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Motives to Exit: Career Choice or Disillusionment Among Young Charter School Teachers



Motives to Exit: Career Choice or Disillusionment Among Young Charter School Teachers


Catherine Alice Arenson

Doctor of Education

University of California, Berkeley

Professor Heinrich Mintrop, Chair

Teacher turnover is an urgent problem in many schools serving disadvantaged populations. Reform efforts strive to provide a consistently rigorous and stable academic environment for students, but constant teacher turnover impedes the development of a stable learning community, making it difficult to improve and successfully implement reform efforts. Teacher turnover can occur for a variety of reasons, and understanding these reasons was the purpose of this research study. The aim was to better understand teacher turnover among a particular group of young, idealistic, social justice–oriented teachers that staff many of the most challenging urban charter schools. These teachers enter the field with excitement and appear passionately dedicated to making a difference, but then leave the profession after only a few years.

My research explored the motives of thirty teachers for entering and exiting the teaching profession. My initial hypothesis was that teachers possibly leave owing to career flexibility, reality shock, disillusionment, or burnout. I found the exit motives were most closely aligned with career flexibility and reality shock. The exit motives fell into three categories that were connected to the entrance motives: loss of passion or energy, shift in self-concept or self-identity, and loss of social connections. These motives blend and build on one another in the decision to leave the classroom.

A prosocial mindset and career uncertainty guided these young teachers to a temporary commitment to teaching. By choosing difficult school contexts they learned they could not make a positive impact. They left exhausted, though not to the degree of burnout, for work that better suited them.

Teaching is a profession that deserves the best of the best for our nation’s children. Pro-socially minded, ambitious, and hard-working people are a strong asset to our nation’s schools; however, commitment to the profession of teaching is essential. This study highlights the need for greater attention to recruiting, preparation, and structure of the work of teaching in order to secure teachers’ ongoing commitment to the profession.

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