JITE v38n4 - On Retention of Secondary Trade and Industrial Education Teachers: Voices from the Field

Volume 38, Number 4
Summer 2001

On Retention of Secondary Trade and Industrial Education Teachers: Voices from the Field

Mary Jo Crawford Self
Oklahoma State University

A 1997 study released by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future included statistics in relation to both vocational and academic teachers. This report gave a painfully clear message of the need to reform teacher preparation and certification. More than 12% of all newly hired teachers enter the workforce without any training at all. Another 15% enter without having fully met state standards. More than 50,000 people who lack the training for their job enter the teaching profession each year on emergency or substandard licenses ( U.S. Department of Education, 1997 ).

The rate of teacher retention in vocational education is even more revealing. Of every 100 new vocational teachers, about 15 leave the profession after the first year and approximately 50 leave within six years ( Heath-Camp & Camp, 1990 ). Such a high attrition rate is problematic, and it is especially troubling when one considers that many of those leaving the teaching profession are the most gifted. An even more disturbing finding is that many of those most qualified to teach never enter the field ( Odell & Ferraro, 1992 ).

The field of trade and industrial (T&I) education comprises about 20% of the secondary vocational teaching force ( Lynch, 1997 ). T&I teachers who have both industry experience and pedagogical expertise are traditionally difficult to find ( Walker, Gregson, & Frantz, 1996 ). Vocational teachers who enter the profession directly from business and industry with limited or no teacher preparation face problems of a greater magnitude and have a more difficult time during the induction years ( Camp & Heath, 1988 ).

Other factors exacerbate this situation:

1. A severe shortage coupled with an increased demand in specific occupational areas of the field of secondary T&I education exists ( Lynch, 1996a ; Roth, 1994 ).

2. Considerable resources at both the local and state levels are expended on beginning vocational teachers, only to have them leave shortly after they have entered the teaching profession ( Lynch, 1996b ).

3. High attrition rates among secondary T&I teachers negatively impact the respective students, programs, and industries they serve ( Lynch, 1996b ; Walker, Gregson, & Frantz, 1996 ).

Clearly, this culminates in programs that may be inconsistent, students who are less than prepared to compete in a global marketplace, and teachers who are less than qualified and who suffer from stress and adjustment problems.


Described as complex work characterized by simultaneity, unpredictability, and multidimensionality, teaching is a difficult task. For decades, the transition from college supervised teaching to independent classroom teaching has posed problems for the beginning teacher ( Johnson & Ryan, 1980 ). Requirements and expectations of independent classroom teaching are so numerous and varied that they overpower the novice teacher, whose primary concern to date has been "presenting the lesson." The literature is full of case studies and anecdotes that reflect adjustment difficulties faced by teachers entering the profession. To complicate matters, most first-year teachers tend to be both idealistic in their thinking about and unrealistic in their expectations of independent teaching. Consequently, many of these first-year teachers become easily disillusioned and frustrated ( Calliari, 1990 ). In addition, some suffer symptoms of heightened stress and anxiety ( Johnson & Ryan, 1980 ).

Experienced teachers, who could be of assistance to novices, are often aging and habit-bound. Little social support is given to the new teacher, which can lead to feelings of dislocation and loneliness, of compromise and inadequacy - feelings that cause new teachers to question their commitment to teaching ( Moran, 1990 ). Not wishing to appear incompetent, new teachers do not ask for assistance. This isolation is so common that some authors have dubbed education "the profession that eats its young" ( Halford, 1998 ). Beginning teachers may have educational philosophies that are simplistic, yet are expected to be responsive, responsible, vigorous, compassionate, and competent from the start ( Moran, 1990 ). Such is frequently the case for T&I teachers, who are often alternatively or provisionally certified.

Trade and industrial education has a more than seventy-five year history of using a nontraditional or alternative approach to preparing its workforce. In the vast majority of instances, T&I teachers do not have to follow the same teacher preparation or state licensure rules as other teachers. T&I teachers are hired because of technical expertise and experience in a craft or a profession.

