Teacher Satisfaction at its Lowest Point in Two Decades

Teacher Satisfaction at its Lowest Point in Two Decades
A new survey from MetLife shows teachers are less satisfied with their jobs than they were in 2009 and provides suggestions from teachers for improvement in student achievement.

In the midst of budget cuts, dismal performance ratings and other challenges, it does not appear public schools need any more bad news. However, a recently released survey indicates school districts have yet another worry on their plates: teacher satisfaction across the country is at its lowest point in two decades. Why are teachers feeling less-than-loving toward their career choices? It appears the answer may be somewhat complex, but there is a bright spot in the news as well – some teachers have provided insight into how to improve classroom environment and teacher satisfaction ratings at the same time.

The MetLife Survey

The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher has offered input from educators, administrators and policy makers since the first survey was conducted in 1984. The survey is done annually by Harris Interactive, and it examines views about the teaching profession and the economic impact on teaching and learning in schools, according to the MetLife website. The views of teachers, parents and students are all accounted for in the yearly research.

The first survey was introduced after the Reagan administration issued its “Nation at Risk” report, which was quoted in the Huffington Post as saying, “The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity.” This report set off sweeping education reform that left many teachers feeling less than secure. At that time, the survey emerged amidst ideas that discussions about education should include the voices of teachers.

In this year’s survey, Harris Interactive interviewed more than 1,000 teachers who taught K-12 grades at public schools. Teachers were all surveyed by phone. The survey also included input from 947 students and 1,086 parents – all of whom were interviewed online.

Low Teacher Satisfaction Not New

CNN reports that back in 1986, the MetLife survey showed that teacher satisfaction was also at a low point, with only about 33 percent of public school teachers saying they were satisfied with their jobs at the time. The number quickly rose – to 40 percent the following year and as high as 62 percent in 2008. At this point, few teachers – less than one-quarter – said they would consider leaving their teaching positions for a different career choice.

However, the economic woes of the country that began at this time took their toll on the school environment as well, and teacher satisfaction ratings began a free fall that lasted through the next three years. By late 2011, the overall teacher satisfaction rating was back down to 44 percent, with 29 percent of teachers surveyed saying they would be willing to leave their teaching positions for a different type of career.

Teacher Satisfaction not Linked to Demographic Factors

Interestingly, CNN reported that the low satisfaction ratings in this current survey did not appear to be related to demographic characteristics of the teachers themselves. Numbers were consistent across the board for teachers, regardless of race or gender. The statistics were also not associated with the number of years a teacher had been in the profession or the grade-level they teach.

Factors that did seem to impact teacher satisfaction included the number of minority students within the school, job security and feelings of respect from the community. Teachers that grappled with these issues were less happy with their current jobs and much more likely to leave their posts if another opportunity came along.

Timely Survey, Relevant Information

This particular MetLife survey comes at an interesting time for public education. School districts across the country are grappling with how to improve performance in schools, and teacher performance is coming under the microscope in many areas. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently ruffled the feather of school teachers when he fired all of the teachers at a high school in Central Fall, Rhode Island, according to the Huffington Post. The current administration has also created some tension with teachers and unions with its push toward test-based teacher evaluations.

The administration is not the only ones to put pressure on teachers of late. Criticism of teachers is at an all-time high, as teachers take the brunt of the blame for everything that’s wrong with public education today.

“The results are not at all surprising given the context within which teachers have been working for the last couple of years,” Kevin Welner, an education professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, told the Huffington Post. “Teacher bashing has been so undermining of the profession, that it’s sapping the appeal out of the career choice.”

Collaboration May be One Solution

Despite the dismal findings by this year’s MetLife survey, there are some bright spots to consider. One factor that may play a role in improving teacher satisfaction ratings is an increase in teacher collaboration, according to a report at the ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision of Curriculum Development) website. The ASCD reports that two-thirds of the teachers surveyed believe that increased collaboration would also improve student achievement.

Respondents of the survey who showed the greatest satisfaction with their jobs were proponents of shared responsibility and collaboration in schools. Teachers also relayed that the most common types of collaboration they participated in included teachers meeting in teams to learn what they can do to help students achieve at higher levels. These teachers also worked together to share school responsibilities and saw benefits of newer teachers working directly with more experienced teachers.

Teacher satisfaction may be at a low point, but the good news is that teachers have some ideas of how to bring satisfaction ratings back up. If policy makers take the time to listen to teachers through surveys like these, perhaps education reform would stand a better chance of making the positive changes intended.

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