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NEPC Talks Education: Exploring Why Teachers Leave the Profession of Teaching

BOULDER, CO (October 20, 2020) – In this month’s episode of the NEPC Talks Education podcast, NEPC Researcher Christopher Saldaña interviews Dr. Doris Santoro, a professor in the education department at Bowdoin College. Santoro, author of Demoralized: Why Teachers Leave the Profession They Love and How They Can Stay and co-editor of Principled Resistance: How Teachers Resolve Ethical Dilemmas, is an expert in the moral and ethical sources of teacher dissatisfaction and resistance.

Santoro argues that because researchers tend to focus on the individual characteristics of teachers when examining teachers’ decisions to stop teaching, their findings often result in explanations of teacher turnover, such as being a poor fit for the profession or no longer being drawn to teaching. She points out that these explanations cannot, however, explain why teachers who still love teaching decide to leave it.

Santoro argues that teacher demoralization offers a better conceptual frame for understanding why teachers who love teaching decide to exit the profession. She explains that, in contrast to an individual-focused theory such as teacher “burnout,” teacher demoralization requires researchers to consider what characteristics of a teacher’s teaching environment and context might undermine the moral and ethical reasons that motivated them to join the profession in the first place. For example, Santoro explains that teachers are often demoralized by school practices and policies such as tracking and scripted curricula that diminish their agency and reinforce inequity. She is particularly concerned for teachers now, as they attempt to address the serious inequities posed by remote learning.

Santoro encourages teachers to think about the moral and ethical reasons they joined the profession, and consider how they can emphasize and reinforce those values in their everyday practice. She recommends that teachers form communities of like-minded educators and use these communities as a means of strength and support. She also encourages policymakers and school leaders to listen to teachers, especially their concerns about what practices and policies they find to be most demoralizing. For example, in response to the pandemic, Santoro argues that an important way to support teachers is to ensure that all students have access to the tools they need to connect with their teacher during remote learning.

A new NEPC Talks Education podcast episode, hosted by Christopher Saldaña, will be released each month from September through May. 

Don’t worry if you miss a month. All episodes are archived on the NEPC website and can be found here.

NEPC podcast episodes are also available on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher, under the title NEPC Talks Education. Subscribe and follow!

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: