Since 1984, the “MetLife Survey of the American Teacher” has offered a composite profile of the nation’s educators, touching on issues from job satisfaction to campus climate. This year’s report, “Challenges for School Leadership,” focused on principals, and how challenges such as the economy and increased accountability demands – are affecting schools. EWA spoke with Dana Markow, vice president of youth and education research at Harris Interactive, which oversees the survey.
1. The percentage of teachers who described themselves on the survey as very satisfied with their jobs was 39 percent, the lowest level in a quarter-century. How much of this drop can be blamed on the economy?
The drop in job satisfaction certainly does coincide with the timing of the recession, and we know teachers with lower job satisfaction are more likely to be in schools where the budgets have decreased.
The economy is probably a factor, but there are some other changes going on—for example, the implementation of the Common Core State Standards – that are additional stresses and responsibilities being placed on teachers.
Factors other than simple economic pressures may have a role in teacher satisfaction, such as the support they receive from school leadership and their colleagues. Teachers with higher job satisfaction are more likely to rate the job their principal is doing as excellent and to rate the other teachers in their schools as excellent, and they’re less likely to say that time to collaborate with other teachers has decreased.
2. At the same time, 75 percent of principals believe their job has become too complex, and their job satisfaction has dropped nine percentage points since 2008, to 59 percent. Coupled with the high number of dissatisfied teachers, what kind of trouble does that spell for the pipeline to develop future school leaders?
We know from the survey that teachers with lower job satisfaction are more likely to be somewhat more interested in a hybrid role – teaching part-time in the classroom combined with other job responsibilities. However, whether they have higher or lower job satisfaction, they seem to have similar levels of interest in becoming a principal.
In terms of the principals, there’s a decline in satisfaction but no change in their intent to leave the profession since 2004-2005. So, we have some mixed information there. I think what that tells us is that while satisfaction might be a factor in the pipeline, it’s not the only factor and might not even be the most important one.
3. Despite the stresses, teachers and principals generally give each other high ratings on job performance. What’s your takeaway from that?
One of the things going on is educators have a strong sense of purpose. For many of them, it’s a calling as much as a job. They have that passion for teaching and education, and I think the survey results reflect that sense of a shared mission. [In] an earlier report in the survey series, in 2008, we found 98 percent of teachers agreed with the statement “I love to teach” and 97 percent of principals agreed with “I love being a principal.” When you think about other professions, how many would say “I love doing my job?”
4. About half of teachers and four in ten principals are very confident that teachers have the skills to implement the Common Core successfully. But a much smaller margin – 17 percent to 24 percent – of educators say they are confident the new standards will improve student achievement or better prepare students for college or the workforce. What do you make of that disconnect?
Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if those confidence levels will perhaps be tempered by the reality of the actual implementation. I think some of it is perhaps a “show me” situation: They’ll have more confidence if they see results. In terms of whether it’s actually going to make a difference in their students’ lives, they’re taking a wait and see approach.
5. The survey results suggest educators are struggling to support an increasingly high-need student population, often with reduced resources. What would you describe as the “good news” in the survey?
One positive message from the survey is the association between high-quality school leadership and positive outcomes for students and for educators. While surveys cannot indicate causalities, we did find that teachers who rate their principals as doing an excellent job are more likely than other teachers to say that all or most of their students are at or above grade level in English language arts and math.
These teachers are more likely to have high job satisfaction and are more likely to rate the other classroom teachers in their schools as excellent. They’re less likely to say it’s challenging for school leaders maintain an adequate supply of effective teachers, or to address the needs of diverse learners, or to engage parents and the community. I’d call that very good news.