Camp and Heath ( 1988 ) have noted that beginning vocational teachers who enter the profession with certification based on occupational experience rather than through teacher education degree programs present unique challenges in terms of teacher induction. Without the benefit of teacher education and experiences such as student teaching, they are put directly into the classroom. Camp and Heath concluded that nontraditionally certified vocational education teachers need much more assistance than is frequently provided them, which only adds to the already challenging task of teaching.

These teachers also face the struggle with a crisis of professional identity. Vocational education teachers tend to have less formal education and more work experience than academic teachers. This tendency is heavily concentrated in T&I education. Some 45% of T&I teachers have less than a bachelor's degree. This is not typical of other vocational fields such as business, marketing, or agriculture. However, secondary T&I teachers do have more than twice as much occupational experience as other secondary vocational teachers, with an average of 17 years, as compared to 8 years for other vocational teachers ( Lynch, 1997 ).

As a general rule, in organizations (including schools) people make decisions based on the level of satisfaction, or perceiving the positives to be greater than the negatives. Teachers resolve the question of whether to remain in education through "satisficing" rather than through optimizing. Frequent teacher turnover threatens school reform efforts, adds to the perception that education is not valued by our society, and results in a continuing negative effect ( Hoy & Miskel, 1991 ).

Both intrinsic and extrinsic factors affect a teacher's satisfaction. Intrinsic satisfaction can come from the psyche of the teacher and stem from daily activities within the classroom, while extrinsic factors include salary, perceived support from administrators, school safety, and availability of school resources. Other factors that influence teacher satisfaction are supportive school environments, workplace conditions that are free from violence, and recognition from administration of a job well done. Satisfied teachers, according to the literature, are those who would: (a) choose to be teachers if they could do it all over again; (b) keep teaching as long as they are able; and (c) strongly disagree that teaching is a waste of their time.

One national organization has led the charge that T&I teachers are professionals and should be prepared and certified by the use of standards. The National Association of Industrial and Technical Teacher Educators (NAITTE) has proposed a set of teacher preparation and certification standards. Using these standards as a benchmark and a method of determining common ground, a universally accepted level of proficiency for T&I teachers would emerge. Two types of NAITTE standards exist: one, which addresses the process of T&I teacher education, and another, which focuses on curriculum content and instructional aspects of preparation. Basic principles of adult education and the concept of lifelong learning come into play as courses are customized to meet the learner's needs by basing them on life experiences. A multilevel professional development program (career ladder) for the continued growth and development of the teacher is proposed. Each level has increasing proficiency as well as additional education and is recognized by the completion of a formal degree. The culmination would be a master's degree with five years of successful teaching experience with permanent T&I education certification, including state-to-state reciprocity ( Frantz, Gregson, Friedenberg, Walter, & Miller, 1996 ).

Farmer and Burrow ( 1990 ) suggest a similar, clinical approach to credentialing T&I teachers. One unique characteristic of these clinical-based models is a differentiated staffing pattern using a field-based program. This pattern would allow a beginning teacher to not have total daily responsibility for the classroom but rather to be non-tenured with limited teaching responsibilities. The person would be used in non-instructional roles supporting other teachers until competence in the core curriculum is certified. Then, under the guidance of a master teacher, the beginning teacher would gradually begin taking a fuller instructional role. This model would alleviate the concern that many current teachers have not had the opportunity to watch other teachers in action ( Farmer & Burrow, 1990 ).

The kind of learning needed by beginning teachers cannot be separated from practice or from college classrooms. In essence, beginning teachers need a much different experience than they had as students. Opportunities need to be provided for teachers to study, do, reflect, look closely at students and their work, collaborate with other teachers, and share what they have seen. The "rub between theory and practice" ( Miller & Silvernail, 1994 , p.6) will occur and be most productive when questions arise in the context of real students and work in progress, and where research and disciplined inquiry are also at hand ( Darling-Hammond, 1998 ).

Description of the Study

Directing this research study was the complex question of why secondary T&I teachers leave the teaching profession at a higher rate than any other group of vocational educators. Tremendous resources are spent at the local and state level to assimilate these teachers into the system, but often with mixed results. For vocational administrators, one of the biggest challenges in day-to-day implementation of effective teaching practices and supervision of faculty are those teachers who come directly from business and industry with no pedagogical foundation upon which to function.


