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Former teachers’ return to classroom feeds workforce, gender differences prevalent

by Sep. 26, 2012, 10:09 AM

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Former teachers may be an important source for the teacher labor supply, with as many as 30 percent of this population re-entering the field at some point, but who is most likely to return to the classroom after a hiatus?

New research from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College examines what factors affect teachers’ decisions to re-enter the teaching profession after leaving and found that family characteristics are key predictors, especially for women.

“We often worry about where we are going to get great teachers,” Jason Grissom, assistant professor of public policy and education and author of the study, which will be featured in the upcoming issue of Education Finance and Policy, said. “This research illustrates that former teachers are one place to look. A lot of people who leave the profession will come back to it if the conditions are right.”

Significant gender differences exist among those leaving from and returning to the teaching field. Men who leave the teaching profession are more likely to enter into other career fields, while women who leave teaching are more likely to leave the workforce altogether. Moreover, women are more likely than men to return to teaching at some point after leaving the profession.

The researchers found that child rearing plays a critical role in this gender difference. Women are less likely to return to the profession with young children at home, but these same considerations did not affect male teachers’ work decisions.

“The impact of child rearing is very specific to female teachers,” Grissom said. “The presence of a preschool-age or younger child at home is strongly predictive of women staying out of the workforce.”

With young children at home as an indicator of the length of teachers’ spells out of the profession, the researchers concluded that policies focused on the needs of teachers with young children may be effective ways for districts to attract returning teachers.

Other key findings among teachers who left and later returned to the teaching profession include:

  • Teachers who are more highly paid at the time of exit are more likely to return.
  • Those who are more experienced at the time of exit are more likely to return.
  • The older the teacher is upon exiting, the less likely he or she is to return.
  • Being married positively predicts reentry for female teachers but negatively predicts reentry for men.

The researchers analyzed the reentry for exiting teachers using data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth, which is managed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is a representative sample of 12,686 men and women who were between the ages of 14-22 when the survey began in 1979. Of this group, 970 respondents were teachers at some point in the study timeframe.

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