Over the last decade, research into the importance of teacher quality has shown that the quality of the teacher in the classroom plays a very important role in student achievement. (Bembry, Jordan, Gomez, Anderson & Mendro, 1998; Darling-Hammond, 2000; Rivkin, Hanushek & Kain, 2002). In fact, further research has shown that students attending high-challenge schools, who have a quality teacher three consecutive years will achieve as well as their peers in schools not defined as high-challenge (Babu & Mendro, 2003; Haycock, 1998, 2004; Rivkin, Hanushek & Kain, 2002). Typically high-challenge schools have a student population comprised of a majority of minority students who are highly mobile, have high percentages of students on free/reduced lunch and are overcrowded.
In light of the research showing that students in these schools would benefit most from a quality teacher, it is discouraging that students in high-challenge schools typically do not have access to these teachers (The Education Trust, 2004). Fortunately, there are some exceptions, quality teachers who choose to teach in high-challenge schools. This phenomenological study endeavored to determine why quality teachers choose to teach in elementary schools with a high percentage of minority and low socioeconomic students.
Twelve elementary school teachers identified by their principals as quality teachers were interviewed to determine why they choose to continue teaching in a high-challenge urban elementary school. All of the teachers worked in an urban school district located in the capital city of a southwestern state. Seven elementary schools from this district were identified as high-challenge based upon their size, majority-minority populations, and the free/reduced lunch percentage rate.
This study revealed that the teachers chose to stay for the following reasons: relationships with students, rewards, instructional focus, collegiality, feeling needed and a desire to help others, challenges and parents. These findings are important to school administrators at both the district and building level as they could assist in developing policies and procedures that will enhance the retention of the quality teachers that students in high-challenge urban elementary schools need and deserve.