Qualitative research is able to provide much more than numerical data and statistical information. It enables both the researcher and the reader to examine the deeper meanings of an individual's life experiences. The focus of sound research should be the question, not the approach ( Potter, 1996 ). Researchers who focus on the approach must continually translate their question into the limitations of the approach, and as a result their answers are sometimes less insightful. "The more scholars in the field who are question focused, the less important the methods debate will become and the more interesting the insights about the phenomenon will be" ( Potter, 1996 , p. 332). The "gold standard" for qualitative research is the standard for all research: presenting a problem that has theoretical and/or practical significance in a believable and meaningful way ( Miller & Dingwall, 1997 , p. 25).

Qualitative research using a bounded case study was chosen as the method of research for the following reasons:

1. The desire of the researcher to holistically view the phenomenon of the high attrition rate of secondary T&I education teachers.

2. The researcher's desire to better understand human behavior and experience and the participants' perceptions of the vocational system, and of teaching in particular ( Bogdan & Biklen, 1998 ; Wiersma, 1995 ).

Population and Sample

The population was secondary T&I teachers in a midwestern state who had left the teaching profession voluntarily rather than through non-renewal of their teaching contract. Two different methods were used to obtain names of these individuals. The first method was the sending of a letter with a self-addressed stamped envelope to vocational administrators throughout the state. Thirty letters were sent, with 25 responses received. Two individuals did not submit names, perceiving that to do so would violate the privacy rules concerning personnel. The second method was to contact the state-level agency with responsibility for supervision of these teachers. Names were submitted by both the state program administrator for the T&I division and a long-time administrative assistant, and the two lists were combined and checked for duplication. A total of 33 names were obtained in a purposefully selected sample. The researcher assigned pseudonyms to the participants in order to add "humanness" to the data and to insure anonymity.

Out of the original 33 former teachers identified, 19 participated in interviews. Five of the original sample could not be located, three had moved out of state and were not able to be located, and six were located but chose not to participate. Four individuals who chose not to participate did so because of fear of repercussion within their trade.

Data Collection

Face-to-face interviews were used as the method of data collection for several reasons ( Merriam, 1988 ). Because the participants were no longer teaching, it was impossible to observe these teachers in their work setting or to replicate past events. The use of interviews also allowed the researcher to explore in depth certain issues, ask for clarification when needed, and be flexible to meet the needs of the participants. Permission was granted by the participants to record the interviews. The depth and vividness gained by this method could not have been gained by any other method.

Part one of the interviews was highly structured to gain demographic information. Part two combined a semi-structured technique, which made use of specific, predetermined questions, followed by unstructured questions to clarify and gain new information and allow fresh insights to emerge. Linguists call such exchanges "conversational repairs," as the researcher strives to make the interview as clear as possible ( Rubin & Rubin, 1995 ).

All of the participants seemed eager and willing to tell their stories. The interviews seemed to serve as a form of self-analysis for them, as well as an opportunity to clarify their own thoughts and experiences. Some participants became very emotional and even upset at times during the interviews. In one case, the participant had prepared an index card of notes to be certain to remember all of the points he wanted to make. The emotions stirred by the interviews surprised the participants at times, and some expressed a sense of relief at being able to "tell the story."

Mutually convenient locations and times were selected for each interview. Locations included places of work, restaurants, or interviewees' homes. Nineteen individuals were interviewed and all interviews were recorded and transcribed. Data from one participant was eliminated after the interview was conducted. This participant had taught three years and at the end of the third year his contract was not renewed. He obtained legal representation and sought to keep his teaching position. As a result of these events, his profile did not meet the criteria for this particular study and his responses were disallowed.

All 18 participants were male (see Table 1). The participants' ages when interviewed ranged from 36 years to 61 years of age; the mean age was 46.38 years. The number of years taught ranged from 1 to 18 years; the mean of years taught was 6.64 years. Using the preceding information, the researcher calculated the age of the participants when they left teaching. The age of the participants when they left teaching ranged from 28 years to 54 years; the mean age of the participants when they left teaching was 41.17 years.

Table 1

Characteristics of Participants

Participant Age at Interview Years of Teaching Age Left Teaching Education Level
Andrew James* 37 5 30 B.S.
Brad Davidson 54 10 52 M.S.
Bob Brown 53 1.5 52 Some college
Chris Farley 41 8 40 B.S.
Ernest Mackey 54 12 50 Some college
Ed Harmon 55 1 54 B.S.
Gabe Little 61 7 45 B.S.
Greg Thacker 37 9 36 3 yrs. college
Harry Stephens 45 18 43 M.S.
Keith Moss 51 10 40 Some college
Ryan Evans 41 5 38 M.S.
Lee Sellars 36 1 35 B.S.
Shawn Graham 46 5 37 A.A.S.
Steven Kane 40 6 30 A.A.S.
Tom Richards 39 1 28 Some college
Wilfred Embrey 55 16 48 Some college
Willie Dodd 45 3 40 A.A.S.
William Stout 45 1 43 Some college
Note: * = Pseudonyms are used for all participants.

The instructional programs taught by these former teachers varied. In order to remain true to the interviews, the common names used by the participants to refer to their programs are used in this report. For example, one participant referred to the program he taught as "auto body," while the state agency used the term "automotive collision repair technology." Three participants taught air conditioning. Diesel, auto body, machine tool, and printing were programs taught by two participants each. The remaining programs were carpentry, power line technology, computers, welding, and computerized numerical control (CNC).

Educational attainment levels varied. Seven participants had some college, three had A.A.S. degrees, five had completed a B.S. degree, and three participants had master's degrees. All participants held some type of teaching certificate, ranging from provisional to standard. Many of the participants also held national certification credentials appropriate to their trade.

The issue of entry into the teaching profession was examined through the use of probing questions. Eight participants became teachers because they were recruited into teaching by acquaintances, friends, or family members. Four participants first began teaching night classes before they moved to the daytime programs. A desire to change where they lived and to be closer to family and friends was the stimulus for two participants. In two cases, participants had felt unfulfilled and burned out in their previous jobs.

Data Analysis

The purpose of the qualitative data analysis was to organize the interviews and present a narrative that explains what happened to these former teachers. The first step of data analysis began during the interviews when questions were rephrased for clarification. After the initial two or three interviews, the researcher chose to revise and modify questions that had seemed unclear or confusing to the participants.

The second step in data analysis was the coding phase that to some degree was continuous throughout the process. The data was reviewed and divided into smaller categories while looking for common themes. Concepts were recognized in several ways. Vivid vocabulary that is unique to the profession and that sounds different from the ordinary vocabulary was identified. Nouns and noun phrases often repeated also were indicators of an important idea. Participant responses were grouped using a numerical coding system following the idea of domain analysis. Themes were identified from the coded data. Each cluster then became a major coding category, with individual themes and ideas treated as subcategories.


In 1997, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) published America's Teachers: Profile of a Profession ( U.S. Department of Education, 1997 ). The researcher used that document and a follow-up report issued by NCES that contained two major surveys: the 1993-1994 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) and the 1994-1995 Teacher Follow-Up Survey (TFS).

The SASS report is a coordinated set of questionnaires that collected data from schools, principals, teachers, and school districts regarding school and district enrollments, programs, and staffing policies; teacher supply and demand; principals' and teachers' demographic characteristics, education, and professional qualifications; and teachers' workloads and working conditions. The TFS report is a one-year follow-up of all teachers who were sampled in the previous SASS who left the teaching profession, all who moved, and a sub-sample of those who continued to teach in their 1993-1994 schools. Together, the two reports offer the most significant source of national-level data on teachers and teaching.

The researcher used two parts of the TFS in the data analysis. One part detailed the percentage of leavers who left teaching for various reasons and the other dealt with leavers who left because they were dissatisfied with teaching, as well as the reasons they gave for their departure. Using the TFS survey, the researcher compared all participants' responses for leaving teaching with those of the survey (see Table 2). The most prominent reason given was used for comparison, although the researcher fully realized that two or more reasons could be connected. For example, in some instances the participant pursued other career opportunities in order to obtain a better salary or benefits.

Table 2

Participants' Reason for Leaving Teaching

Reason No. of Participants Percentage Percentage from TFS
Dissatisfaction with teaching 8 45 5.3
Pursue other career opportunities 6 33 13.6
Better salary or benefits 3 17 6.8
Family or personal move 1 5 36.8
Retirement or sabbatical 0 0 27.2

Reasons Participants Left Teaching

The TFS gave five reasons why teachers left the teaching profession: family or personal move (36.8%), retirement or sabbatical (27.2%), pursue other career opportunities (13.6%), better salary or benefits (6.8%), and dissatisfaction with teaching (5.3%). Among the participants of this study, one left because of a family or personal move, six left to pursue other career opportunities, three left for better salary or benefits, and eight left because of dissatisfaction with teaching. None left due to retirement or sabbatical. Of the six that left to pursue other career opportunities, the researcher found that all had pursued business ownership. These findings contrast sharply with those reported by teachers responding to the TFS ( U.S. Department of Education, 1997 ). Clearly, more of the T&I teachers in this study left teaching due to feelings of dissatisfaction than any other reason. Therefore, an attempt was made to better understand the underlying causes of this dissatisfaction.

Dissatisfaction With Teaching

The TFS gave eleven specific reasons that contributed to teachers' feelings of dissatisfaction and decisions to leave teaching. For the purposes of this study, only the top four reasons will be discussed. The percentage distributions provided by the TFS will be given, followed by stories illustrating the researcher's findings in each category. The top reasons given by TFS participants for dissatisfaction with teaching are lack of recognition and support (31.6%), student discipline problems (16.6%), poor student motivation (15.5%), and poor salary (10.3%).

Lack of Recognition and Support

Lack of recognition and support was described in numerous ways. Uncertainty about their responsibilities, the administration's lack of interest in their program and/or unwillingness to provide needed technical support, and dealing with student discipline and motivation problems were all cited. Andrew James said,

I taught for five years, and the first two were probably really good, as far as my satisfaction doing my teaching, but after the first year, they hired another teacher, Charles Brooker, to do some other things, and at that point in time, it was kind of hard to figure out who was responsible for what, and we just didn't have a lot of direction as far as what the responsibilities were. ... I could see the handwriting on the wall... the evaluations for the first probably three or four years were pretty generic and pretty noncommittal on anything, and the last year, I could really tell, I mean they were nit-picking every little thing. So I could tell at that time things were going downhill pretty quick, and I'd better start looking around and find something to get out of there pretty quick.

T&I teachers interviewed felt they were craftsmen first and teachers second. When their expertise was not recognized by others in the school, they felt unappreciated. According to Lee Sellars,

This is probably the one very important reason I left. The professional development for me as a teacher was all banked into the education department. You are going to become a teacher now. But, see, I am an engineer, and they had to come to me as an engineer to get someone capable of doing the training that was necessary for industry. Not to a teacher.

When complaints and questions went unanswered, Lee Sellars became concerned about the level of support. He explained:

Getting administration to just listen to what I wanted to do. Getting funding and things like that. Having a handle on your budget. As an engineer I have always known what we are going to do and how much money we have to do it. So I can tailor what I wanted to do with the budget that was available. There was no answers in that area at all. You didn't know what your funding was going to be, what equipment you could get, things like that, it was very frustrating, you knew there was shortcomings in the lab, machinery you wanted to get in there, training equipment you wanted, but you couldn't prioritize.

A change in administration and a subsequent lack of emphasis on his instructional area led Keith Moss to leave teaching. The rural farming area in which he taught provided the demand for his diesel program, but his program was closed to begin another in antique car restoration because of the administrator's interest in this specialty:

It was like a tornado blew into town. A man that was newly hired on, wanted to close the program. And so when I found that out, I thought I better start doing something where I knew I would have income. And so I talked to the administration about it. No, and they said that the enrollment wasn't that good. We are going to close it to start this other program. In that same shop, and that is what happened . . . The last year I had 16 students in the morning and 14 in the afternoon. So, I didn't personally think that enrollment was the problem. I just think that they wanted to change to antique auto.

