A ‘Perception Gap’ on Working Conditions

By Anthony Rebora — April 01, 2004 3 min read

A survey of educators in North Carolina has found that teachers and school administrators have dramatically different perceptions of the working conditions in their schools, according to guests participating in an online chat hosted by Education Week on the Web on April 14, 2004.

The finding has significant implications for schools looking to improve teachers’ job satisfaction, the guests suggested.

The live chat focused on the North Carolina Working Conditions Initiative, a wide-ranging effort launched by North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley (D) to improve teacher-retention rates by rooting out the causes of educators’ frustrations. Among the guests for the chat were Gov. Easley and North Carolina’s 2002-2003 Teacher of the Year, Melissa Bartlett.

At the heart of the Working Conditions Initiative is a statewide survey seeking to capture teachers and school administrators’ views on teachers’ jobs. The survey was first administered in 2002; a follow-up is currently in process.

A key finding of the 2002 survey, the chat guests said, was that teachers and principals had conflicting views on the conditions in their schools. “There was significant difference on the perception of working conditions between teachers and administrators on *every* question,” said Eric Hirsch, a vice president at the Southeast Center for Teacher Quality, a nonprofit group that is analyzing the survey results. “Principals thought working conditions were far superior than teachers themselves [did].”

The finding raises important questions for schools because “principals will not be able to fix things they don’t perceive as problems,” Hirsh noted.

Gov. Easley stressed that North Carolina is using the data from the survey-- through professional development modules and evaluative school reports, for example--to give school leaders a better sense of teachers’ needs. “It was apparent that principals need more tools to assist them in providing positive working conditions, and that is why our efforts our now focused on providing this type of assistance to schools,” he said.

While the working-conditions survey is designed to provide individualized, school-by-school information, the chat guests also highlighted a number of other general themes apparent in the results and in related case studies of schools. Among them:

  • Time. Lack of time was the number one frustration cited by teachers who completed the survey. Teachers felt that their schedules didn’t allow enough time “to discuss student work with colleagues, participate in professional learning opportunities, and provide the type of quality instruction [they] want to deliver,” said Hirsch. “We need to begin to think differently about our teachers’ professional day,” added teacher Bartlett.
  • School size. Teachers in small schools tended to be more satisfied with their jobs than those in large schools. Time was again a central factor. “In small schools teachers were more likely to have the time to know students” and to hold planning and problem-solving meetings with colleagues, said Barnett Berry, president of the Southeast Center for Teacher Quality.
  • Instructional leadership. Teachers benefited from principals who understood and actively supported teachers’ classroom work. “In our case studies of schools that received high working- conditions marks, the constant was a quality principal focused on instruction,” Hirsch said.
  • Achievement. Gov. Easley said that school-performance ratings also appear to “have a significant relationship to working-conditions satisfaction.” However, Hirsch noted, school poverty was “not as significant in teacher perceptions as we thought [it] might be. So good working conditions are achievable anywhere.”
  • With schools across the country striving to meet new federal standards on teacher quality, Gov. Easley urged other state leaders to seek out teachers’ opinions on their work. “They are the experts in the classroom and need to be a part of policy decisions that affect them and their students,” he said.