Published Online: March 29, 2010

New Directions in Teacher Staffing

Teaching appears to be becoming a bit less rigid as a profession, with a growing number of career-changers working in classrooms and more educators taking on “hybrid” roles within schools, according to a national survey of teachers released this week by MetLife Inc.

The survey is the last in a three-part series that MetLife, whose foundation provides funding to Teacher to support interactive professional community for educators, has published around the theme of “Collaborating for Student Success.” The first part looked at the role of educator teamwork within schools, while the second part explored teachers’ and students’ perspectives on expectations and achievement. All the findings were based on a national survey of 1,003 K-12 public school teachers and 500 principals.

The final installment, focusing on “Teaching as a Career,” finds that roughly a third of the teachers surveyed had careers outside of education before entering teaching. Likewise, nearly three quarters of the teachers said they have colleagues in their school who are career changers.

In addition, more than half of teachers and about half of principals said that some teachers in their schools “combine part-time teaching with other roles or responsibilities within their school or district.” Such hybrid roles—which are often floated by teacher advocates as a way to provide new opportunities to educators—also appear to be attractive to many teachers: Nearly 40 percent of those surveyed said they would like to work in a combined position, with a slightly higher number (46 percent) reported for teachers with five or fewer years of experience.

On the topic of creating new positions in schools, the survey also found that a whopping 75 percent of teachers would like to continue working in education beyond retirement—“as, for example, teacher, mentor, administrator, tutor, etc.”

Teacher Satisfaction and Collaboration

Nearly six in 10 teachers surveyed said they are very satisfied with teaching as a career, down slightly from the 62 percent reported last year. At the same time, only 17 percent of teachers said they are very or fairly likely to leave teaching for another occupation in the next five years, compared with 26 percent reported in 2006. The survey authors speculate that the drop may be related less to teacher job satisfaction and more to the uncertain U.S. economy.

On the whole, according to the survey, teachers who described themselves as very satisfied with their careers are more likely than other teachers to have high expectations for their students, to see student achievement as the shared responsibility of educators in a school, and to work in schools with higher levels of collaborative activities.

Speaking at a March 24 forum in Washington organized for the survey’s release, Tom Carroll, president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, emphasized the theme of collaboration and pointed to a need to restructure schools’ organizational models around continuous learning. He noted that a string of recent surveys of teachers in addition to MetLife’s had identified time to collaborate and strong school leadership as key priorities for educators. “We’ve got the data,” he said. “Are we going act on it?”

Carroll held up a copy of a recent issue of Newsweek whose cover proclaimed, “We Must Fire Bad Teachers.” He said the cover represented the “factory model” of schooling in which teachers are isolated from colleagues and given little opportunity to benefit from others’ knowledge and experience. “Scapegoating individuals for an outmoded organizational model is not the future,” he said.

Similarly, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten castigated policymakers and education leaders for failing to take teachers’ viewpoints into account in developing school-improvement initiatives. “We don’t actually listen to the people who do the work,” she said.

“Given this data, we should be seeing federal policies for collaboration as opposed to competition,” she said, presumably in reference to the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program. “Why isn’t it happening?”

—Anthony Rebora

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