Teacher Burnout in Black and White

Martin Haberman
Distinguished Professor
University of Wisconsin
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Causes of Teacher Stress and Burnout
Scholars define teacher burnout as a condition caused by depersonalization,
exhaustion and a diminished sense of accomplishment (Schwab et al. 1986). A psychological
model of how stress leads to burnout describes it as a syndrome resulting from teachers’
inability to protect themselves against threats to their self esteem and well being (Kyriacou and
Sutcliffe 1978). In this model, teachers’ coping mechanisms are activated to deal with
demands. When those coping mechanisms fail to stem the demands then stress increases and
threatens the teachers’ mental and physical well-being ultimately leading to teachers quitting or
burning out. Because many of the conditions which determine teacher effectiveness lie
outside of their control and because a high level of continual alertness is required, teaching is
a high stress job. Haberman uses a behavioral definition of burnout and defines it as a
condition in which teachers remain as paid employees but stop functioning as professionals.
They go through the motions of teaching with no emotional commitment to the task and no
sense of efficacy. They have come to believe that what they can do will make no significant
difference in the lives of their students and see no reason to continue caring or expending any
serious effort. Burnouts remain in teaching as “strong insensitives” who are able to cope with
the debilitating problems faced by their students and the negative conditions of work in
dysfunctional bureaucracies because they no longer take their failures as a sign of any
personal inadequacies. They have become detached job-holders who feel neither responsible
nor accountable for students’ behavior, learning, or anything else. Their only goal is to do the
minimum required to remain employed (Haberman,1995). While “work appears as a major
source of stress for working people, teachers appear to experience more stress through work
than non-teachers” (Cox and Brockley 1984). In-depth studies have established a clear linkage
between prolonged stress and burnout (Blasé 1986).
At the other extreme from the “strong insensitive” who stay in teaching after
experiencing burnout are the idealists who are significantly more likely to leave teaching
(Miech and Elder 1996). The explanation for the departure of idealists is that because they are
deeply committed to serving children they are more easily frustrated by the working conditions
in dysfunctional school bureaucracies which prevent them from doing what they deem best in
the teaching of their students. In 1963 the Milwaukee Intern Program became the model for the
National Teacher Corps. In the ten years (1963-1972) of the Corps’ existence approximately
100,000 college graduates with high GPAs were prepared nationally for urban teaching. These
were idealistic young, white college graduates who set out to “find” themselves by “saving”
diverse children in poverty. When they actually encountered the realities of how teachers
have to struggle against their school bureaucracies in order to serve children, over 95 percent
of them quit in five years or less (Corwin 1973). Since this was the largest, longest study ever
done in teacher education the notion that altruism can be the motivation of teachers serving
diverse children in poverty should be problematic.
The average length of a teaching career in the United States is now down to eleven
years (Stephens 2001). One quarter of all beginning teachers leave teaching within four years
(Benner 2000). The length of an urban teaching career is even less since fifty percent of
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beginners leave in five years or less (Rowan et al. 2002). But teachers who leave have less of
a negative impact on schools and students than those who burn out but remain in teaching. It
has long been established that burnouts who remain use significantly less task oriented
behavior(i.e. less hands-on, active learning), and provide fewer positive reinforcements to their
students (Koon,1971). They also have negative effects on student performance (Young 1976).
The research supports the contention that stress affects teachers’ effectiveness with students
(Blasé 1982). When teachers feel good about their work student achievement rises (Black
The persistent and pervasive nature of teacher stress studies makes it clear that
teaching has become a high stress occupation. Numerous studies of American teachers,
particularly those in urban schools, have documented the high level of stress and burnout
among teachers (Cunningham 1983). In May, 2000 the National Association of Head Teachers
in Great Britain found that 40 percent of teachers had visited doctors with stress related
problems the previous year. Twenty percent admitted to drinking too much, 15 percent
admitted to being alcoholics and 25 percent reported stress related problems such as
hypertension, insomnia, depression and gastrointestinal disorders. It was also found that a
staggering 37 percent of teacher vacancies were due to ill health (Jarvis 2002). As early as
1933 surveys of American teachers found that 17 percent of them were usually nervous and
that 11 percent of them had suffered nervous breakdowns (Hicks1933). The National
Education Association has conducted studies spanning sixty five years indicating that
teachers’ experience health problems, absenteeism and performance let-down as a result of
their working conditions (NEA,1938, 1950,1967). Since stress causes physical and emotional
problems which lead to lower teacher effort and greater teacher absenteeism, the connection
between teacher stress and student learning is a significant relationship (Ehrenberg et al.
Some stress is inevitable and may be beneficial. This is especially true in teaching where
teacher effort and enthusiasm has a positive impact on student learning. At some point
however, and this varies for individuals, too much stress is a predictor of poor teacher
performance, absenteeism and teacher turnover (West and West 1989).
