Why do they stay? A phenomenological study of secondary science teacher experiences Open Access
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In 2004, The U.S. Department of Education reported that 20% of schoolteachers (public and private) leave their classrooms during the first year of teaching, and nearly twice as many leave within the first three years of teaching (Koppich, 2004). According to the 2007 Condition of Education report, the U.S. Department of Education estimated there were nearly 380,000 public school math and science teachers during the 2003-2004 school year, and of those, approximately 23,000 left the teaching profession the following school year. Yet despite these reports, in 2004-2005, approximately 360,000 public school math and science teachers remained in their classrooms. In this phenomenological dissertation study, I sought to discover how eight secondary science teachers (whose years of teaching experience range from five to 30 years) make meaning of their decisions to remain in teaching. Through semi-structured interviews, these teacher participants and I discussed how each of them decided to become a science teacher, how each of them think of themselves as a science teacher, and how each of them decided to remain teaching despite the ever-growing list of challenges (s)he faces in and out of his/her classroom. These teacher participants chose to become science teachers because they loved their subject area and working with secondary students. These teachers enjoyed working with their students and their teaching colleagues. However, they acknowledged there were also tensions and frustrations in their work, including not feeling supported by school and district administrators and being overwhelmed with the demands of their workload and time. These eight science teachers chose to remain classroom teachers because they have a profound love for their students, a deep admiration for their colleagues, and a strong sense of mission in their work. It is my intent that the stories shared by the teacher participants in this study will shed light upon concerns, tensions and experiences that are critical in supporting, encouraging and sustaining the work of new and experienced science teachers in their classrooms. This work also contributes to the research literature in the realms of teacher education, teacher attrition and retention, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.