On average, 64 percent of U.S. middle school teachers work in schools where more than 30 percent of students come from socio-economically disadvantaged homes. That’s significantly higher than the international average of 20 percent, according to results of the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
TALIS, in which American teachers participated for the first time in 2013, captures the perspectives of practitioners on key topics, including teachers’ professional development needs, beliefs and attitudes about teaching that teachers bring to the classroom, and the role that school leaders play in fostering an effective teaching and learning environment. More than 100,000 teachers and school leaders at “lower secondary level” schools in thirty-four countries and economies took part in TALIS.1
Middle school teachers in the United States report working more hours per week (45 hours) than their international colleagues (38 hours). They also report spending 27 hours per week on classroom teaching alone—much higher than the international average of 19 hours per week.
“A teacher’s main work is teaching, but such a large class load normally does not leave much time for planning, grading, working with students and parents, participating in extracurricular and leadership activities and all of the other tasks that teachers do in a week,” the report notes.
U.S. middle school teachers also tend to work more independently than their international peers, the survey finds. Nearly 54 percent of U.S. middle school teachers report never teaching jointly in the same classroom with a colleague, compared to 42 percent internationally. Forty-two percent of U.S. teachers say they never engage in joint projects across classes or age groups, compared to only 22 percent internationally.
“Not only can these types of activities provide in-school professional development opportunities for teachers, but TALIS data also indicate that these kinds of collaborative activities can be positively related to teachers’ reported job satisfaction and to the confidence they have in their own abilities as teachers,” the report notes.
U.S. teachers are more in line with the international average when it comes to job satisfaction, with approximately 90 percent of U.S. and international teachers reporting being satisfied with their jobs and roughly 80 percent saying they are satisfied with their current working environment and that, if they could decide again, they would still choose teaching. Even with these high levels of job satisfaction, however, only 34 percent of U.S. teachers and 31 percent of their international peers believe that teaching is valued by society. The report notes that countries where teachers feel valued tend to perform better on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). For example, large percentages of teachers in high-performing nations Singapore (68 percent) and Korea (67 percent) believe that teaching is valued by society.
The report also includes several recommendations to improve teaching and learning and enhance and transform the teaching profession. Recognizing that a large percentage of U.S. middle school teachers face “challenging” classroom circumstances and that U.S. teachers make less use of some collaborative practices, the report notes that school principals should consider providing opportunities and support for relationship building and collaboration at the school level. Specifically, it recommends that policymakers and school leaders “support professional development activities where teachers are given more opportunities to mentor one another and develop a strong network with one another.” Teachers are also encouraged to “seek networking and mentoring opportunities to enhance cooperation, build trust, and promote a positive school climate.”
In an attempt to address the value that society sees in teaching, the report notes that teachers who are able to participate in decisionmaking for their school are more likely to report teaching as a valued profession by society. Additionally, it finds that empowering teachers in this manner is positively related to job satisfaction and teachers’ confidence in their abilities.
“There is no single solution to these complicated issues, but providing teachers with more leadership opportunities seems to be a starting point that could benefit teachers’ careers, job satisfaction, confidence, and the school as a whole,” the report notes.
“We need to attract the best and brightest to join the profession. Teachers are the key in today’s knowledge economy, where a good education is an essential foundation for every child’s future success,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD director for education and skills. “[These survey results provide] strong evidence that teachers are open to change and keen to learn and develop throughout their careers. At the same time, they need to take more initiative to work with colleagues and school leaders, and take advantage of every opportunity for professional development.”
On June 27, the Alliance for Excellent Education held a webinar on the TALIS results. Schleicher provided a deep dive on the United States and international findings from TALIS while Stephanie Hirsh, executive director at Learning Forward, discussed the implications for improving teaching effectiveness in the United States and the efforts under way to create powerful professional learning systems. Alliance President Bob Wise provided background on TALIS and served as the moderator.
Archived webinar video and Schleicher’s PowerPoint presentation are available at https://all4ed.org/webinar-event/jun-27-2014/.
More information on TALIS, including the complete results for the United States, is available at http://www.oecd.org/edu/school/talis-2013-results.htm.
1 Lower secondary level schools serve students aged eleven to sixteen.