The inexorable link between teacher stress and burnout leads researchers to examine the
causes of teacher stress. Based on a review of the research it can be reasonably concluded
that teacher stress is a real phenomenon that can reliably be connected to both intrinsic
causes which interact with teacher attributes and personal predispositions as well as to
external causes which exist in the actual working conditions teachers face. Both intrinsic and
extrinsic job stressors affect K-12 teachers who experience physical illness and psychological
strain on the job (Evans et al.1985).
Historically, studies have focused on external causes which are assumed to exist
independent of teacher perceptions: these include ambiguous role expectations (Kyriacou and
Sutciffe 1977); unreasonable time demands (Lortie 1975); large classes (Coates and
Thoresen1976); poor staff relations(Young 1978); inadequate buildings and facilities (Rudd
andWiseman 1962; Buckley et al. 2004); salary considerations (Gritz and Theobold 1996;Tye
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and O’Brien 2002);lack of resources, isolation and fear of violence(Brissie et al.1988); and
disruptive students (Dunham 1977;Friedman 1995). The need for administrative support is also
frequently cited as a critical condition of work (Tapper 1995). Lack of administrative support is
a category that includes but is not limited to the following teacher perceptions: principals are
“not supportive” if they do not handle discipline to the teachers’ liking; do not understand the
instructional program the teachers are trying to offer; do not provide the time and resources the
teachers believe necessary; do not value teachers’ opinions or involve them sufficiently in
decision making; do not support them in disputes with parents; or fail to listen to their problems
and suggestions.
In urban schools, teachers also use “lack of administrative support” as jargon to signify
their belief that the principal has engaged in “dumping”, or has “dumped” on them. This means
that they believe the principal has assigned too many students with discipline problems, with
special needs, those lacking in basic skills, or even too many male students to their
classrooms. Other external stress factors commonly cited include the low status of the
profession and the inadequacy of training programs which foster unreal expectations (Rudd
and Wiseman p.289). Low salaries as a cause of stress is frequently expressed by teachers as
resulting from preparing their students for colleges they cannot afford to send their own
children to, or from being forced to moonlight. Teachers who moonlight work ten or more
hours per week and believe that extra jobs take a toll on their energy and morale(Henderson
1997). Safety concerns are cited as a cause of stress and low morale by over 62 percent of
teachers in middle and high schools. So too is the need for teachers to annually spend almost
$600 of their own money for supplies and equipment they regard as necessary (Lumsden
Many factors related to the quality of school buildings affect teacher stress. A synthesis
of 53 studies pertaining to school facilities concludes that daylight fosters student achievement
(Lemasters 1997). The positive psychological and physiological effects of daylight have
heightened interest in increasing daylight in classrooms (Benya 2001). Yet, 20 percent of the
teachers in Washington, D.C. report that they cannot see out of their windows (Corcoran et al.
1988). Teachers believe that thermal comfort affects not only the quality of their teaching and
student achievement but their morale (Lackney 1999). Some of the best teachers in the
country indicated that when they could control the temperatures in their rooms their
effectiveness increased (Lowe 1990). Studies of poor indoor air quality have developed the
concept of “sick building syndrome” which affects both students and teachers. Asthma studies
show that both students and teachers lose considerable school time. Two-thirds of the
teachers in Washington, D.C. reported poor air quality as a concern. In a Chicago study that
paralleled the D.C. study, over one-quarter of Chicago teachers reported asthma and
respiratory problems as their most frequent health problem. Another 16 percent reported
health problems linked to poor air quality (Buckley et al., p12.). Noise seems to cause more
discomfort and lowered efficiency for teachers than for students (Lucas 1981). Almost 70
percent of Washington D.C. teachers report that their classrooms and hallways are so noisy
they cannot teach. Until the studies by Buckley et al. there was not a clear link between school
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facilities and teacher burnout and turnover. They use their data to contend that the benefits of
improving physical facilities may even outweigh those derived from pay increases. They argue
that since improving facilities is a one-time expense while salary increases are continuous that
capital improvements may turn out to be as cost effective in the United States as they have
proven to be in developing countries (Oliveira and Farrell 1993).
Several studies seek to weigh or rank the relative importance of the conditions of work
causing stress and finally burnout. For example, one study concludes that teachers might be
willing to take lower salaries for smaller classes (Hanushek and Lugue 2000). Others compare
the impact of salary with other conditions of work (Murnane and Olsen 1989). A few studies
combine the effects of several conditions of work with demographic factors. Hence the finding
that the school’s management of students’ misbehavior and the burden of non-teaching duties
affects more experienced teachers less than new teachers. Experienced teachers are more
concerned with maintaining their autonomy and discretion than less experienced teachers
(Macdonald 1999).
