Teacher job satisfaction hits lowest point in 25 years

That’s according to the 29th annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, an always fascinating analysis of teacher and principal perceptions of their work. The fact that teachers are increasingly less satisfied with their jobs is probably not surprising to you, but MetLife found that teachers’ satisfaction levels have dropped 23% since 2008, and that, to me, speaks volumes about our education system.

What has happened to the teaching profession in the last 5 years to cause such a huge decrease in satisfaction? I think it’s reasonable to infer from the survey results that a big part of the problem is budget cuts. They started with the recession and seemingly go deeper every year. Teachers are expected to do less with more, and class sizes have increased dramatically in many schools. More than half of principals (53%) and teachers (56%) report that their school’s budget has decreased in the past 12 months. 86% of teachers and 78% of principals say managing the school budget and resources to meet school needs is challenging or very challenging for school leaders.

The other major change since 2008? The Common Core State Standards. The bar for student achievement has been raised, but budget cuts mean teachers aren’t getting the resources and support they need to implement the standards. 59% of teachers indicated that implementing the Common Core has been challenging or very challenging. (The other 41% must be teaching in states that didn’t adopt CCSS, or are teaching in schools that haven’t fully implemented the standards, because I don’t know a single teacher or school leader who thinks making the switch has been simple. CCSS-aligned assessments are no joke, and we’re only in the beginning stages of implementing them.)

MetLife indicates that “Teachers and principals are more likely to be very confident that teachers have the ability to implement the Common Core (53% of teachers; 38% of principals) than they are very confident that the Common Core will improve the achievement of students (17% of teachers; 22% of principals) or better prepare students for college and the workforce (20% of teachers; 24% of principals).” So you can factor that into the decline in teacher satisfaction, as well: even if you as a teacher feel confident in your ability to implement CCSS, you’re not necessarily sold on the idea that doing so will benefit your students.

In addition to the difficulties of budget cuts and implementing the Common Core, 83% of principals and 78% of teachers say that addressing the individual needs of diverse learners is challenging or very challenging. 72% of principals and 73% of teachers say the same about engaging parents and the community in improving education for students. (The numbers increase even more in high-needs schools.)

All of these factors (as well as many others that weren’t directly addressed in the survey, I’m sure) are causing teachers to experience far higher stress levels on a regular basis. As I wrote in Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching, there are two main factors that help determine how stressful a profession feels to its workers. The first factor is the effort/reward ratio: if the level of effort required to effectively complete the job has a disproportionately low reward (e.g. financial compensation, promotions, and level of respect), the job is often perceived as highly stressful. The second factor is the demand/control ratio: the job is usually considered high stress if it entails excessive, never-ending, high stakes demands but the employee is allowed very little control or influence over the day- to-day operations. Unfortunately for most teachers, the ratios are skewed against them: working in a school tends to be both high effort/low reward and high-demand/low control.

Half (48%) of principals feel under great stress several days a week. But principals’ job satisfaction levels haven’t tanked the same way teachers’ have. A full 59% of school principals say that they are very satisfied with their jobs. Though this isn’t addressed in the survey, I wonder how much of that has to do with the public perception of their jobs. It’s teachers who are constantly vilified by the media and many members of the general public. Principals still seem to command some level of respect in the community, as least in comparison to teachers.

The figure below is particularly fascinating to me. 75% of principals feel their job has become too complex, and 69% say the job responsibilities are not very similar to five years ago. It doesn’t appear that teachers were asked this same question, but I’d argue the numbers would be just as higher or higher for them. The roles of both teachers and principals have changed drastically in recent years as we’ve shifted from nurturing all aspects of students’ development to preparing students for tests and focusing an inordinate amount of energy on gathering and analyzing data.

There are a few bright spots in what has otherwise been a pretty depressing survey: most educators think that their co-workers and superiors are doing a good job overall. In fact, 97% of teachers give high ratings to other teachers in their schools, and 98% of principals agree (compared to 95% in 1985.)  The majority of principals (63%) say that their teachers are doing an excellent job and an additional 35% describe the job teachers are doing as pretty good. The percentages are higher at the elementary school level and considerably lower at the middle and high school level (anyone have an idea why that might be?)

