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What Influences Teacher Job Satisfaction?

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, I can't get no 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.




Teachers Are Not First Responders

“For a long time, we have been teaching people to be victims, but sometimes the only choice you are going to have is to die or fight back.”

                                                              Patrick Berarducci, Medina, Ohio Police Chief

Tingley-021 colorYou might think that Chief Berarducci is talking about private citizens defending their homes, but no.  The chief is talking about school people confronting an intruder with the intent to “take him out” as other police officials put it. 

I understand Berarducci’s concerns, but his choice of words is unfortunate.  I do not believe that lock-down drills in which teachers shelter their students in closets, against walls, or even in bathrooms is “teaching people to be victims.”  And while I regretted the security measures we had to install in our New York schools after Columbine, I have now come to believe that they are necessary.  The days when visitors could blithely enter a school building and make their way to any classroom are gone and with them the comfortable feeling that kids were safe in their community school.  When I walk into some schools here in Virginia and no one questions who I am or where I’m going, I have to wonder where the state ed department has been these last ten years.  Even Berarducci sadly admits, “I’ve been in this business for 39 years.  I never thought it would get to this point.”

Police advise that confronting a shooter should be that last choice.  A new training video released by University of Wisconsin – Madison Police Chief Susan Riseling is called,  “Get Out, Call Out, Hide Out, Keep Out, Take Out.”  And police advocates for confronting the shooter insist they aren’t necessarily advocates for arming school people.  OK, but tell me – how would the “take out” part work?

As it turns out, of course, armed teachers and administrators are already a reality in some states, notably Texas, where a few districts allow school people to carry concealed weapons.  Nirvi Shah for Ed Week interviewed an elementary teacher who glibly talked about how she often wears “flowing skirts” so that her handgun can’t be seen.

Yeah, that’s what I’d really want.  My granddaughter’s second grade teacher packing heat. 

School people are not “first responders.”  Shooting intruders isn’t part of the job description for teachers and administrators.  When it becomes part of the job description, we will have a real problem when it comes to hiring.

National School Safety and Security Services President Ken Trump is not in favor of arming school people.  He is, however, concerned that security practices are either lax or non-existent in schools he visits.  Let’s hope that before people go off the deep end they recognize that there are many safety measures that schools can put in place to protect kids that don’t include teachers with concealed weapons.












Competing for Elementary Teaching Positions

“K-5 teacher overload:  Too many trained, too few jobs” reports USA Today in a “General Grant Still Dead” kind of headline.  The article points out that schools of education are training twice as many elementary teachers than there are openings.  On the other hand, schools can’t find enough qualified candidates to fill math, science, and special education openings.

Tell me something I don’t know.  These findings are hardly “news” to anyone who has been charged with hiring teachers over the last ten years.   Suburban principals report 400-plus elementary applicants for a single opening.  Even in my rural upstate school district we had nearly 200 applicants for elementary positions, even from newly certified teachers who never really wanted to live that far outside of a city.

Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) says that the problem is that colleges and universities don’t try to match supply and demand like other professions do.  The NCTQ is a BOY_IN_CLASSROOMresearch and policy group based in Washington.  Colleges respond that they don’t just prepare candidates for local or state openings, but for nation-wide markets.  Both of these arguments seem spurious to me.  What professional credentialing is market-driven?  And what schools turn away tuition-paying students these days?

If you’ve never interviewed candidates for elementary positions, you might be surprised to know how many of them say they’ve always wanted to work with little kids, and teaching elementary school has been their lifetime dream.  While they may have been able to find a teaching position in math, science, or special ed, they didn’t choose these fields for their life’s work.  It’s not as if schools of education can easily guide students into fields in which they have no interest or no aptitude.  Instead, many certified elementary teachers will take jobs as aides or assistants just to get their foot in the door and still be able to work with kids.

But what if …. What if education colleges limited the number of applicants accepted into a rigorous academic training program with hours of hands-on work in the field plus a lengthy internship?  What if getting a place in the school of education was highly competitive?  What if you could actually flunk out of elementary school training because the program was so academically and technically demanding?  What if parents began to recognize how important it is for their kids to have outstanding and caring teachers at the elementary level?  What if elementary teachers received signing bonuses because reading and math skills and attitudes towards learning at the elementary level form the basis of all later academic achievement?  What if elementary schools felt lucky to hire a graduate of one of these select, rigorous college programs?