In reviews of teachers’ job satisfaction there have been differential effects of different
climates on teacher stress. Traditional, rigid bureaucratically administered schools result in low
teacher commitment and job satisfaction. Flexible schools that use collaborative problemsolving
strategies and which promote greater teacher affiliation with the school raise teacher
morale. In the more flexible schools teachers believe they can contribute to positive school
change and that their ideas will be sought after and used (Macmillan 1999).
It is clear that none of these conditions, especially difficult students, can be entirely
separated from teachers’ perceptions and interaction with these conditions: for example, a
class that is deemed too large to work with by one teacher can be managed by another; time
demands that one teacher finds impossible to meet are met by another; and most confounding
of all, students considered disruptive by some teachers are engaged and hard working in the
classrooms of other teachers. There are no conditions of work that exist independently of the
teacher’s values, perceptions and personal attributes. Rather than arbitrary distinctions
between internal and external causes of burnout therefore the more useful studies focus on the
number of teachers who regard a particular condition of work as negative and the degree to
which the particular condition impinges on their performance.

Stress in Urban Schools
In a study of teachers in urban secondary schools students’ lack of discipline and
motivation was the primary source of teacher stress and the most significant predictor of
burnout (Gonzalez 1997). In a comparable study of urban middle-school teachers, three
conditions of work were identified as significant predictors of stress: higher levels of emotional
exhaustion, a depersonalized school climate and lower levels of perceived accomplishment.
These results were equally true for both male and female teachers (Konert 1997).
Depersonalization can be defined as a school climate in which teachers perceive that their
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individual voices have no impact and that even their existence is unnoticed. For example, with
automated telephoning for substitutes it is not uncommon for no adult in a school building to
know, or particularly care, that a teacher is absent on a given day.
Teachers’ feelings of job satisfaction and years of experience were statistically significant
predictors of less stress (Konert p144). In a study of elementary school teachers, lack of social
support, classroom climate, work overload and lack of participation in decision-making were
identified as significantly related to teacher burnout. This study also compared year-round and
traditional school calendars and found no differential effects on teacher burnout (Walker 1998).
Differential effects are related to school size; stress appears to be more prevalent in larger
school systems than in smaller ones (Green-Reese et al.1991).
The coping skills needed to remain in the classroom require active problem solving
abilities. The case of special education teachers is both the area of greatest shortage and most
leavers, reporting an attrition rate of 43 percent for fully trained teachers beginning in 1993.
Those with low coping skills were most at risk of burnout or leaving. Brownell et al.(1995)
identified new special education teachers’ basic problem as an inability to provide instruction
resulting from their inability to handle discipline coupled with the fact that their most common
coping mechanisms were limited to trying to suppress problems or crying. The National
Center for Education Statistics found a correlation between teachers’ commitment and children
with special needs. Special education teachers who stay express an altruistic purpose and
deep personal obligation to serve their students. Those who leave have an unselfish regard as
well but lack the depth of conviction found in teachers who stay (NCES 1966).
In comparing stress on rural and urban teachers it was found that rural teachers perceive
too much parental contact as a source of stress while urban teachers regard the lack of
parental involvement as stressful. The major difference between the groups was that rural
teachers feel greater stress from time demands and the conditions of work, while urban
teachers attributed greater stress to student discipline and behavior problems (Abel and Sewell
1999). In 1995 the Metropolitan Life Survey of 1,011 teachers examined changes in the views
and perceptions of teachers from a previous, similar survey conducted in 1984. In this ten-year
period rural teachers perceived improvements in their work environments and expressed
positive views regarding their professional recognition and social support while urban teachers
perceived the opposite. Urban teachers perceptions were that their working conditions had
deteriorated. They also expressed less positive views regarding their professional recognition
and more negative views of their school systems’ policies, including curricula and academic
standards (Leitman et al.1995).
The Abel and Sewell study is important because it supports substantial previous literature on
teacher stress in rural versus urban schools. This study concludes that urban teachers have
greater stress and that there is a clear relationship between their stress and burnout as a result
of having difficult classes, problem students, poor classroom climate, poor working conditions,
shortage of resources, lack of recognition and inordinate demands on time leading to burnout”
(Abel and Sewell p6).
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Several recent studies argue that the focus on greater teacher accountability and high
stakes student testing has forced teachers to follow a “drill and kill” curriculum. This constant
and increasing pressure on teachers has made testing and accountability a primary cause of
teacher stress (Darling-Hammond and Sykes 2003). Teachers report stress from teaching in
schools that have been designated as failing (Figlio 2001). It must be noted however that as
teachers become more effective they are less stressed by testing. In studies of star teachers
serving Latino children in Houston, Texas and African American children in Buffalo, New York,
teachers identified as effective with diverse children in poverty did not focus or limit their
teaching to preparing their students for tests. These star teachers were able to follow best
practice rather than drill and kill and still have children whose test scores improved markedly
(Haberman 1999). While the accountability movement has certainly made teachers more
directly accountable for raising test scores and become a major cause of stress, any reading of
the total literature must inevitably conclude that the preponderance of studies still point to lack
of discipline and classroom management as the primary cause of teacher stress and burnout.
