Why do teachers stay in the profession? Clue: it's not for the pay

By Will Hazell on 09 August 2017

Teaching veterans less likely to identify pay and holidays as reasons for entering and staying in the profession compared to newer starters

Teachers who serve the longest are motivated to stay in the profession because they think they are good at it and believe they can make a difference, rather than because of the long holidays or pay, researchers have found.

According to a new study, shorter serving teachers are more likely to identify pay and holidays as reasons for entering and remaining in the profession.

In a paper published in the British Educational Research Journal, researchers from the University of Cambridge, LKMco, and Education Datalab sought to understand why long-serving teachers enter and stay in the profession.

The researchers surveyed over a thousand individuals on their motivations, as well as conducting in-depth interviews with 14 teachers.

Survey participants were asked whether a range of factors were important or not important to their decision to enter and stay in teaching.

The study found that the longest serving teachers were most motivated by factors which were “intrinsic” (finding the process of teaching and their subject enjoyable), “altruistic” (finding teaching socially meaningful) and related to “professional mastery” (teachers’ belief in their own ability to teach).

While shorter serving teachers also identified these as the most important factors, they attributed greater significance to “extrinsic” factors such as pay and holidays than the longer serving teachers.

For example, while 26 per cent of the shortest serving teachers (those who had served under 10 years) identified “holidays/time off” as an important reason for staying in teaching, only 18 per cent of the longest serving teachers (those who had served over 30 year) did so.

Conversely, 66 per cent of the longest serving teachers said they were motivated to stay in teaching because they think they are good at it, compared to just 47 per cent of those with the least experience.

Subject interest was another factor which split the longest and shortest serving teachers, with 62 per cent of the former identifying it as an important factor but only 46 per cent of the latter.

And 62 per cent of the most experienced teachers said they were staying in the profession to “make a difference to pupils’ lives” compared to 55 per cent of the shorter serving teachers.

On reasons for entering the profession, 9 per cent of newer teachers identified pay as important, compared to just 5 per cent of the longest serving teachers.

“The more years of teaching experience, the less important extrinsic reasons became, both in why teachers enter and why they stay in teaching,” the paper concludes.

The researchers speculate there could be multiple explanations for this pattern. It could be because “longer-serving teachers are able to see the wider impacts of their work and thus have stronger identification with intrinsic and altruistic reasons”.

Less positively, the researchers suggest the longest serving teachers could be more likely to “virtue-signal” about their “sustained, heavy commitment to the profession” by describing their motivations in “elevated, virtuous-sounding terms”.

It could also be possible that the extrinsic motivations like pay and holidays become “de rigeuer and less noticeable to longer-serving teachers with time”, the paper suggests.