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Teachers Today Are Older, Poorer, And Much Less Happy With

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In 1981, the average American public-school teacher was older, had spent more time in college, was relatively less well paid, and was far less likely to choose teaching as a career if given a second chance than was the case in 1976.

According to a nationwide survey to be released soon by the National Education Association (nea), more than one in three of the 1,326 elementary- and secondary-school teachers chosen randomly from different-sized school districts across the country said they "certainly" or "probably" would not become teachers again if they were given the choice.

In contrast, fewer than one in five of the teachers sampled in a similar nea survey in 1976 took the same position; and in 1961, about one out of ten teachers questioned said he or she would have chosen a different career.

In 1976, 48.7 percent of the teachers sur-veyed said they would stay in teaching until they are eligible for retirement; in 1981, the figure dropped to 34.7 percent.

The Status of The American Public School Teacher, 1980-81 is the sixth in a series of portraits of the public-school teacher that the nea has made every five years since 1956.

The reports cover a variety of subjects--from salaries to the length of lunch periods--that are selected with the intent of providing a profile of the personal and professional characteristics of teachers, their current teaching conditions, their attitudes toward their profession, and their community and civic activities.

The reports are distributed to nea affiliates for general information as well as for use in collective bargaining.

In the newest survey, more than 70 percent of the teachers responding to written questionnaires said their political philosophy was "conservative" or "tended to be conservative."

Four out of ten said they were registered Democrats; three out of ten said they were Republicans. And 30 percent said they had no political affiliation.

The expression of conservatism by classroom teachers contrasts sharply with the liberal positions often taken by the national leadership of the American Federation of Teachers and the nea, the two organizations that represent a vast majority of the nation's 2.15 million public-school teachers.

Competency Testing Surveyed

The controversial subject of competency testing was addressed for the first time in the 1981 survey.

Nearly 20 percent of the teachers questioned said they had been required to pass a competency test to be certified for the first time; 1 percent said a competency test was required for re-certification only; and 1.4 percent said such a test was needed for both both kinds of certification.

Also for the first time in the 1981 survey, teachers were asked if they lost their retirement credit when they took a teaching job in another state. Of the 32 percent who said they had taught in more than one state, 36.8 percent said they did lose their retirement credit.

Among the other specific findings of the 1981 survey:

The average age of a public-school teacher was 39 in 1981, up from 36 in 1976. In addition, there were only half as many (18.7 percent) teachers under 30 in the 1981 survey as there were in 1976 (37.1 percent). The average teacher had 13 years of full-time experience in 1981, up from 10 years in 1976.

The country's teaching force is becoming less mobile. In 1976, nearly one in five of the teachers surveyed said they had two years' experience or less in their present school system. By 1981, that figure was one in nine.

Conversely, in 1981 half the teachers questioned had spent 10 or more years in their current school system. In 1976, only one third of the teachers had spent 10 or more years in their present job. In 1981, the average teacher had spent 11 years in his or her present job, up from eight years in 1976.

The proportion of men (33.1 percent) to women (66.9 percent) in the teaching profession has remained nearly the same over the last 20 years; and the proportion of blacks (7.8 percent) to whites (91.6 percent) in the teaching force has been steady over the last 10 years.

Teachers' salaries are not keeping up with inflation. In 1980-81, those surveyed earned a mean salary of $17,209 under their teaching contract, an increase of 43.3 percent from the $12,005 earned during the 1975-76 school year. But, according to the survey, that increase was 14.1 percent smaller than the rise in the rate of inflation--as measured by the Consumer Price Index--during the same period.

Salaries Lowest in Southeast

The survey shows teachers' salaries to be highest in the West and Northeast and in large school systems; they are lowest in the Southeast and in small school systems. The male teachers surveyed earned a mean salary of $18,473 under their contracts, while women earned less--$16,668.

Teachers surveyed in 1981 had spent more time in college than those surveyed in earlier years. Nearly half the teachers surveyed in 1981 had graduate degrees, more than double the number that had them in 1961 and an increase of 12 percent from 1976.

In 1961, 14.6 percent of the teachers surveyed did not have a bachelor's degree; in 1981, only 0.4 percent did not.

Also, an increasing percentage of teachers is being trained in public colleges and universities. In 1981, 78.1 percent of those questioned said they received their bachelor's degree from a public institution, up from 75.5 percent in 1976.

However, the 1981 survey suggests that teachers today are not devoting as much time to continuing their education.

In 1981, for example, 28.5 percent of those surveyed had received their highest degree within the previous five years and had taken an average of nine semester-hours for credit within the last three years. But in 1976, 46.5 percent of the teachers had earned their highest degree in the previous five years and they had earned 14 semester hours in the last three years.

Ann Liebermann, a professor of education at Columbia University's Teachers College who has been working with mid-career teachers in an attempt to combat the "burnout" that often results from many years in the classroom, said the combination of an increase in the average age of public-school teachers and a decrease in the amount of course-work teachers do to keep themselves up to date is cause for serious concern.

"We are going to have to find ways of working with teachers to reinvigorate them," she said.

Other Characteristics Included

The survey also includes information on several other common characteristics of teachers and their working conditions.

It reveals that in 1981 teachers worked fewer hours each week in big-city school districts; that there were fewer teacher-aides than in previous years; that there has been an increased tendency among teachers in recent years to teach in only one subject area; and that teachers were being given more free time during the school day to prepare for their classes (but 11.4 percent of the teachers reported that they were not given any free periods for preparation).

As in previous years, about half of the teachers surveyed in 1981 worked at other jobs to supplement their teaching salaries, earning an average of $2,462 in extra income. More than half of the teachers surveyed in 1981 had spouses who worked full time. The mean annual household income for the teachers surveyed was $29,831, up 98.6 percent from $15,021 in 1971.

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