The good news is that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there is likely to be a 17% increase in teacher employment in this decade, mainly in the South and West.  The bad news is that few schools of ed will have adjusted their programs to attract the best and the brightest students.


Union City: Old School and Preschool Success

Tingley-021 colorWhat is remarkable about the success of Union City Schools in New Jersey is the unremarkable way in which the turnaround occurred.  The methodology was decidedly old school.

In an opinion piece in the New York Times, David L. Kirp, a professor of public policy at the University of California Berkley, explains how Union City reformed its failing schools.  It wasn’t with “charter schools or firings, but with patience,” he writes.   Kiirp spent a year at Union City working on his forthcoming book, Improbably Scholars:  The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools.

Union City is a poor community that is 75% Hispanic, about a quarter of whom are thought to be undocumented.  Yet students perform at or above the state average on tests.  In 2011 they had an almost 90% graduation rate, 10 points higher than the national average.  Three-quarters of the graduates went on to college.

So what’s the deal?  Strong teachers, good leadership, student engagement, rigorous curriculum.  Oh, yes – and a strong sense of pride and respect for “our house” instilled in kids by the principal and staff.  Nothing new here.  In fact, Kirp makes the point that Union City and other successful schools like them (and there are many others, he says) “didn’t become exemplars by behaving like magpies, taking shiny bit and pieces and gluing them together.”  Instead, he says, they relied on experience and research to design and implement what they knew would work.

School officials credit a big part of the district’s success to their universal pre-K program which enrolls nearly all of the community’s 3– and 4- year olds.   Research shows there is a strong correlation between preschool attendance and later success in school, and many were heartened by President Obama’s call in his State of the Union address to “make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.”  The plan would be that the federal government would partner with states to provide preschool for all 4-year-olds from low- to moderate-income families.    The plan also includes an expansion of Early Head Start.

MagpieHaving had experience trying to establish a pre-K in my last district, I have a few thoughts about it.  Despite my best efforts I was never able to procure enough funding to make it work.  As state aid declined, the community was already paying a bigger tax levy.  There was no classroom space, so we would have had to partner with an off-site agency already providing preschool for the children of parents who could afford to pay the tuition.  Oversight became an issue as well as transportation.

Still, the benefits outweigh the problems.  We know that kids in a quality preschool program staffed with trained teachers makes a difference in kids’ lives.  It boils down to money, but I still believe it’s a short-term investment with huge long-term dividends. 

We can continue to do what we’re doing and get the same results.  Or we can look at school districts like Union City and make the investment in programs like preschool, which we know works.  I’ll continue to hope that Congress will get behind an evidence-backed program instead of acting like magpies again.

Nice Teeth and Good Grammar

It turns out that what women really want – and coincidentally what men really want too – is to find a significant other who has both nice teeth and good grammar.

USA Today reports that an online survey of 5,481 singles conducted for Match.com, the online dating service, reveals a number of interesting findings that you may want to check out for yourself.  Since this is a blog about education, however, I’ll just focus on the most relevant finding:  55% of men and 69% of women judge a potential date’s desirability on whether he or she has mastered agreement of subject and verb.  Seriously, who knew?

I could have been a contenderUsing good grammar came in second to having nice teeth, which I have to say is not really surprising.  Few people make it into the ranks of high earners without a full set of pearly whites.  Even some professional hockey players lose some of their bad boy charm when they smile in the penalty box after beating on an opponent.

But good grammar?  Wow.  As a former English teacher, I feel completely justified now in the endless drills I compelled my students to complete in their grammar books.  How many times did I cajole my students to speak and write good English because, I told them, “Whether it’s fair or not, people will judge you on how you speak.”  How many times did I write in the margins of their papers, “Agreement” or “A single subject takes a single verb.  What is the subject of this sentence?”  Imagine how much they value that instruction today!