Harry Stephens described colleagues at the technology center where he taught as not recognizing the knowledge and expertise of the faculty and, as a result, not being supportive of the faculty. He recalled saying this to his supervisor at a faculty meeting:

"Well, Bill, I guess my biggest problem is that you're not listening to what I am saying. If you don't want an answer, why did you ask the question? Why are you trying to openly ridicule me right here in front of all these teachers?"

He also described the work environment as a "Club Med," in which the common sentiment among administrators was "'If you're in the club, you're in the club. But if you're not, we'll use you for as long as we need you, and then you're out of here.'"

Chris Farley felt that school administrators did not understand the complexity of his job because they had never taught in a trades-related program:

Having 30 different students at 30 different levels asking 30 different questions and needing 30 different answers every day. I had a hard time with my administration, not the head guy, but the assistant guy, because he had never taught at the vo-tech level; and he didn't know what it was like to have those questions. And he didn't have a trade, he came from public education.... so he couldn't relate.

Others saw the lack of support in the way that faculty members were treated, and perceived a low level of trust between faculty and administration. Ed Harmon saw the lack of trust evidenced by a "punch the clock" mentality:

The thing that irritated me more than anything else is that that particular school says you will be here until 5:00 p.m.! I have, I can be responsible for my actions. You know, I'm used to being in management where I make the decisions. I have enough knowledge in my field that no one can snow me, and yet I get treated like I don't know what's going on.

Lee Sellars saw a similar work environment and used manufacturing terms to describe his reaction by saying:

The product you manufacture is education, and the most important people that are supposed to be involved in that are supposed to be teachers. I didn't feel like the administration really cared what the teachers did.

In his business, Bob Brown asks his employees every week how things were going, but he did not experience this same level of concern from administrators while teaching:

Nobody ever sat down and said, "Hey, how are things going? What do, is anything we need to do, do you got any problems?" I was never asked that once. That is kinda a sore spot for me. Because every week, I talk to my employees, I say, here we are on a team, if there is something we can do better ... tell me about it.

Lee Sellars couldn't understand how an administrator could know about a program and support it if he had never spent time observing the program.

Most of all, I had a few complaints and I didn't feel like those complaints were addressed. For example, my boss was never even in my program, not even one time. He is supposed to be the principal of the school and I didn't feel like he was really involved in what was actually going on with the school. He was more involved with other projects, which had nothing to do with what we were trying to do.

Lee came to the conclusion that he had to leave because he was becoming something he did not want to be. He explained by saying:

I wanted to do things. I didn't want to become the teacher that was, do just what is required and that is it. And that was one of the things that made me decide to, well .... I will be back in industry where performance is expected and accepted. The more you can do, you ask for support you will get it. Where there [at the school] you didn't know what you would get.

Willie Dodd saw the lack of support in passing the buck between administrators when questioned by faculty.

Well, what I saw was a lot of smiles up front, but stab you in the back. You know, I got ripped on a couple of times on things, and then you couldn't tell who was responsible. They'd pass the buck, "Well, so and so did this, and so and so did that."

Other participants viewed the lack of support as pertaining to legal aspects of their job. Lee Sellars stated it in this way:

Another thing that really bothered me was the litigation risk. Anything you would be involved with in a conflict with a student of any type, the school would immediately clam up and you were on your own. Whereas when I worked in industry, and the corporations I worked for, would back me up on problems. And I didn't feel that if there was ever a problem between a student and me and I couldn't handle it, a need for litigation or lawyers or anything like that, the school would have backed me up. And that was a pretty important thing. The first thing when I got there, you got to get this insurance. You could be involved in some kind of problem with a student and you will have to hire lawyers and so that was something that really bothered me. Luckily I never had any problems, or any students injured or anything like that, even though we were in a highly industrial type training. Where there are machines that could easily hurt someone.

Student Discipline

Student discipline and lack of support were closely connected in the perceptions of the participants. Often, when a participant would mention one, he would mention the other. For example, Tom Richards, while teaching his first and only year, had this experience:

The kids were pretty rowdy. It was hard to make them behave. To make them do what you wanted them to do. The discipline. It was hard to do that. For example, they would get up on the top of the paint booth while I was helping other kids and they would get up there and smoke and do things they weren't supposed to do. I had some that got in fights and just a lot of problems.

