Eighty percent of new teachers report feeling “very prepared” or “somewhat prepared” to enter the classroom, according to a new survey of first-year teachers across the country. Among new middle and high school teachers, 81 percent are comfortable teaching in their subject. However, the report also finds that large numbers of new teachers feel distinctly underprepared to deal with the ethnic and racial diversity that they often find in the classroom. These findings are captured in Teaching in Changing Times, the third and final report for “Lessons Learned,” a joint project between the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality and Public Agenda.
“The ‘Teaching in Changing Times’ report illustrates the gap between teacher training and the realities of the classroom when it comes to teaching diverse populations and students with special needs,” said Sabrina Laine, director of the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality. “A highly effective teacher workforce starts with quality preparation and needs to be bolstered with good induction and mentoring programs for new teachers.”
According to the report, 76 percent of new teachers say that they were trained in teaching an ethnically diverse student body, but only 39 percent say that this training helped them “a lot.” It also finds that the anxiety about dealing with diverse classrooms is greatest among new teachers in more upscale communities, pointing out that teachers who are headed for more suburban and working-class schools are “just not prepared for the diversity that they will find.”
Given this anxiety, it is no surprise that new teachers ranked diversity training high on the list of the best ways to improve teaching, with 94 percent saying it would be very or somewhat effective in improving teacher quality, a percentage that ranked only below reducing class size (97 percent). New teachers also favor increasing teacher salaries (93 percent), increasing professional development opportunities for teachers (93 percent), requiring teachers at the secondary school level to major in the subjects they are teaching (87 percent), and making it easier to terminate unmotivated or incompetent teachers (84 percent).
Among the report’s other findings, 62 percent of new teachers had been hoping to teach for a “long time;” 28 percent decided to enter the field when they were in college, and 8 percent chose teaching as their profession by chance. When asked how long they expect to continue teaching, most new teachers report being in for the long haul, with 68 percent of new teachers saying they will teach for more than ten years, and only 16 percent saying less than five years. This finding is especially interesting, as research has shown that about half of all new teachers leave the profession within the first five years.
When the surveyed new teachers were asked about salary, the results were mixed. On one hand, only 33 percent of new teachers say that low salary and not much opportunity for growth is a “major drawback” to teaching. However, 54 percent admit that a “significantly higher salary” would change their minds about leaving the profession. But when asked whether they preferred a school that paid a significantly higher salary or one where administrators gave strong backing and support to teachers, 79 percent chose administrative support over a higher salary.