In addition to problems which exist in schools, several demographic characteristics are
also related to burnout: teachers’ age, level of education, and years married have significant
mediating effects on burnout. In one study, religiousness was identified as having a mediating
effect on burnout while lack of religiousness was identified as the most significant predictor of
burnout (Gonzalez 1997). Female teachers tend to be more satisfied with their jobs than
males; elementary teachers report less stress than secondary teachers; and younger less
experienced teachers report feelings of greater alienation, powerlessness and greater stress
(Black p4). In other words, it is possible to predict that, other things being equal, female,
elementary, older, more educated, more religious teachers who have been married for longer
periods will experience less burnout. The caveat is that experience is a mediating factor until
about the tenth year and then becomes a predictor of burnout. These findings also support the
contention that the conditions of work in schools do not exist independently but must be
strained through the perceptions and value systems of the teachers before they become either
causes of teacher burnout or simply conditions that teachers can cope with or ignore.
One indicator of how teachers feel about the conditions of work in urban schools is
where the teachers send their own children. In a study of fifty urban school districts more
teachers (29.4%) than the general public (23.4%) sent their children to non-public schools. In
twenty nine of the fifty cities the number of teachers choosing private schools for their own
children was greater than for the general public. The disparity was greatest in Rochester, New
York where 37.5 percent of the teachers and only 14.6 percent of the general public chose
private over public schools (Doyle et al. 2004).
The costs to the school systems of teacher turnover have been escalating on an
unbroken upward trend line for the last thirty years. In earlier studies teacher stress and
burnout were computed in terms of the cost of simply hiring substitute teachers (Bruno 1983).
More recently the costs of teacher attrition have been expanded to include the costs of
recruiting, hiring and processing new teachers. The current estimate is that teacher stress and
turnover now costs school districts 2.6 billion dollars annually. The researchers make a case
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that this is an underestimate. (Alliance for Education 2004). A legitimate claim can be made
that these are public funds intended for children and youth in urban school districts which
claim to be under funded and redirecting 2/6 billion dollars annually to a continuous process of
hiring quitters and failures is a misappropriation of funds..
Urban Teachers Who Leave
Studies of quitters and leavers identify stress factors as the explanation of why
teachers leave a particular school system or teaching entirely. A typical list of why teachers
say they leave is very similar to the factors identified in the stress literature and includes:
overwhelming workload, discipline problems, low pay, little respect, lack of administrative
support and the clerical workload. Not surprisingly, the most commonly cited reasons refer to
the difficulty of managing children and poor working conditions. The difficult working conditions
in many urban schools do discourage beginning (and experienced) teachers but such
complaints also raise questions about the validity of these responses, the maturity of the
teacher-leavers making these responses and the quality of the teacher preparation offered
those who give these reasons for leaving. The reason for concern over the authenticity of the
reasons offered for leaving urban schools is that the negative conditions of work are well
known even to the general public and must surely have been know to the teachers accepting
positions. Indeed, interviews of high school students indicate quite clearly that even young
adolescents are well aware of the negative conditions under which their teachers work.
(Florida State Department of Education, 1985) Quitters and leavers who offer these reasons
for terminating their employment and those who accept and analyze these responses as the
complete explanations make the findings of studies on why teachers quit or fail highly
While poor working conditions most certainly do contribute to teachers leaving, indepth
interviews reported by Haberman of quitters and failures from schools serving diverse
children in urban poverty over the past 45 years reveal other additional explanations for
leaving than those gleaned from superficial questionnaires, surveys and brief exit interviews.
Based on actual classroom observations of failing teachers by Haberman/Post in the
Metropolitan Multicultural Teacher Education Program between 1992 and 2003, there are
more basic reasons for leaving than those gained from typical exit interviews. (Haberman and
Post 1998). Leavers are understandably chary about having anything on their records that they
believe might make it difficult for them to get a reference for a future job. They seek to avoid
saying things that might make them appear prejudiced toward children of color or their families.
It takes an hour or longer for skilled interviewers to establish rapport, trust and an open
dialogue in order to extract more authentic and less superficial reasons for why teachers leave.
