Teachers are less satisfied with their careers; in the past two years there has been a significant decline in teachers’ satisfaction with their profession. In one of the most dramatic findings of the report, teacher satisfaction has decreased by 15 points since the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher measured job satisfaction two years ago, now reaching the lowest level of job satisfaction seen in the survey series in more than two decades. This decline in teacher satisfaction is coupled with large increases in the number of teachers who indicate that they are likely to leave teaching for another occupation and in the number who do not feel their jobs are secure.That is from the Executive Summary of The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Teachers, Parents and the Economy, conducted last year and just released. Let me repeat several key parts of that paragraph:
Teacher satisfaction has decreased by 15 points since MetLife last measured it two years ago and is now reaching the lowest level of job satisfaction seen in the survey series in more than two decades.
One simply need think of Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, New Jersey and other states and cities like NY and Washington where public schools, public school teachers, and their unions have been under serious attack to begin to grasp the "why" of that drop in teacher satisfaction.
But is is more complicated than that.
Some teachers are quite satisfied, but they are increasingly the exception. The number of teachers prepared to leave the profession for something else is increasing dramatically, as is the number of teachers who do not feel their jobs are secure.
About those teachers with higher levels of satisfaction:
Teachers with high job satisfaction are more likely to feel their jobs are secure and say they are treatedBut the economic downturn has seen layoffs, dropping of programs and of parent-liaison positions, increasing class sizes.
as a professional by the community. They are also more likely to have adequate opportunities for professional development, time to collaborate with other teachers, more preparation and supports to engage parents effectively, and greater involvement of parents and their schools in coming together to improve the learning and success of students.
One-third of teachers also indicate that educational technology and materials have not been kept up to date to meet student needs, while two in ten report that school facilities have not been kept in clean or good condition.But it gets worse.
At the same time teachers report a reduction in school budgets, programs, and services, students and their families report an increase in needsThis is part of the inevitable impact of the economic downturn, where the number of students whose parents have lost jobs - and thus health insurance - have increased. I know that we have seen an increase in our number of homeless students.
Another thing - at a time when teacher evaluations are being ever more closely tied to student achievement (even though all the research makes clear that this cannot be done with consistency, nor is it necessarily an accurate measure of what the teacher is accomplishing),
School budget cuts are associated with an additional negative impact. Four in ten teachers and parents of students are pessimistic that levels of student achievement will increase in the next five years. Teachers and parents who report that their schools’ budgets have decreased are more likely to beDissatisfaction tends to be greater among those teachers who teach in urban and heavily minority schools. Similarly, teachers who are themselves Black are more likely to be dissatisfied than are their White compatriots. And what should be really scary for the maintenance of a positive school culture, senior teachers are far more likely than their junior colleagues:
pessimistic that the level of student achievement will improve than those in schools whose budgets have remained the same or increased.
teachers likely to leave the profession are more likely than others to have 21+ years of teaching experience (34% vs. 21%). In addition, 17% of teachers who are likely to leave the profession are black or African-American, compared to 10% of teachers who are not likely to leave.There is, if one wades through all the tables, other important data - remember, this is a survey of parents and students as well. One thing that caught my attention is that 13% of parents say there is an increase in the number of students coming to school hungry versus only 5% who perceive a decrease. Similarly, 21% of parents say there has been an increase in the number of students and families needing health and social support services as compared to 3% who say there has been a decrease. Hungry students learn less well, and the food and social assistance demands are an indicator of the kinds of stresses outside of school with which students arrive - these impact student learning, but are not within the power of most teachers and schools to address.
Let me also offer the first paragraph of the conclusion before I offer some observations of my own. That first paragraph reads:
Most parents and teachers agree on the importance of what they need from each other and what theyI am in my 17th year of teaching. This has in most ways been my least satisfying year, which contributes in a major way to my seriously considering leaving the classroom at the end of this year.
can do to support their respective roles in student learning and healthy development. Lower parent engagement is more prevalent in schools where need is greater, including urban areas and schools with high proportions of low-income students or minority students. As needs increase in tough economic times, cuts in school budgets are associated with decreases in parent engagement. Lack of parent engagement is also a factor in low teacher job satisfaction.
I am not alone. Last year, in part because the school system offered decent buyouts, we lost 7 of the most senior teachers in our building to retirement. All were teachers who could have continued teaching, and some still show up as substitutes. This year, with a slightly smaller buyout, 5 have already committed to retirement. One other, already past 70, has decided to stay one more year. Several others who had not previously expressed a desire to leave are now saying that next year will probably be their last. The only additional "senior" teacher who may retire is me.
We are a large school, with over 2600 students. Even so, losing 12-13 senior teachers in two years is something that has a profound effect. The impact has been disproportionate in several departments. Most profoundly hit was foreign languages, where last year we lost our Latin teacher and this year we will lose our Italian teacher. We were fortunate to find a competent replacement for the former and are working very hard on the latter.
We also have younger teachers who are dissatisfied. A few are completely leaving the profession. Some others are transferring to other districts where some of the difficulties are not so great, where the financial pressures are sufficiently lesser so that salaries are not as constricted and the benefits are not as expensive, although if they stay within the state they still are hit with the 2% increase in contribution to the state pension system at a time when COLAs and step increases have been non-existent for 3 years, and many of us have also lost stipends (in my case of 7,000).