Student discipline problems were greater in situations where the new teacher's predecessor had not enforced a code of behavior in the program. Willie Dodd took over the classroom of a teacher who had been "just playing playhouse." He said:

These kids were doing all, no structure, weren't studying anything. They hated me right off the bat, my students, because I came in there teaching it the way I understood I was gonna be doing it. To industry standards. We're gonna learn something. And I had all kinds of hell. I mean, the first two weeks, I didn't know that I was gonna make the transition.

Bob Brown found one of the most effective methods to be taking a disruptive student outside and talking to him privately. He would ask the student why he was in the class and what he hoped to get out of it. This seemed to help the student refocus. Chris Farley had the most difficulty with the "adult wanna-bes." The name was coined for those students who were right out of high school and weren't really adults yet. In general, however, participants appeared to recognize that with additional years of teaching experience perhaps the issue of student discipline would not have been a factor.

Poor Student Motivation

For many of the participants, a strong relationship existed between the amount of motivation the student had and the need for external discipline. Participants struggled with trying to help all students; in some cases, even when the student did not ask or want to be helped. Others felt that because of constraints on their time they were not able to devote the needed attention to each student. Knowing that such a lack of motivation would not be tolerated in the workplace caused some participants to decide to leave teaching. Greg Thacker saw the lack of motivation in this light:

Probably the biggest challenge was handling the students. You know, there was a challenge in presenting the information, but the [teacher training] classes helped you with that, and you learned how to do that. But the biggest challenge was the students that really needed a lot of one-on-one. It was a challenge to take a student who really didn't wanna be there, and make them wanna be there. Make them enjoy coming to the school instead of dreading the next three hours.

Chris Farley cited the lack of student motivation specifically as one of the main reasons he left teaching. He said:

A lot of it was, I felt like there were too many kids that really didn't want to learn. They were just there to be there. A free hour or a free half-day or whatever it was.... I thought about it. It was a hard decision. I debated. I would like to have stayed sometimes. Other times I am glad I got away from it. I enjoyed working with kids. It just seemed like there was too many of them that just didn't care if they learned or not. There were those that did and that probably made up for it. I guess.

Gabe Little shared this concern and discussed working with students who really did not want to be there. He said, "The majority of students weren't interested. You only had a handful out of the class that was really interested in what you were teaching. And that was the hardest part."

Low Salaries

Low salaries are often cited as the reason T&I teachers leave the profession. The researcher found this to be true. Life-altering circumstances such as divorce or death of a family member led participants to choose a job with a higher income. William Stout chose to quit teaching to pursue a higher salary. He said:

It was mainly all the pay scale that has to go along with it. But at the same time, that was a pay scale that I negotiated when I first went in on the board, too, so I really couldn't have any complaints about it. It's just that at that time, with the divorce, personal problems and things like that, with that in mind, it was more a personal deal and not a school deal as far as why, anything like that.

Brad Davidson saw poor salaries as a detriment to attracting skilled individuals to teaching. He said:

We are not paid near what we need to be paid. We're not gonna be able to attract the quality educators with the background, technical backgrounds, we're out there competing with industry, and we're not doing a very good job of it. We're gonna have to get that salary up. There was, well, I was offered a job at a technology center and one at another location and both of them were over $10,000 a year more than I was making at my school.

Accustomed to receiving merit raises or bonuses in industry, Bob Brown struggled with across the board raises:

That is one of the things that drives me crazy with the way they operate. It is not normal with everything else in the real work world. I am glad you asked me that. They are preaching we want good employees and all of the things that we are doing is to get a good employee and who has a little knowledge about the trade. Employers say they will train the people. O.K. That is fantastic. I believe that. But they don't operate their business as a learning situation. It is not merit raises. It is just, "Hey, we got some money this year, let's give everyone a thousand dollars." It is not a good employee deal. It is "we got money or we don't."