I wonder if a survey of the general public would yield the same results? Additionally, educators believe that principals in their school and district are doing a good job overall.

I’d love to know how these statistics fit with your experiences–comment anonymously as needed. I’m particularly interested in finding out the following:

Would you rate the teachers and  principals in your district overall as excellent/pretty good? And more specifically (this question wasn’t asked by MetLife), what percentage of teachers in your school would you rate as excellent/pretty good, fair, and poor?

Did any of the teacher job satisfaction survey results surprise you?

Has your satisfaction as a teacher declined in recent years? To which factors do you attribute the decline?

 

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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Heather aka HoJo March 4, 2013 at 7:21 pm

First, let me say thank you for posting this! I did not see these results, so it is interesting reading them here on your blog.

The majority of the teachers I’ve worked with over the years have been pretty good. There’s been a few bad apples, but for every one of them – I bet there’s been two EXCELLENT teachers. So overall I don’t think we’re doing poorly.

Sadly, none of these results surprised me. While I’ve only been in education for the past six years, I have been feeling an extreme “push” for the last two. It’s like no matter what is done it’s not enough. I didn’t go into education for the money or fame, but if my stress level stays the same I’m not sure how long I can hold out. :(

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2 No Name March 4, 2013 at 9:30 pm

Our paperwork has increase d to crazy amounts d, no raise in 2 years, students ability to stay focused declining, principal’s negative ‘s attitude toward us, superintendent failure., cscope pushed down out throats, no support for discipline, very little to no backing with parents, next year every classroom must look the same, not allowed to decorate halls it looks like an institution, very disappointed, hours of analyzing test data for 1st and 2nd. Lesson plans that take two hours of planning per subject per week times 5 subjects. On, and on and on I could go. Apologize for the mess but my computer has a mind of it’s own tonight and will not let me go back and correct mistakes. Thanks for listening, tired in Texas.

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3 David Cooper March 5, 2013 at 5:56 am

Unfortunately I do not find this shocking. In Virginia where I teach, the teacher alone is accountable for student progress. There is NO student or parent accountability.
To make sure we know what is expected of us, we have the Teacher Performance Evaluation System. This is where we must document all aspects of what we have done to bring our “cherubs” to state standards. As its name states, we are graded on our performance. What we have done to improve scores and pass rates, not what the students and parents have done to get their children to pass. Half of our time is spent doing bookkeeping. If you want me to be a teacher then pay me as a teacher. If you want me to be a bookkeeper, pay me as a bookkeeper. If you want me to do both, pay me for both.
If this trend continues, Virginia and many other states are going to lose many very good teachers.

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4 vickie mcelroy March 6, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Sounds the same in Fulton County, Georgia. As in all schools there are more excellent teachers, creatively trying to incorporate Common Core. Because of Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) and differing ideas about implementing Common Core, the “bully teacher” in many PLCs, railroads the newer or more introverted teachers to “doing it as it has always been done.” With some teachers on leadership it is expected that everyone be on the same page every day, where as others will agree that as long as the standards are being met the specific teacher can implement a standard using his or her special talents. When we are all expected to be the same Common Core robot teacher no student will get the education he/she needs because no teacher will find the passion that led her/him into this profession.

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5 No name teacher March 5, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Not surprised by the findings. I have been teaching for 14 years. Teachers are overwhelmed by the amount of pressure coming down from the state, to the district, to the principle, to the teacher. Pushing for better scores, more technology, student engagement, divergent learning, data anylasis, more writing, etc… More and more work is being placed on teachers. Pay for many has decreased or remained stagnant, yet the pressure and work load has increased.

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6 Anonymous, Maine March 5, 2013 at 9:59 pm

Interesting article, but not surprising. My experience has been similar — even the most dedicated, student-centered teachers are feeling burned out and unappreciated; the ones who aren’t are also those who don’t, meaning that the (in my opinion) poorer teachers with less invested in their students’ experience are also those who are better dealing personally with the pressures we are under. Thankfully for the kids, those are probably 10% or so of our teaching staff. Unfortunately, that leaves about 90% of our faculty in an unhealthy, unhappy place mentally.