For example, the quitter’s citation of “discipline and classroom management problems” as the
reason for leaving takes on new meaning when one learns what the respondent really means
by “discipline problems” or “problem” students. In typical surveys quitters and failures
frequently mention the challenge of working with “difficult” students and this comment is simply
noted or checked or counted. In in-depth interviews where rapport has been established, this
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cause is amplified by leavers into more complete explanations of why discipline and classroom
management are difficult for them. Leavers make statements such as, “I really don’t see myself
spending the rest of my life working with ‘these’ children.” or “It’s clear that ‘these’ children
don’t want me as their teacher.” When the reasons for the disconnect between themselves and
the children are probed further, leavers will frequently make statements such as the following:
“These kids will never learn standard English.” or “My mother didn’t raise me to listen to ‘m.f.’
all day.” or “These children could not possibly be Christians.” or “These kids are just not willing
or able to follow the simplest directions.”(Haberman, 2004).
The comments of quitters and leavers which may have at first appeared to indicate a simple,
straightforward lack of skills on the part of a neophyte still learning to maintain discipline, can
now be recognized as actually representing much deeper issues. Rather than a simple matter
which can be corrected by providing more training to caring beginning teachers who
understandably just need some tips on classroom management and more experience, an
irreconcilable chasm between these teachers and their students is uncovered. Teacher
attrition increases as the number of minority students increases (Rollefson 1990). According to
the National Center for Education Statistics (1998) schools with 50 percent or more minority
students experience twice the turnover rate as schools with lower minority populations. In a
study of 375,000 primary teachers over a three year period researchers found that the greatest
tendency of leavers was to switch to schools with fewer minority students, higher test scores
and smaller percentages of low-income students (Hanushek et al.2002). The same results are
obtained when questions are posed in positive terms: that is, when is teacher satisfaction
greatest? “Teachers report greatest satisfaction working in schools with students who have
high test scores, high graduation rates and where 81 percent or more of the students are
working on grade level.”(Teacher Quality Southeast 2003). These are also schools serving
predominantly white students who are not from low income families.
Quitters and leavers cannot connect with, establish rapport, or reach diverse children in urban
poverty because at bottom they do not respect and care enough about them to want to be their
teachers. Such attitudes and perceptions are readily sensed by students who respond in kind
by not wanting ‘those’ people as their teachers. Contrary to the popular debates on what
teachers need to know to be effective, teachers in urban schools do not quit because they lack
subject matter or pedagogy. If Haberman’s contention is true, quitters and leavers know how to
divide fractions and they know how to write lesson plans. They leave because they cannot
connect with the students and it is a continuous, draining hassle for them to keep students on
task. In a very short period leavers are emotionally and physically exhausted from struggling
against resisting students for six hours every day. In the Haberman/Post classroom
observations of failing teachers they report never finding an exception to this condition: i.e. if
there is a disconnect between the teachers and their students then no mentoring, coaching,
workshop, class on discipline and classroom management, or class offering more subject
matter content can provide the teacher with the ability to control children s/he does not
genuinely respect and care about. This disconnect is most likely to occur between teachers
and diverse students in urban poverty. In truth, the graduates of traditional programs of teacher
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education are “fully qualified” only if we limit the definition of this term to mean they can pass
written tests of subject matter and pedagogy. Unfortunately while knowledge of subject matter
and pedagogy are absolutely necessary they are not sufficient conditions for being effective in
urban schools. Knowing what and how to teach only becomes relevant after the teacher has
connected and established a positive relationship with the students.
Many who give advice on how to solve the teacher shortage in urban schools frequently assert
that “these” children need to be taught by the “best and the brightest.” Unfortunately, the
typical criteria used to define “the best and the brightest” identify teachers who are precisely
those most likely to quit and fail in urban schools. The majority of early leavers are individuals
with higher I.Q.s, GPAs, and standardized test scores than those who stay; more have also
had academic majors (Darling-Hammond and Sclan 1996). Teachers who earn advanced
degrees within the prior two years leave at the highest rates (Boe et al. 1997). Those who see
teaching as primarily an intellectual activity are eight times more likely to leave the classroom
(Quartz et al. 2001). The fact that the shibboleth “best and brightest” still survives is testimony
to the fact that many prefer to maintain their pet beliefs about teacher education in spite of the
facts. In effect, the criteria typically used to identify the “best and brightest” are powerful, valid
identifiers of failures and quitters in urban schools.
There is a degree of unreality in the expectations of beginning teachers that leads
them to believe that while there will be stressful problems that they personally should be able
to avoid them. When asked about the conditions of work they would like to have they state that
“they want to work in schools with involved parents, well-behaved students, small classes and
supportive administrations” (Public Agenda Online 2004). The available positions however are
extremely unlikely to be in schools where these are the typical conditions of work. This
disconnect between new teacher education graduates and the needs of the schools serving
diverse children in urban poverty is demonstrated by the number of “fully qualified” graduates
who take jobs and by how long they last. Only 58 percent of the newly certified graduates even
take teaching jobs (Yasin 1999) and of those who teach in the 120 largest urban districts fifty
percent leave in five years or less. In some states (e.g. New York) only 27 percent of the “fully
qualified” even take jobs (Yasin p3). The disconnect between preparation and practice appears
to be a systemic breakdown.