Willie Dodd probably summed it up most succinctly when he said:

To me, this is personal opinion, money is a token of respect. It should be based on what I do, and if I'm not any good, then don't pay me. But if I'm very good, then pay me according to that. I do a lot better for that than I do for hand clapping.

Having no control or influence over school policies caused several participants to leave teaching. When both secondary and adult students were in the same program and it became problematic, participants resented not being able to change the school policy. Often, when a school policy was inconsistently enforced, participants felt that the real world experience for students was being compromised.

Others wanted the opportunity to progress up the career ladder within the school and felt stifled professionally. Accustomed to the business world, where having a working mission and vision for the future is the norm, participants felt that because school administrators didn't have a clear vision they could not be proactive. The emphasis in schools on what they considered to be unimportant things proved to be frustrating for most of the participants. Paperwork, endless meetings, strict dress codes, and lack of planning were sources of disappointment and finally disillusionment. One participant expressed his surprise at the slowness of the system:

One of the bad challenges, I guess, was being able to go from an industrial setting where if I needed something, I got on the phone and said "I needed it yesterday," and it was being hot-shotted there, to being in a classroom situation to where if you needed something, it was, you know, fill out a requisition and go through the paperwork, and this is one of the big problems with all T&I teachers is that they all get really exasperated at this. And I understand, there is a system you have to follow. I understand that. It's state money, it's public money, and so forth. But it's a large adjustment problem to go from that situation. We have a lot of large pieces of equipment, and if they break, you know, you really can't wait a month or two months to get the parts to fix it, because you're in a training schedule, and everything is scheduled to where this follows this, follows this. And it's very difficult to teach in that kind of situation.

Another participant described this slowness as "bureaucratic inertia." He strongly believed that he wanted to change things and had neither the resources nor support to do so.

The remaining categories for leaving teaching identified by these participants included lack of control over the classroom, lack of teaching time, lack of preparation time, lack of resources and materials, and large class size. These were mentioned infrequently and the participants perceived that these items would take care of themselves if the first items were adequately addressed and resolved.


Several recommendations for practice emerged from the study. Administrators who supervise secondary programs would do well to remember that in addition to teaching students who are at a volatile time in their lives (adolescence), teachers also undergo major personal life changes when they become teachers. T&I teachers have at least two characteristics that separate them from most other teachers: (a) more often than not, they have entered the classroom following significant experience in the workforce, and (b) licensure requirements in many states allow T&I teachers to forego traditional teacher training routes toward certification.

Both traditional teacher education and alternative teacher education should focus on implementation of the NAITTE teacher preparation and certification standards. A multilevel professional development program (career ladder) would allow for continued growth and development of quality teachers. This model would allow teachers to progress through three levels of certification. Upon completion of a master's degree and five years of successful teaching experience, they would acquire permanent T&I education certification, with state-to-state reciprocity.

All methods of teacher education should include a professional growth plan that includes needed technical certification(s), demonstration of competence, and licensure requirements. All new teachers should be assigned to a mentor teacher and participate in a teacher network using technology to communicate with each other.

Every school should have a clearly stated vision and mission that impacts day-to-day operation of the school. Blocks of time and adequate resources to accomplish professional growth goals should be provided. Extensive use should be made of mentors, small collaborative groups, and teacher networks. Teaching consultants should also be available as needed. New methods of teacher evaluation should be used that include peer reviews, self review, and administrative reviews. Recognition of the impact of the career stages of teachers should exist, with appropriate supports at each level. First-year teachers could be supplied with a handbook that gives pertinent information such as meanings of acronyms, who to call for what, and everything a new vocational teacher needs to know. First-year teachers also could have, in addition to their planning period, no extra duties for the first few years.

Ideally, teacher education and induction programs must ensure that beginners have an adequate knowledge base before they take on full-time teaching responsibility. Licensure assessments must act as a catalyst to improve teaching. Across the nation, the areas represented in T&I education are experiencing a shortage of skilled workers. Unless efforts are made to slow the attrition rate of T&I teachers, the dwindling supply of qualified teachers will continue to exacerbate this shortage.


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Crawford Self is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Occupational Education Studies at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, OK. She can be reached at marycj@okstate.edu .