What is key for many teachers is the loss of respect for what they do. In schools with high degrees of parent involvement, this is likely to be less of a problem. Some of our parents are very involved, and do what they can to help us, including having nights when parents will come in and volunteer to do copying for us, to help with things in our rooms. They volunteer as hall monitors during testing days. Still, other parents who are not as closely involved hear the constant berating of teachers in the media and by some politicians and it affects their attitudes.
Even so, more than half the parents surveyed thought teachers were underpaid. They understand the reality of what we teachers face financially, and even if they are under financial stress themselves, they do not want their children to lose teachers they respect because of the financial pressures on teachers and their family.
MetLife has been doing these surveys since 1984. That teacher satisfaction is the lowest they have ever seen, with a significant drop in the past two years, should be a clarion call to those who are truly concerned about public education.
Unfortunately, there are too many across the political spectrum who will ignore it. Some are locked into ideologies which lead them to blame teachers and public schools for not fixing the problems of society as a whole. Others totally misinterpret what the data from international comparisons really tells us. Still others have an agenda which they wish to impose, perhaps for ideological reasons, perhaps because they see the opportunity to benefit financially, perhaps because they want to advantage their own children at the expense of those of others.
America has more than 20% of its public school students living in poverty. The highest scoring nation, Finland, has around 4%. Adjusted for poverty, our schools perform as well as those of Finland. If we look only at schools with 10% students in poverty or less, those outperform Finland.
There are many things that need to be addressed in public education. More tests are not a solution. Replacing experienced teachers with people with 5 weeks of training who will only stay for two years is not a solution. Turning education over to for-profit entities who do not want to take on the harder to educate (SPED and ELL, for example) is not a solution.
We cannot fix what needs fixing without teachers who are committed to their students as individuals, not as data points.
We will not get or keep the teachers we need if we continue to disrespect them, even abuse them verbally, deprofessionalizing them by taking away from them their ability to apply their professional judgment.
It does not improve student learning to spend more time on testing and test prep, and for teachers to spend more time on paperwork.
Teaching perhaps should be informed by the data from GOOD assessments (and far too many of those we have are not good), but it should never be "data driven" - rather it should be student-centered. Each of our students is entitled to individual attention, not to be reduced to a series of data points. But we cannot give that individual attention when class sizes begin to hit the middle or upper 30s, or even exceed 40.
It is Saturday morning, a time when most often I offer a personal reflection on teaching. This morning I have pointed my readers at a real crisis, one clearly reflected in the MetLife survey.
I have said that this has been my least-satisfying year as a teacher. That is despite the fact that I do not have a single student this year who is not a nice kid, something I could never say before.
It is not just the finances of education that makes the year so unsatisfying.
It is the changes in policy.
It is that despite the support of a substantial part of our parent community, we are seeing the impact of the constant bashing of teachers and schools.
It is that having failed to make AYP by a single special education student, we are threatened with the loss of flexibility, we are having more reporting requirements imposed upon us, requirements that are time consuming and which do not positively affect instruction.
We are seeing in the students arriving in our building the impact of a decade of No Child Left Behind, which has narrowed their learning and turned too many off to school as they experience ever-more time committed to testing and test prep.
People should carefully read the MetLife Survey. If you do not feel like wading through all the tables, just take the time to read the few pages of the executive summary. You will have a far better grasp of our current situation.
You may then begin to understand why teachers have been angry.
You might begin to grasp why 8,000 people turned out on the Ellipse last summer for the Save Our Schools March.
You should then begin to understand why so many teachers have reacted so positively to Diane Ravitch, who has given voice in a visible and audible fashion to what so many of us have been trying to say for so long.
But let me offer a caution.
Remember those senior teachers who are more likely to leave, some of whom are leaving already.
Accompanying that is that we are no longer encouraging young people to become teachers. We warn them about what they will face.
Other young people listen to the teacher bashing and are persuaded this is not a career path on which they wish to embark.
We cannot make up for those by hordes of relatively untrained people willing to commit for only two years.
Without committed, skilled, professional teachers, we are not going to have truly successful schools.
Without truly successful schools, our economy will suffer, but so will our democracy.
We are getting very close to a tipping point, one from which recovery will be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.
Consider it an educational environmental crisis, one as serious as what we face in the global environmental crisis with climate change, with the possibly irreversible impact if we start to massively develop the tar sands.
On a personal level, for a number of years I have been trying to make a difference beyond my classroom.
Now I have let go of all such efforts other than my writing. I am no longer a union rep. I no longer serve on the steering committee of the ongoing Save Our Schools effort.
I am, as regular readers know, seriously exploring life outside the classroom as I approach my 66th birthday.
For me the measure has been can I make a greater contribution to saving public education by leaving the classroom.
Now I am not sure even that matters. I am not sure it is still possible to save public education. Not when a supposedly liberal Democratic administration is pushing educational policy in a direction that is destructive, when despite their words praising teachers their policies do NOT support professionalism among teachers.
I have not made any final decisions.
I probably feel some of this more deeply because of my involvement in educational policy at a national level.
I am more than dissatisfied. I am seriously discouraged.
As to teaching? It is very simply. If I cannot do so with integrity, I cannot do so effectively, not by the criteria to which I hold myself.
I have let go of some outside activities in order to give myself one more opportunity to see if i focus more on my classroom i can still make the kind of difference I think incumbent upon me.
The early results are not encouraging.
Consider this the end of my Saturday morning reflection on teaching.