Teacher Ethnicity Burnout and Attrition
Of the more than 53 million children in the public schools about 30 percent are living in
poverty. Seven million of them are concentrated in the 120 largest schools districts. The
numbers who are members of linguistic or racial/ethnic minority groups is 35 percent and will
reach 40 percent by the end of this decade. Of the nearly three million teachers, counselors
and administrators approximately 5 percent are African Americans, down from 12 percent in
the 1960’s (Wilson and Butty 1999). “Improvements in the recruitment of Hispanic American,
Asian American and Native American teachers have been offset by this decline in the
recruitment of African American teachers”(Darling-Hammond 1999, p289).
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A summary of the research literature in Texas found that: 1) neither written competency
exams nor certification predicted teacher quality in the classroom; 2) there were no differences
in the classroom performances of teachers with bachelors or masters degrees; 3) teachers’
classroom experience is the most important source of teacher capacity; and 4) it takes 6-7
years of experience for teachers to fully develop the requisite skills and knowledge. The most
important finding of this research review was that “Hispanic and African American teachers are
able to maximize student performance for classrooms where the teacher’s ethnicity is
dominant among the classroom student population”(Lopez 1995). If fifty percent of new
teachers leave in five years or less then students will not have many teachers who complete
the 6 or 7 years of experience needed to reach the level of full skill development. Further, if
over eighty percent of teacher candidates in traditional university based programs of teacher
education are white, the finding that Hispanic and African American teachers maximize
students’ performance cannot be implemented. The question is whether these data are
confined to the State of Texas or represent the situation nationally. The likelihood is that they
are representative of the 120 major urban school districts.
A summary of the research literature in California projects a student population of 6.2
million children, 70 percent of whom will be students of color by the year 2007. There is a need
for almost thirty thousand teachers per year in that state’s 1,055 school districts. Yet the
recruitment of teacher candidates of color is simply not happening (Keleher 1999). In 1999 the
number of teacher candidates in California passing the Professional Assessments for
Beginning Teachers (Praxis Exam) was 49.3 percent for whites, 31.6 for Asian Americans,
27.5 for Mexican Americans, 25.7 percent for other Latinos and 18 percent for African
American. If California is representative of the nation there is both a shrinking pool of teacher
candidates of color and a smaller pool that pass the required state exams for licensure. A few
states are trying to fight this trend with financial aid and tutoring programs for minorities in
university based programs. The most powerful recruitment of minorities however continues to
occur in on-the-job training programs where adult minorities can be paid while they learn on
the job. (Keleher p12).
A ten-year study of 315,442 graduates of public universities in Florida tracked the top ten
discipline choices producing African American graduates. Over the decade studied health
science and computer science majors increased and education majors decreased as a
percentage of graduates. For African American, white and Hispanic males business,
engineering and social sciences remained the top three disciplines. For females, business and
education remained the most frequently chosen. This study supports the literature (USDOE
1997) that minorities choose majors in fields that are higher paying and which enable them to
recover the costs of their college educations. The study also corroborates the literature that in
their motivation for choosing majors “the differences between men and women are greater
than the differences among race and ethnic groups” (Pitter et al.2003).
The question of how to recruit more teachers of color has stymied traditional university
based teacher preparation. With the advent of alternative routes more minorities are entering
teaching but the problem has not been “solved” if the goal is to have a teaching force
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representative of the children being taught. This leads to further analysis of the literature on
motivation for entering teaching and why whites or individuals of color chose to become
The few studies of when African Americans decide to become teachers indicates that
approximately 25 percent decide when they are in elementary school and about half when they
are in college. The source of their motivation is relatives, primarily mothers and children. Those
who discourage them most are college peers (King 1993). Difficult working conditions and the
lure of other
Occupations seemed to influence males more than females. One study of a talented cohort of
African American teachers concluded that to attract others like themselves would require
providing a great deal more encouragement than is currently typical in the recruiting
process(King p6).
Among white populations, teaching diverse children in urban schools has declined in
status so that while white women still predominate they represent lower socioeconomic levels
and lower educational achievements than in the past(Lanier and Little 1986; King 1993b).
These data are supported by the fact that many white teacher candidates are the first
generation college graduates in their families and that with the opening up of higher status
professions to women over the last forty years (medicine, law, business, engineering,
architecture and others), women students from higher socioeconomic levels and those with
stronger educational achievements have not entered teaching, particularly teaching of diverse
children in poverty. Among people of color however teaching retains some degree of status. In
a study of motivation for teaching among 124 African American college students it was found
that the historical respect given teachers remains. Respondents indicated that family members
encouraged them to become teachers. The salary and benefits of the job itself also was a
motivating factor. Among African Americans and Hispanics there is a higher proportion of low
income individuals than whites who perceive a salary range of $30,000-$60,000 per year as a
good salary and fringe benefits which now typically exceed 50 percent as high. The important
difference in motivation however was not between ethnic or racial groups but between males
and females. This is also true for African Americans. In addition to the typical reasons offered
for considering teaching, African American males who do decide to enter teaching perceive of
themselves as role models while females claim to be motivated by their love of
children(Bauman 2002).
