Teacher Satisfaction at its Lowest Point in Two Decades

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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.

Amid budget cuts, dismal performance ratings, and other challenges, public schools do not appear to 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? The answer may be somewhat complex, but there is also a bright spot in the news. Some teachers have provided insight into improving classroom environments and teacher satisfaction ratings simultaneously.

The MetLife Survey

The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher has offered input from educators, administrators, and policymakers since the first survey was conducted in 1984. Harris Interactive conducts the survey annually, 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, “A rising tide of mediocrity is presently eroding the educational foundations of our society.” This report set off sweeping education reform that left many teachers less 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 in 1986, the MetLife survey showed that teacher satisfaction was also low, with only about 33 percent of public school teachers saying they were satisfied with their jobs. 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 country's economic woes, which began at this time, took a toll on the school environment as well, and teacher satisfaction ratings started 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 the teachers' demographic characteristics. Teachers ' numbers were consistent across the board, regardless of race or gender. The statistics were also not associated with how many 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 grappling with these issues were less happy with their current jobs and much more likely to leave their posts if another opportunity came.

Timely Survey, Relevant Information

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

The administration is not the only one that pressures late teachers. Teacher criticism is at an all-time high, as teachers bear the brunt of the blame for everything 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 this year’s dismal MetLife survey findings, there are some bright spots to consider. According to a report at the ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision of Curriculum Development) website, an increase in teacher collaboration may play a role in improving teacher satisfaction ratings. The ASCD reports that two-thirds of the teachers surveyed believe increased collaboration would also improve student achievement.

Survey respondents who were most satisfied with their jobs were proponents of shared responsibility and collaboration in schools. Teachers also relayed that the most common types of cooperation 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 the benefits of newer teachers working directly with more experienced teachers.

Teacher satisfaction may be low, but the good news is that teachers have some ideas for bringing satisfaction ratings back up. If policymakers 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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