Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Mitchell Olson


Excessive teacher turnover has considerable financial, logistical, and academic implications for public education. The purpose of this study was to develop a grounded theory (GT) that conceptualized the experiences of former Georgia public school teachers in order to better understand voluntary teacher attrition. Informed by Ryan and Deci's self-determination theory, this GT study provided insight into the process by which teachers arrive at the decision to leave public schools. Interviews with 12 former Georgia public school teachers were conducted. A constant comparative analysis was used to develop the theory of navigating the cycle of decline, which accounts for the general trend of declining motivation, well-being, and fulfillment among teachers who choose to leave the public school system. The cycle of decline consists of 4 stages: (a) embarking, in which new teachers initially experience concerns about authenticity and support in the public school context; (b) resolving, in which teachers attempt to resolve these concerns; (c) weathering, in which teachers attempt to endure or tolerate the conditions causing these concerns; and (d) opting out, in which teachers opt to leave the public school context entirely. The theory provides a useful framework for identifying and implementing strategies for retaining public school teachers. Stakeholders and policymakers in education may be able to minimize the impact of early attrition by ensuring opportunities for teachers to do authentic work in a supportive environment. The study supports positive social change by providing new insight into factors that lead to teacher turnover, and could thus help improve systemic and educational outcomes of public schools in Georgia and across the nation.