A summary of the literature explaining the shortage of African American teachers makes
four basic arguments: first, that elementary and secondary education is inferior for people of
color and therefore produces fewer graduates and fewer graduates with the basic skills
requisite for higher education; second, that there is declining enrollment in the historically
Black colleges that are more supportive and can get their students through college; third, that
there are now wider opportunities for African Americans college graduates to enter higher
status, higher paying careers than teaching; and finally, that the widespread and growing use
of competency and other forms of testing for licensure discriminate against minorities(King
1993). There is widespread agreement, supported by data, that three of these arguments are
Distribution is permitted only with express written permission from the author. © The Haberman Educational Foundation, 2004
valid. The fourth contention, that testing by states and universities is unfairly keeping minorities
out of teaching is still debated on the methodological grounds used in these studies and by the
argument that the commonly used tests have been standardized with diverse populations, and
are race neutral and valid(Cizek 1995).
The empiric studies explaining the causes of why teachers either burnout and stay, or
leave teaching entirely do not identify different causes for whites, African Americans and
teachers of other ethnic groups. There is a substantial and growing literature of case studies,
exploratory studies and qualitative studies which do seek to provide insight into the causes of
burnout and leaving among the various ethnic groups. Typically, such studies make the
following argument. First, that schools represent European-American culture, even urban
schools serving predominantly diverse children in poverty; that this “cultural imperialism” is
accomplished by means of the curriculum content as well as by the policies and procedures by
which schools are organized and function; that this school culture is antithetic to both minority
children and their teachers, causing lower levels of achievement and higher frequency of
suspensions and dropouts and greater stress among minority teachers. Second, that in these
schools dominated by European American culture, African American teachers, especially male
teachers, are made spokespersons and required to represent the “Black” perspective. Being
put in the position of cultural representative or spokesperson is identified as a source of stress.
The argument is that forcing members of minority groups to serve as spokespersons supports
the dominant culture group’s stereotypes and maintains a fictitious view of African Americans.
The third part of the argument is that the testing and evaluation used in schools is unfair to
students of color and causes greater stress among teachers particularly among teachers of
color who are perceived as representative of their group. The final part of the argument is that
there is not a critical mass of African American teachers who understand these dynamics and
who can serve as an advocacy group with sufficient voice to transform schools and align their
curricula, policies and culture with the cultures of minority students (Madsen 2000). There is
little in the literature to explain why these conditions result in greater stress for African
American males than females, apart from the argument in the Bauman review which supports
the contention those African American males explain their motivation to become teachers as
driven by their need to serve as role models. More study is needed to define more precisely
and specifically what serving as a role model actually means in behavioral terms. For example,
there might well be differential effects among teachers who define role models differently. Is
a role model one who has succeeded in the dominant European American culture? Is he a
model of someone who can succeed in two cultures? Is he a model of someone who pursues
learning to develop a particular talent? Is he a model of someone who is willing to sacrifice
status and money to serve others? Is he a model of someone who seeks to function as a
community leader? This “role model” motivation is directed at teaching in urban schools. In a
study of 140 African American teachers in suburban schools their primary motivation for
teaching was similar to whites; i.e. “imparting knowledge” (Wilson and Butty p280).
Several studies have found the reasons African Americans enter teaching are essentially
the same as those of whites. They argue that altruism may not necessarily lead to competence
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so the fact that most African American males choose fields outside of education because they
are motivated by salary and advancement should not preclude them from being recruited.
They may still become good teachers (Shipp 1999). Others argue that since approximately 25
percent of teachers are now recruited at the post-baccalaureate level that this is the greatest
pool from which to recruit African American teachers (Clewell and Vallegas 1999). One tenyear
follow-up study of college graduates from fields outside of education who were working
as paraprofessionals demonstrated that this could be a viable population for preparing
outstanding teachers. After ten years 94 percent of this pool comprised of 74 percent African
Americans was still working as classroom teachers in a highly bureaucratic urban district with
debilitating conditions of work. (Haberman, 1999).
There is a growing literature of stories depicting the struggle of individual African
Americans as they have pursued teaching careers. These include first person reports as well
as biographies. The stories have a literary and an inspirational quality and are focused on how
barriers of discrimination and poverty were overcome. The generalization one might infer from
these stories is that great people who want to teach will encounter horrendous obstacles but
will overcome them by commitment, perseverance and ability (Foster 1997). Stories of
personal heroism and sacrifice however are different from analyses of specifically how
dysfunctional urban school bureaucracies cause stress, burnout and attrition, and whether
their debilitating impact is different for African Americans or whites. Stories of great teachers
also underscore the fact that these are also great people and leads to the question of whether
two million such heroes can be found and hired between 2000 and 2010.