I assume that the respondents to the survey were talking about using good grammar in spoken language given that written communication among potential daters usually takes the form of texts or tweets.  Grammar pretty much goes by the wayside along with spelling and punctuation.  Still, I’ve known a few singles (mostly women, I admit), who were completely turned off when they realized a potential date didn’t know the difference between to and too or your and you’re and was baffled by the use of apostrophes.

So good grammar makes a  prospective date more appealing.  This Valentine’s Day forget the candy and flowers and give a potential mate something that really matters:  Strunk and White.

Different Evaluation System, Same Results

Tingley-021 colorThe last couple of years have produced a series of pitched battles over teacher evaluation systems.  On the one side are state and federal lawmakers; on the other side are teachers and their unions.  The battles have been bitter and ugly, even resulting in a big city strike.  In the end, of course, reformers prevailed, having control of state and federal dollars.  At last we would see strong, complex evaluation systems sure to weed out the worst teachers while identifying those in need of improvement.

Not so fast.  As states that have implemented new teacher evaluation systems release their results, we see the results are the same.  About 95% of teachers were judged above average or at the very least, satisfactory.

Stephen Sawchuk reports that 98% of Michigan teachers were rated effective or better under their new evaluation system.  In Tennessee, 98% of teachers met expectations, and in Florida 97% were judged effective or better.  In a Georgia pilot program, 94% of teachers hit the mark.

Both sides of the evaluation battles offer the usual explanations for the results.  The unions say it just goes to show that teachers were doing a good job all along.  The reformers say that it’s a problem with culture and training.

TeacherEvaluation080910I think reformers have a point:  School culture influences teacher evaluation scores.  If a teacher has been getting satisfactory ratings for years, it’s hard to explain how she has suddenly become unsatisfactory.  Is she really doing a poorer job?  Or was the principal or evaluator not doing his?  Are the criteria for good classroom performance now so very different from what they were?  And what about the veterans, teachers who have 20-30 years of satisfactory evaluations?  How does the supervisor explain that what they’ve been doing is no longer considered effective teaching?  After all, it was just fine last year.  I know from my own experience that as a new teacher, I was rated excellent in nearly every category during my second year of teaching in a suburban school.  Even I knew I wasn’t excellent.  Did I fool the principal or didn’t he know what good teaching was?

Any veteran school person will tell you that it’s not surprising that teachers were rated satisfactory on classroom performance; anyone can get it together to shine once or twice a year for 40 minutes.  This is exactly why supervision is a process and not an event.  The supervisor needs to be in the classroom every day if possible for a few minutes.  No teacher is great – or even satisfactory -- every minute of every day, but it’s easy enough to tell if she is generally effective and kids are learning.  Are the day’s objectives clear and shared with students?  Are kids engaged and paying attention?  Are they participating in their learning?  Does the teacher check for understanding?  Is there closure at the end of the lesson to review what kids have learned?  Is homework meaningful practice?  These are the kinds of indicators principals should be looking for.  If you’ve dropped into a classroom three times this week and nothing was happening at any time, you need to be paying attention to this teacher’s general performance.

It’s not the evaluation system that makes workers better.  It’s clear expectations, valid and continuous feedback, specific directions for improvement, and consequences for failure.  You want to see a good school improvement model?  Watch Robert Irvine’s Restaurant Impossible.






A Misguided Proposal to Copyright Student Work

It’s not unusual for a company to claim that all work created by employees, on or off site, belongs by copyright to the company.  Some universities and government agencies claim the same right to employees’ work, sharing to various extents in any profit to accrue from it.  But a proposal by the Prince George’s (Virginia) County Board of Education claims that all work by school employees and students would be subject to copyright by the school system.

CreativeAn argument can be made for claiming some degree of ownership of work done by a company or agency’s employees.  After all, employees have access not only to technology, but also to the intellectual property of the company or agency including its intellectual history – successes and failures – upon which to build.  In addition, the workplace provides a forum for collaboration and exchange of ideas with similarly trained employees.  So if a research engineer builds a better mousetrap while on the job or tinkering at home, she has the advantage of the physical or intellectual resources the company or agency provides.

