“Loving or liking” teaching: An initial study on why teachers stay in the profession.

Year: 2012

Author: Williams, Cheryl, Keay, Jeanne

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper reports on findings of the first stage of a longitudinal collaborative project undertaken with teachers in England and Australia. Much of the previous research on teacher attrition and retention has concentrated on the induction phase, on becoming and being a teacher, mentoring teachers through their first years of teaching, and then documenting their exit from the profession.  Consequently, we know a great deal about why teachers leave the profession in the early stage of their careers as well as about what strategies and programs may assist in retaining teachers.  The project we report on aims to understand what factors are important when teachers make career decisions about staying in the teaching profession.

The motivation for this approach has been at a practical level as governments attempt to retain enough teachers to staff their schools.  While recognising that this is important, this research considers the quality of the teachers who stay and what influences them to remain in the profession.  In common with research findings in the USA, a recent survey of new teachers in Australia found that 24% signalled their intention to leave teaching within the first five years and yet after their first year in the profession 93% report “loving” or “liking” teaching.   Teachers in the UK, Australia and the USA cite low salaries, lack of professional development opportunities, excessive administration, government initiatives and unacceptable pupil behaviour as reasons for leaving the profession.  We are particularly interested in whether teachers have a 'passion' for their chosen profession, how, if at all, their idealism is influenced by the culture of the school in which they work; and the development and maintenance of relationships with their colleagues.

An analytical framework, drawn from a review of literature in the areas of induction, teacher persistence and retention, has been developed for use in the first stage of this project.  The data presented in this paper is drawn from four focus group interviews with teachers who have between five and nine years experience in primary and secondary schools in Australia and England.  A discussion of the findings will focus on the following areas: power relationships and collegial support; professional development and the influence of induction; emotional investment; professional space, control and independence; and understanding the teacher's role.