We have been working this year without a contract, for the second time in four years. This is because the school board is attempting salary cuts in addition to health insurance increases, new teacher evaluations systems that blame us for every inadequacy in a student’s life, and increased responsibilities with fewer rewards. Some school board members and community members are demanding even more sacrifice since we are “guaranteed a job” when they are not in this lousy economy; we should be grateful for each penny we earn — which, in Maine, is somewhere around 49th lowest salary in the nation. We are working on aligning our curricula for the third time in the ten years I have been at this school, now to the Common Core after two versions of the Maine Learning Results, and moving from testing our students from the MEA to the SAT and now the new CC exam all in the same time period. We never last long enough with a single initiative to see if it helps kids, but jump onto the next wave of education reform that comes along, each and every time. Our budget has been cut by the state twice this year, now, with public school funding being diverted to foster the creation of private charter schools, which have not been proven to be effective, and their promise to fund 55% of public school finances has never come to fruition, since the law was passed (how many years ago? 5? 10?). We don’t have enough money to pay for new textbooks, so are using ones from 1982, and when we ran out this year because of higher student numbers, we had to use our personal credit cards to pay for them (even though we could get them on Amazon for 49 cents each). Should I go on?

So yes, morale is low. I have a BA from one of the best schools in the nation, a Master’s Degree in Education, ten years experience teaching kids (and, most of the time, loving it) but do I feel used and disrespected? Do I feel maligned and taken advantage of? Lots of the time, yes. And I know, I KNOW, I am not alone.

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7 Kristi March 10, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Oh Angela, I hope you are still reading comments. Morale is horrible. I, too, am a Virginia teacher. I have taught for 19 years at the same school in the same grade. I am a beloved teacher, but I do not think I can do this job much longer. I work all weekend and every night. The demands are increasing every day. Plus, many of the parents do not support us. I spend most of my time worrying who I will anger with my decisions. Who will write me a nasty letter? My administration does not support me at all. We are left to deal with the parents. They are continuing to cut our benefits and forcing us to pay more into our insurance and retirement. I just do not know if I will make it 6 more years. Many of my friends feel the same way. What can we do?

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8 Angela Watson March 10, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Hi, Kristi! Yes, I am reading each and every comment. It is sad to see so many teachers experiencing the same problems. However, I still hear from teachers all the time who work for principals who provide autonomy and respect. I think that while the education system is very troubled as a whole, there are also bright spots where teaching and learning can still be fun. The key is finding one of those schools for yourself…

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9 Annony Mouse March 23, 2013 at 4:34 pm

I teach second grade at a private school. Up until this school year I taught in one of those rare schools where I was given autonomy and respect. Then our principal left and a new one came.

We have had a half-hour added to our school day, while at the same time losing 2 hours per week of planning time, and gaining an additional 15 minutes per day of duties. Oh, and the kids lost 20 minutes of their lunch/recess time (leaving 40 minutes to eat AND play – which results in many full meals being dumped in the garbage, and many antsy wiggly kids in the afternoon classes).

We all must use the exact same lesson plan format (in previous years we could tweak the format as needed as long as it included all the necessary parts); must assign X pages of homework per week in every subject (really?!? How am I supposed to assign meaningful science homework every single week that doesn’t involve tons of parent involvement – which we were also warned about. Apparently parents are too busy to help their kids with homework, but we’re not too busy to make up busy work for the kids to do at home); must mark work daily (again, with much less prep time); must, must, must.

Our principal has also randomly popped into our classrooms to assign something random for homework or give a random quiz (which quite often has had nothing to do with what we have been studying), and then “shows concern” when students don’t perform well on these assignments.

There has also been a huge deal made over last year’s standardized test results (TerraNova), and changing it so that every class from Kindergarten on up will take it this year (we used to start at 2nd grade, and never really focused on the results until 3rd grade – 2nd was considered a “practice” year).

I’m sticking it out one more school year (until my contract runs out), but after that I am either going to stay home with my kiddo(s) (trying for #2 right now) or maybe open a home daycare / preschool. Unless I can find another awesome school that empowers teachers and then leaves them to it…

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10 Jade March 28, 2013 at 3:44 pm

These comments make me sad inside. This stuff is also what has been coming down the pipeline in Ontario. Our government spent this whole year busting our teaching union. I’m scared for my future and my student’s futures. :(

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