A review of the studies focusing on teacher stress indicates beyond any reasonable
doubt that classroom management and discipline are cited most frequently and ranked highest
as the most pervasive cause of teacher burnout. It is also the most continuously cited teacher
concern and begins dominating teachers’ perceptions from student teaching (Roy 1974)
through retirement (Morton et al.1997).
The second most powerful cause of stress has to do with teachers’ perceptions of
administrative support. This is a category of reasons that represents disparities between what
teachers believe principals should be doing and what teachers perceive administrators actually
doing to facilitate teachers’ work. This category is also affected by the climate a principal has
established in a school regarding the role of teachers and the specific behaviors they are
expected and not expected to perform.
Stress is greater in urban schools than rural ones. At the same time, teachers’
different personal characteristics lead them to leave burnout or cope with the very same
objective conditions of work. The attributes which predict burnout, coping or quitting include
age, sex, educational level, grade level taught, years of experience, religiousness,
race/ethnicity, class and commitment to serving children.
The fact that most teachers are white and that most stress and burnout occurs in
schools serving predominantly diverse children in poverty is highly significant. So too is the fact
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that the highest attrition rates for new teachers is in schools serving minority populations. This
relationship between teacher stress and burnout with greater student diversity and lower
socioeconomic level has been documented for twenty five years (Goodman 1980). This trend
of traditional teacher education graduates not being able to serve diverse children in poverty in
large urban school bureaucracies has not only been thoroughly documented but has continued
to worsen during this period. This in spite of the fact that it is widely known that effective
recruitment and selection can reduce job stress. Using screening devices with predictive
validity can create a better fit between teachers’ abilities and the demands placed on them in
bureaucratic school systems. A mismatch between system demands and teacher abilities due
to poorly conceived and executed recruitment and selection procedures results in heightened
stress levels with negative effects on teachers, students and school system (Wiley 2000).
A set of studies supporting the contention that matching teacher and student ethnicity
correlates with greater student learning is beginning to accumulate. The evidence indicates
that higher teacher retention and greater student achievement is based on positive teacherstudent
relationships. Since minority teachers relate more effectively with minority students the
potential exists for less burnout and attrition to occur if the teaching force were more
representative of the students. It would be incorrect, however, on the basis of existing
evidence to conclude that simple racial or ethnic matching will decrease teacher attrition and
close the achievement gap for diverse children in poverty. If “the” solution were one of simple
background matching then school districts such as Washington D.C. or Newark, N.J. where
teachers and students are from the same ethnic backgrounds would be among the highest
achieving districts rather than among the lowest. The issue of socioeconomic class differences
which separate teachers and students of the same cultural background and which intrude upon
the ability of teachers to connect with their students also prevents teachers from establishing
the basic relationship required for teaching and learning. There is a paucity of studies dealing
with the effects of differences between teachers and students in terms of socioeconomic class.
The literature does not identify differences in the motivation to teach which are related to
race or ethnicity however the historical difference between males and females of all
backgrounds remains significant. Teaching is still perceived as a female occupation and this
perception is supported by the content and organization of teacher training and by the ways in
which the work of schoolteachers is organized and administered. In areas where some
maleness creeps in (math and science secondary teaching) the shortages have been
historically greatest and continuous.
The forces that push and pull African Americans into or away from teaching do not seem
to differ substantially from whites. Neither do the forces that have thus far been identified as
causing stress and burnout. The explanation of the shortage of African American teachers is
attributed to the fact that there is a much smaller and shrinking pool of African American males
to begin with; that the pipeline from K-12 through university graduation is not increasing; and
that African American males who are college graduates have greater access to higher paying
higher status careers.
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At this point the literature can inform us of the causes of stress and burnout,
provide some descriptions of the especially debilitating conditions of teaching in urban schools,
and summarize the reasons teachers give for entering and leaving teaching. There is no
current data base to support any expectation that the ethnic/racial gap between white
teachers and students of color will be overcome given the demographics of teacher
preparation and the conditions of work in bureaucratic, failing school districts. This raises at
least three issues worthy of further study. Can the attributes which enable effective teachers to
relate to diverse children in poverty and remain working in failing school systems be taught, or,
should the selection of future teachers focus on individuals who already have these attributes?
Given the conditions under which teachers must work in highly bureaucratic school systems
and which make burnout and attrition a highly predictable process, what are the most powerful
mitigating factors which might counteract or slow down these processes? Do the conditions of
work in bureaucratic school systems have differential affects on African American and white
teachers? Building a data base which answers these questions will enable schools to stop the
churn of teachers coming and going at the expense of the children.
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