What do the recently released results of the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher actually mean?
Teachers and their union representatives were quick to jump on the numbers indicating diminishing job satisfaction among teachers, suggesting that it was a harbinger of dire things to come. Indeed, teacher satisfaction has dropped 23 percentage points from its peak in 2008, five points in the past year alone. Currently only 39% of teachers surveyed reported they were satisfied with their jobs.
But in 1986 even fewer (33% of teachers) reported they were satisfied with being a teacher. What happened next? Job satisfaction began to climb steadily until 62% of teachers reported they were satisfied with their jobs in 2008. What is interesting to me is that during the years teachers felt most satisfied, calls for teacher accountability were also on the rise. The difference between then and now, however, is that schools had more money during that time for teacher training and for raises.
Teachers today also report feeling more stress. When job satisfaction was at 44% in 1985, about a third of teachers said they felt great stress several days a week. Today slightly more than half of teacher respondents say they often feel stress. Elementary teachers report feeling more stress than secondary teachers, a result I find both interesting and surprising.
The survey reveals that job satisfaction is tied to budget reductions. Teachers at schools that have reduced or eliminated opportunities for staff development or time to collaborate also report less job satisfaction. Teachers in urban schools or schools with high minority populations are not more likely to be dissatisfied, but high poverty rates do appear to contribute to teacher dissatisfaction. Teachers who report lower job satisfaction are more likely to report that their students are performing below grade level in English/language arts and math (50% vs. 61%). Finally, teachers who report low satisfaction are not only less likely to rate their principal as excellent (35% vs. 60%), they are less likely to rate their fellow teachers as excellent (52% vs. 67%). Mid-career teachers are more likely than new teachers to feel low job satisfaction.
So what conclusions can we draw about teacher satisfaction? First of all, it doesn’t seem to be related to accountability or reform initiatives or teacher bashing or standardized testing or new evaluation procedures or any of those other issues various people have touted. Quite simply, it’s a function of funding. Do schools have enough money to hire good teachers and pay them well? Is there money for training and materials? Is there enough to keep class sizes reasonable? In other words, does the public value education enough to pay for it? That’s the real issue when it comes to teacher satisfaction.