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Nation's Teachers Feeling Better About Jobs, Salaries, Survey Finds

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Washington

Most teachers are more satisfied with their jobs now than they were a decade ago, a survey released last week concludes, although those in urban areas are not as optimistic as their rural and suburban peers.

Respondents to the Metropolitan Life teacher survey were nearly twice as likely to say they earn a "decent salary" as they were in 1984, when the insurance company began surveying teachers' attitudes.

The new study, which compares American teachers' views with those expressed in 1984, found progress on several fronts. A decade ago, only 45 percent of the teachers surveyed said they would advise a young person to become a teacher. In the new survey, that proportion increased to 67 percent.

Teachers' satisfaction with the quality of their training and preparation for the classroom also has increased. And the respondents were more positive about the quality of teachers in their schools, their schools' curricula and standards, and the amount of support they receive from parents and their communities.

But when teachers' attitudes were broken down by the location of their schools, the survey found substantial differences in the experiences of urban teachers.

Teachers in city schools were the least likely to feel "respected in today's society," the study found.

Urban teachers also reported that they felt underpaid and that they lacked recognition.

All teachers continue to face daunting problems, the study says, such as inadequate funding of schools and a lack of parent and community support.

Policy Payoffs

The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and the Education Commission of the States, the Denver-based clearinghouse on state education policy, presented the survey results last week at a luncheon in Washington attended by prominent educators and politicians.

Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, in New York City said the survey findings show that reforms aimed at teaching are making a difference in the field.

"The changes in teachers' perceptions are due to objective changes in the reality of teaching over the last decade," she said.

Ms. Darling-Hammond cited increased salaries, higher admissions standards for teacher education programs, and efforts to restructure schools to be more hospitable to good teaching.

But the gap between urban teachers' views and those of teachers in suburban and rural areas, she cautioned, shows that "in the last decade, we have become even more unequal as a nation."

In cities, where students need the best-prepared teachers, Ms. Darling-Hammond said, fully one-quarter of newly hired teachers have no formal preparation.

One of the most striking changes was in the percentage of teachers who said their jobs permit them to earn what the survey called decent salaries. In 1984, only 8 percent of respondents agreed with that statement, and 29 percent agreed somewhat.

Three in five teachers responding to the new survey said they either agreed (17 percent) or somewhat agreed (46 percent) that they could earn decent money teaching.

Urban Woes

Teachers also are remaining in the profession longer than they did in the past, the survey found. Forty-five percent of the respondents said they had taught for 20 or more years, compared with 27 percent in the 1984 survey.

On the whole, teachers today are less likely than they were in the mid-1980s to say they have seriously considered leaving the field.

In 1985, 62 percent of teachers who said they had considered quitting cited inadequate salaries. That percentage has declined to 41 percent.

Although teachers remain frustrated by what they see as a lack of respect, pressure to promote students who have not mastered minimum requirements, and excessive administrative tasks, the report says, their overall views of the profession have improved markedly.

Part of the shift may be linked to economic forces that have made teaching more attractive and secure than private-sector jobs, the study says.

But things don't look as rosy to urban teachers. While suburban and rural teachers report a decline in the number of students lacking basic skills, in the number of teenage suicides, and in student absenteeism, urban teachers say those problems have worsened.

Urban teachers also are less positive about the quality of their schools' curricula, academic standards, and funding.

They believe that public support for schools has eroded over the past decade. The number of city teachers saying such support is excellent or good has declined from 53 percent in 1984 to 37 percent in 1995.

In the past 10 years, the percentage of teachers who believe that "emphasizing school discipline and safety will have a strongly positive effect on education in general" has increased substantially, the report says, from 60 percent to 75 percent.

Teachers also support incentives to encourage students to go into teaching; competency tests for licensure; and easier ways to remove incompetent teachers.

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