A new survey from MetLife Foundation finds that teacher career satisfaction is at a twenty-year high, but also that retaining teachers is as difficult today as it was two decades ago. According to this year’s survey, The American Teacher, 2006: Expectations and Experiences , 56 percent of teachers are very satisfied with their careers. However, the report cautions that the number of teachers likely to change careers has stayed the same.
Since 1984, MetLife has sponsored this annual survey of teachers to find out how satisfied they are with their careers and to determine why so many leave when they do. This year’s survey of K–12 teachers, principals, education school deans and chairpersons examines the state of the profession at key points throughout the life cycle of a teacher’s career, from preparation in college and graduate school, to experiences in the nation’s K–12 schools.
“America’s teachers represent a critical bridge between this country’s present and future success,” said MetLife Chairman and CEO Rob Henrikson. “Ensuring that we have the best public education system possible is everyone’s responsibility, which is why MetLife has commissioned the Survey of the American Teacher for more than two decades. With almost half of all teachers exiting the profession in their first five years, we need to develop actionable strategies to strengthen our public schools by keeping good teachers in them. As these results demonstrate, a dangerous gap exists between expectation and experience, making it more difficult to attract and retain teachers.”
Although teacher career satisfaction was at a twenty-year high, teachers continued to express disappointment with certain aspects of their job. Based on the survey, 65 percent of teachers said that they did not have enough time for planning and grading. In addition, 60 percent said that they did not have enough time to help individual students, and 34 percent said they lacked time for classroom instruction.
According to the report, more than one in four teachers (27 percent) said that they were likely to leave the profession within the next five years. By examining survey responses from teachers, the report’s authors were able to create a profile of a teacher who is at risk of leaving the profession. They found that the most significant predictor is whether a teacher is assigned to classes he or she does not feel qualified to teach. In fact, teachers assigned to classes that they feel unqualified to teach were 1.9 times more likely to leave. Age also plays a role, with older teachers more likely to leave.
The biggest factor in retaining a teacher was pairing him or her with a mentor. “Having a mentor during the first year of teaching significantly increases the odds that a teacher will stay in the profession,” the report reads. The role that a mentor can play for a beginning teacher is especially valuable given some of the concerns that beginning teachers expressed. For example, 26 percent of teachers said that they were not prepared to work with children with varying abilities during their first teaching positions. In addition, 20 percent said that they were not prepared to maintain order and discipline in the classroom.
The good news is that pairing beginning teachers with a mentor is becoming more of a common practice than it was ten or twenty years ago. In fact, 82 percent of new teachers (defined in the report as teachers who have been in the profession for less than five years) said that they were matched with a more experienced mentor during their first year of teaching. Among older teachers, only 51 percent of teachers with six to twenty years of experience and only 16 percent of teachers with more than twenty-one years of experience were paired with a mentor during their first year of teaching.
When deans and chairpersons in schools of education were asked for their solutions to keep teachers from leaving the profession, 90 percent said that a decent salary for teachers was an important step that needed to be made. They also listed more respect for teachers in today’s society (82 percent), increased financial support for the school system (72 percent), and more opportunities for professional development (71 percent). When principals were asked the same question, they listed a decent salary and more respect as their number one and number two choices, respectively, but 80 percent also listed more time for teachers to discuss their needs and problems with other teachers as a valid solution.
When teachers were surveyed, they also listed a decent salary (92 percent), increased financial support for the school system (84 percent), and more respect for teachers (82 percent) as ways to keep more teachers in the profession. However, they also suggested having better tools and supplies (74 percent), providing time for teachers to discuss their needs and problems with other teachers (73 percent), and reducing the amount of time that teachers spend in non-teaching duties (68 percent). Teachers were less likely to believe that more opportunities for professional development would help keep them in the profession.
“They should implement a mentor program and stick with it,” said Mindy T., a prospective teacher quoted in the report. “A bad tactic is letting veteran teachers pick and choose what kids they want before scheduling is done so that the brand new teachers are left with all of the bad kids. That’s the fastest way to lose a highly qualified teacher.”
The complete report is available at http://www.metlife.com/Applications/Corporate/WPS/CDA/PageGenerator/0,4132,P13393,00.html.
|Reality Check: Survey Reveals Disconnect Between School Superintendents and Classroom Teachers Regarding Whether Students “Slip Through the Cracks”
There is a major disconnect between teachers and superintendents over whether students are slipping through the cracks. In fact, according to Reality Check 2006: Issue No. 4: The Insiders, the latest in a set of public opinion tracking surveys on education from Public Agenda, 62 percent of teachers, compared to only 27 percent of superintendents, say that students are slipping through the education system without learning.
“With such vastly different sets of perceptions, you really have to wonder whether these people are working at cross purposes,” said Jean Johnson, executive director of Public Agenda’s Education Insights Division and author of the report. “It’s probably natural for principals and superintendents to be upbeat about their institutions and employees, but still, I think the positive, almost buoyant outlook captured here may come as a surprise to a lot of school reformers and critics.”
In a Public Agenda roundtable discussion concerning the survey on October 13, Dr. Wendy Robinson, superintendent of Fort Wayne (IN) Community Schools, explained that superintendents needed to become more connected to the classroom and to have more personal involvement with their teachers if they were to understand the challenges that teachers face.
During the event, discussion turned to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Peter McWalters, Rhode Island commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said that the education system is completely unconnected to 40 percent of the students. He explained that his district “looks perfectly normal on paper,” but that 40 percent of the district is performing at the 20 percent level, and 60 percent of the district is performing at 80 percent. While he spoke positively about NCLB, its accountability systems, and the attention it pays to student performance, he also asked for more support and resources. “You’ve got my attention with a 2 x 4. Now can I get a little help?,” he said.
The complete Public Agenda survey is available at http://publicagenda.org/specials/realitycheck06/realitycheck06_main.htm.