AARPs Educator Community Issues Exodus: A Study of Teacher Retention in America

When Love Is Not Enough

Chicago, IL – A love of and passion for teaching, a calling – “destined to be a teacher,” – role models in the past, and the desire to “give back” were the words used by former and current teachers in a national survey that examines one of the top educational challenges in this country – teacher retention.

AARP’s Educator Community will release findings today from “Exodus: A Study of Teacher Retention in America – 50 Who Stayed, 50 Who Left.” This unique study gives the actual views and opinions of current and former K-12 teachers. It offers insight to understand the dynamics surrounding whether a teacher stays in or leaves the profession during what can be the most difficult time, the first five years of employment.

“This study takes us into today’s classrooms and gives voice to the millions of current and former teachers who have taken on the challenge of teaching America’s students,” said Dr. Richard Ingersoll, an expert on teacher retention and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “It also allows us to more fully understand the reasons why 33 to 50 percent of our nation’s teachers are leaving within the first three years of employment.”

The Exodus study finds that while current and former teachers said the art and science of teaching is becoming more complex, both groups were initially motivated to the profession for similar reasons – their love for children and respect for the art and science of teaching. Furthermore, both groups cite the same moments as the most rewarding – seeing the “light-bulb go on” as a student grasps concepts, interaction with students and watching them grow over the years, verbal appreciation from parents and administrations and parents recognizing the achievement of their child.

“Our study suggests that it is in dealing with the challenges of teaching and the school environment that pushes at least one-third of the novice teachers out of the profession,” said Dr. Annette Norsman, director of NRTA: AARP’s Educator Community.

Former teachers said the major reasons for leaving the profession include lack of administrative support, low pay, feeling undervalued by society and the community, lack of resources, parental support and the impact of fellow teachers who appear narrow-minded.

Current teachers cite their biggest challenges as motivating kids, classroom discipline, dealing with parents in justifying discipline, managing lesson plans in a short class period, keeping lesson plans interesting and dealing with school politics.

While both current and former teachers agree that a formal mentoring, support and training system are needed and would be beneficial for new teachers, former teachers add the regular access to a helpful mentor in itself was not enough to hold them in the classroom. They say other factors within the profession (administration support, parent/student behavior) can’t be solved by mentoring alone.

NRTA, with more than one million members at the national, state and local levels, has made a national commitment to help retain Anerica’s quality educators by engaging experienced educators in collaborative, community-based efforts through an umbrella program called the NRTA Educator Support Network.

“Our nation’s children deserve quality teachers and it is vital that we have the kinds of support and school environments that help attract and retain our best teachers,” said Laurie Rich, Assistant Secretary of Intergovernmental and Interagency Affairs for the US Department of Education. “We are delighted that NRTA and its nationwide network of experienced and retired educators will be lending their time to offer support to one of the most valuable assets in American education – teachers.”

The study reveals that both current and former teachers believe the biggest change in the next 50 years will be the influence of alternative education. They think more students and parents will turn to private schools, charter schools and home-schooling to meet the educational needs of their children.

The online survey was conducted by HarrisInteractive in July and August of 2003. A total of 117 respondents participated in the bulletin board groups and 14 of these respondents further participated in the telephone interviews. The study represented both private and public school teachers in grades K-12.

Founded in 1947 by retired educator Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, NRTA: AARP’s Educator Community (formally known as the National Retired Teachers Association) is a division of AARP.

NRTA members share a commitment to learning, voluntary service, and civic participation. NRTA is the largest national organization that represents the interests of 50+ educators, with a membership of more than one-million active and retired educators and school personnel at the local, state and national level. The NRTA Network includes a national office in Washington, DC, 53 state and city associations, and more than 2,700 local associations. NRTA members are dedicated to continuous educational opportunity, advocacy, and service as a means of safeguarding the economic security, work opportunities, and future well-being of all generations. Visit NRTA’s website at for more information.

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization dedicated to making life better for people 50 and over. We provide information and resources; engage in legislative, regulatory and legal advocacy; assist members in serving their communities; and offer a wide range of unique benefits, special products, and services for our members. These include AARP The Magazine, published bimonthly; AARP Bulletin, our monthly newspaper; Segunda Juventud, our quarterly newspaper in Spanish; NRTA Live and Learn, our quarterly newsletter for 50+ educators; and our Web site, We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.