven to do best. Increased time on task for students, more time for teaching for the instructors. As a result, better grades, too! It’s not fair for teachers to bear the brunt of the “you must manage equation” because it assumes that the kids are willing participants in the process.

    Interested in more, you can check out

  4. Excuse me. A PROGRAM that teaches effective classroom management while simultaneously teaching kids social skills? Teachers cannot even utter corrective feedback to students without being interrupted by a chorus of “what did I do?” Students today have been taught by their elders that it is more valuable to openly challenge authority figures, i.e., their teachers, rather than passively accept criticism. The absence of wisdom in this strategy dictates that students cannot actively process constructive criticism, that sitting silently absorbing teacher feedback amounts to passivity and weakness. Where are parents in this dialogue? We live in a litigious age, where a teacher can be disciplined simply for pointing a finger in the general direction of a student’s face, yet a student would pretty much have to be caught on video beating a teacher with a baseball bat to receive an in-school detention. We live in an age in which teachers are blamed when students don’t do their homework, but who is at home with the students? The teachers? We live in an age in which arrogant and ignorant administrators and politicians (Mr. Bloomberg, Mr. Klein) believe that teacher tenure should be based on test scores. They claim that it is only one barometer, yet they consistently fail to specify what other measures they would take. Meanwhile, under their proposed guidelines, how would teachers obtain tenure when they work with the lowest-performing students, with the mentally retarded, with the severely learning disabled — where high test scores are difficult and/or unlikely and/or nearly impossible? Or with kids whose parents just don’t give a damn? All this talk about raising the achievement levels of all students ignores the statistical reality that all things in nature fall on a bell curve – wherever the average happens to be, there will always be outliers on either side of the curve because of the inevitable nature of the standard deviation. Municipalities all over the country are telling their citizens that the cause of the economic downturn is that teachers refuse to accept pay cuts. How much less would the public like teachers to be paid? Most teachers cannot even afford to purchase homes in the cities and towns that employ them. So give teachers a break.

    Banks nearly destroyed the world economy, yet they received billions in government bailouts. So what’s the solution? Let’s fire all the teachers! Or perhaps a small percentage of those bank bailouts should be redirected toward the public schools, paying teachers a decent wage, and giving teachers and schools the relief and support they deserve. Do you hear me, President Obama?

  5. Bull! Teachers leave because they get tired of sending Johnny to detention and he keeps coming back. Lets face it some kids don’t need to be in school. To hell with NCLB!

  6. Basic universal virtuous human values and qualities from home are the foundation for a beginning school life. We need to set up the universal virtuous values from entering prekindergarten and kindergarten levels. This strong foundation will help teachers to handle students better. Remember, parents are the student’s first teachers at least from birth to 4 or 5 years old. We should rethink and look deeply into our educational system about what are universal virtuous human values and qualities to teach our kids. No teachers can teach children who don’t want to learn, don’t listen to the instruction and disrespect teachers. Parents should do better jobs as teacher(s) at home too. I wonder why teachers are always the blame for student’s failure. Why??!!!

  7. I am very surprised and pleased to see that we all (teacchers) round the world go through the same issues. However, here in Nigeria, a sense of discipline still thrives as students are made to sit quietly more often. We do have the challenge in many schools as you do, where the students feel the teacher has no right to speak firmly to them but that is much fewer than the average. Teachers get the blame I have noticed from parents and administrators who are found wanting in their duties and that is why they look for whom to blame. I think that discipline begins from home. If the child lacks discipline, there is very littlevmagic the teacher can perform!

  8. While you make a solid argument, this is not the reason I left. Classroom management becomes easier with experience. Put simply, the more comfortable a teacher feels within themself, the less ego they take into the classroom. In my experience when a teacher understands ‘who’ their students are and works from a space of learning rather than a space of teaching, many disruptive behaviours can be minimised. In recent years I also added relaxation exercises such as focused breathing to my classroom repertoire and had amazing success.

    However, this style of teaching is time consuming and emotionally draining. Unfortunately non teachers – administrators and politicians do not understand this (or they completely disregard its relevance). This is why I left teaching (secondary school English teacher of 15 years). I was frustrated. Frustrated by a lack of flexibility, frustrated by a lack of time to teach the skills student need, frustrated by a lack of opportunity to create real world opportunities for my students. I left so I could continue to be a teacher. I have developed a learning process, a series of steps to help students take control of their own learning. I would prefer to empower my students rather than educate them into carbon copy cutouts.

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