But let’s consider the school.  In my experience, the great majority of teachers create curriculum and materials for their own students.  On occasion a teacher will develop a book or program that can be sold to a publisher and disseminated over a broader range of professionals.   In the rare event that a teacher sells her materials, it would be highly unlikely that the work would have been done at school because there is simply no time in the day to accomplish that extra work.  Of course, if the teacher was paid by the district to develop curriculum or teaching materials during time outside the classroom, the expectation is that the work belongs to the school district.  And even when work is developed on the teacher’s own time, I can tell you (again from experience) that no teacher will be able to quit her job and retire to the Bahamas on royalties.

But the Prince George board wants to go beyond teachers’ work and claim all the work done by students.  There are more than a few problems with this idea.  First of all, students are not employees of the school district.  In fact, parents, not the school board, own the district, which exists through public funding.  If a students develops a book or a video or an app or a piece of art that is marketable, the district ought to rejoice in the student’s success rather than suck up any profit that might come from it.  Says David Cahn, an education activist who regularly attends the school board meetings, “There is something inherently wrong with that” [attempting to copyright kids’ work]. “There are better ways to do this than to take away a person’s rights.”  University of Missouri Professor David Rein, a lawyer who teaches courses on intellectual property, says he’s never heard of a school district claiming to be able to copyright students’ work.

The board has not yet voted on the proposal and there is talk of amending it before it comes to vote.   It’s a foolish idea, one that will generate far more ill will than revenue.



Paying Attention to the Gender Gap

Tingley-021 colorWhen noted children’s author Bruce Coville visited my school, he talked enthusiastically and humorously about how to interest kids in reading.  At one point, however, he stopped to seriously consider whether the typical elementary classroom was as comfortable an environment for boys as it was for girls. 

A former elementary teacher himself, Coville suggested that perhaps one of the reasons that boys seemed less interested in reading is that since most teachers at the elementary level are female, boys saw reading as a female pursuit.  They rarely saw men – either at school or at home – reading for pleasure.  In addition, he cautioned, elementary teachers often value the ability of their students to sit still, something girls seemed better able to do.  In an environment that values conformity and compliance, boys probably aren’t going to do as well as girls.

Teachers, he said, needed to choose books that both boys and girls would want to read.  Girls are much more likely to read so-called “boys’ books” than vice versa.  I knew from my own experience that he was right.

As an elementary principal who was never an elementary teacher, I often wondered why so many teachers seemed to prize sitting a certain way on the rug, raising your hand before you speak, moving silently though the halls.  And I had often heard teachers try to reinforce compliant behaviors with, “I like the way Shawna is listening quietly” or “I like the way Mary has her desk cleared off.”  No boy, I thought, would want to be singled out for that kind of behavior.

Boys and girls in schoolSo it comes as no surprise that The Journal of Human Resources will publish this week research that indicates teachers tend to factor behavior into academic grades.  As girls tend to exhibit persistence, self-control, and the ability to work independently earlier than boys, girls tend to get better grades in school although boys score as well on standardized tests according to the research.

In her essay, “The Boys at the Back,” author Christina Hoff Sommers (The War Against Boys) argues that schools need to focus on boys’ progress now just as they did on girls’ progress in the 90s.  While I think that her book presents a rather  overblown thesis, there is much evidence that girls have surged ahead of boys in terms of high school graduation rates, college attendance, and admittance to graduate and professional schools.  And I heartily agree with Sommers when she points out that the success of girls shouldn’t depend on lack of success for boys.  The fact that girls and women were discriminated against in the past (and in the workplace still today) doesn’t mean that today’s men and boys have to pay for it.

Sommers suggests that we follow the example of the British, the Canadians, and the Australians in addressing underachieving male students.  Schools in these countries, she says, have put in place programs to help boys become better organized and more focused.  As Bruce Coville suggested earlier, the schools’ curriculum includes more readings to engage boys – science fiction, sports, etc.  Besides recruiting more male teachers, they work to help female teachers understand and respond to the particular pedagogical challenges boys present.

There is no question that the nation’s success and prosperity depends on developing the potential of all of our students.  Interestingly enough, most of the suggestions for improving boys’ achievement – a wider range of reading assignments, more time for physical activity like recess and gym, greater tolerance for individual behavior and learning choices – would benefit girls as well.






Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Practical Leadership are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.