NEA’s Portrait of a Public School Teacher: White, Female, Aging

By Jeff Archer — July 09, 1997 3 min read

She makes $35,549 a year, is white, and at 43, she’s not as young as she used to be. She’s also more experienced than ever, having worked some 16 years in her profession.

That’s part of the portrait of today’s typical teacher painted by a National Education Association survey released here last week at the union’s annual meeting.

The report is the latest in the NEA’s “Status of the American Public School Teacher” survey series, which the organization uses every five years to track the changing face of the country’s teaching force.

Based on a March 1996 survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,325 public school teachers, the report shows 46.1 percent began teaching more than 20 years ago; back in 1966, that proportion was 30.9 percent. About 48 percent also said they held a master’s degree, again the highest percentage since comparable information was first collected 35 years ago. The survey has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

The nation’s teaching force also remains decidedly lopsided in both its gender and racial makeup. Nearly three-fourths are female, although the gender gap narrows significantly in the upper grades. About nine in 10 are white, and only 7 percent are black, a slight decrease even from five years ago. And among black public school teachers, only about 14 percent are male.

“This speaks to the absolutely essential need to expand the pipeline of people entering the profession in general, and specifically for underrepresented groups,” said Segun Eubanks, the vice president for recruitment programs and services at Recruiting New Teachers Inc., a Belmont, Mass., group that promotes efforts to increase the quality and diversity of the nation’s teaching force.

“When I speak to recruiters across the country, they say the need for male, elementary school teachers of color has reached crisis proportions,” Mr. Eubanks said.

Reforms Leave Mark

Other glimpses into who makes up the nation’s teaching force include:

  • Although 42 percent call themselves Democrats and 29 percent Republicans, about 61 percent also describe themselves as either “conservative” or “tend to be conservative.”
  • About 58 percent live within their school districts’ geographic boundaries.
  • Of those with school-age children of their own, about 7 percent reported having one child in private school, and about 3 percent had two children in private school.

The survey also sheds light on the working conditions of the average public school teacher, who has five preparation periods a week and teaches about 94 students a day. Although the average workweek is 36.3 hours, teachers report working another 6.2 hours a week on other compensated duties, such as coaching, and another 11.2 hours a week on noncompensated duties, such as grading papers.

The results also suggest that some elements of recent reform efforts are leaving their mark on the classroom teacher. Three out of four respondents reported that their schools had at least partially implemented reforms in which teachers and principals participate in site-based management.

On student outcomes and accountability, 12 percent reported that their evaluations were based, in part, on their students’ performance on standardized tests. That compared with 59 percent who said no such link was made and 26 percent who weren’t sure. The report also shows that of those teachers who receive performance-based or incentive pay, the average reward is $1,335.

More teachers are engaged in school-sponsored professional development than were in the past--a jump from 59 percent in 1971 to 77 percent last year. During the same period, though, the percentage of teachers taking college courses dropped from 61 to 50.

Nearly 84 percent said they had access to computers, and 35 percent had access to on-line services, but 24 percent said they needed training before they could use technology in their instruction.

A version of this article appeared in the July 09, 1997 edition of Education Week