Teacher Job Satisfaction Hits 25-Year Low

Is this the reason for our ailing education system?

Jim Young/Reuters

A new survey paints a troubling portrait of the American educator: Teacher job satisfaction has hit its lowest point in a quarter of a century, and 75 percent of principals believe their jobs have become too complex.

The findings are part of the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Challenges for School Leadership. Conducted annually since 1984, the survey polled representative sampling of 1,000 teachers and 500 principals in K-12 schools across the country.

Only 39 percent of teachers described themselves as very satisfied with their jobs on the latest survey. That's a 23-percentage point plummet since 2008, and a drop of five percentage points just over the past year. Factors contributing to lower job satisfaction included working in schools where the budgets, opportunities for professional development, and time for collaboration with colleagues have all been sent to the chopping block.

Stress levels are also up, with half of all teachers describing themselves as under great stress several days per week, compared with a third of teachers in 1985.

"This news is disappointing but sadly, there are no surprises here. Teacher job satisfaction will continue to free fall as long as budgets are slashed," said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association. "Educators are doing everything they can to provide the best education possible for their students, but the rug just keeps getting pulled out from under them."

Dana Markow, vice president of Harris Interactive - which oversees the MetLife survey - says while it might seem logical to place much of the blame for the drop in job satisfaction on the recession, there's more at work here. Here's what Markow told me (read the full interview here):

"Factors other than simple economic pressures may have a role, 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 their time to collaborate with other teachers has decreased."

Teachers in the survey were significantly less likely to get a rating of "excellent" from their principals and peers if they worked at a school with a large population of students from low-income families. The excellent ratings ranged from 48-51 percent at the poorer campuses, compared with 73-75 percent at school serving more affluent student populations. That lines up with criticism from advocacy groups such as the Education Trust, which contends that the neediest students often get the weakest teachers.

Ed Trust "has long been concerned about our most vulnerable students - those from low-income families and students of color -- are not getting access to the same quality of teaching as their more affluent peers," said Sarah Almy, the organization's director of teacher quality.

So what's the solution? The way to get more effective teachers into higher-poverty schools "is making those schools places good teachers want to go and stay," Almy told me. "Some of the reasons why teachers are dissatisfied (on the survey) relate to opportunities for leadership and collaboration -- things we know are really important, and things that high-poverty and low-performing schools can and should be addressing."

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Emily Richmond is the public editor for the National Education Writers Association. She was previously the education reporter for the Las Vegas Sun.

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