Education Opinion

Chat Wrap-Up: Teachers’ Job Satisfaction

November 14, 2006 6 min read
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On Nov. 1, readers discussed findings from “The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher” for 2006 on job satisfaction with two guests who were involved in the project: Dana Markow, the vice president of youth and education research for Harris Interactive Inc., and Michelle Armstrong, the corporate-contributions manager for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. Below are excerpts from the discussion:

Question: Since teachers, according to your results, are satisfied with their jobs today (a 20-year high), teacher turnover must be at a 20-year low. Do turnover figures confirm this?

Read the full transcript of this chat.

Markow: One of the interesting findings of this year’s survey is that although teacher satisfaction has increased over the past 20 years, the likelihood to leave the profession has remained the same. Our analysis showed that dissatisfaction with one’s career is only one of the predictors of a teacher’s being likely to leave the profession. The biggest predictor was being assigned to classes that the teacher did not feel qualified to teach. Another was not having a mentor during the first year of teaching.

Question: How has the federal No Child Left Behind Act affected teacher retention?

Armstrong: Teachers feel the pressure of being held accountable for student performance. Some new teachers in this year’s survey talk about the unexpected bureaucracy they faced. Teachers have always been viewed as the gatekeepers of knowledge, but now they’re being questioned about how well they’re preparing kids. Some feel they’re blamed when they’ve done the best they can, and that probably makes them more likely to want to quit. On the other hand, the law might also help better ensure that all kids are getting the type of teaching and skill development they need. It’s really a Catch-22 in many ways.

Question: What are some good reasons for teachers to feel satisfied in their jobs, when most of them became teachers accidentally?

Armstrong: We asked people about to become teachers and former teachers what they think would be good retention strategies. Higher salary, more money for the school system, and more respect for teachers are major drivers of satisfaction, which may lead to retention. And many of these same people gave specific reasons for becoming teachers, such as giving back, helping to nurture the academic development of young people, working with kids, and so forth. (See the “In Their Own Words” sections in our 2006 MetLife Survey.) That said, people seem dedicated to the profession, but it’s the conditions that are beyond their control that cause many to opt out early.

Question: How important is mentoring with experienced teachers in helping new teachers to be more satisfied at school?

Armstrong: Very important. So many talked about how much they learned from their mentor teachers, both while student-teaching and on the job. We’ve also learned that pairing the new with the experienced is more common today than it was years ago, based on questions we asked new and veteran teachers about what, if any, mentoring they received. Teaching is a job that requires newcomers to perform up to speed beginning Day 1, so having a helping hand along the way is something many have said is invaluable.

Question: How does per-pupil funding correlate with teacher-satisfaction measures?

Markow: We did not analyze the data by per-pupil funding. However, we found that teachers in schools with predominantly low-income students (more than two-thirds) were less likely than others to be very satisfied with their careers. Forty-six percent of teachers in schools with predominantly low-income students were very satisfied, compared with 63 percent of teachers in schools with one-third or fewer low-income students.

Question: What is the impact of school climate on teacher performance, satisfaction, and retention?

Armstrong: According to our findings, when teachers feel they are working in unsupportive environments (not asked for their opinions, not treated with respect), they are more likely to say they will leave the profession.

Question: A big factor in how satisfied teachers are at the work site is how well they get along with the principal. What can principals do to encourage more teacher satisfaction?

Armstrong: Be available, listen, and respond. When a principal is thought to be inaccessible, teachers see this as a lack of leadership and an impediment to getting their voices and concerns heard. And if they aren’t heard, no action and no response is expected. We’ve asked teachers about this in our other surveys, and sometimes there can be a disconnect between how teachers see principals and how principals see themselves. Just knowing that someone is steering the ship can make a big difference in teachers’ feelings of satisfaction.

Question: Teacher satisfaction has reportedly improved while teacher-preparation programs have declined. Is the correlation between mentoring programs for new teachers and leadership programs for administrators creating a more satisfying atmosphere? Why do veteran teachers plan to leave by 2011?

Armstrong: You’ll see in the major findings that, actually, teacher-training programs are showing signs of improvement. New teachers feel better prepared to work with students of various abilities, engage families, and manage classrooms. Also, new teachers are more likely than were their experienced colleagues to be assigned a mentor. All of these factors contribute to increased satisfaction. It’s more common today to pursue second and third careers than it was years ago, so this may be a reason veteran teachers say they are likely to leave within five years—more options are open to them.

Question: Who are the most and least satisfied teachers?

Markow: Satisfied teachers are more likely than dissatisfied teachers to teach in suburban and rural schools, in schools with fewer low-income students, and in schools with fewer minority students. But it’s also interesting to look at the ways that the two groups do not differ. Satisfied teachers and dissatisfied teachers do not differ by the grade level they teach (elementary vs. secondary) or their years of experience. Dissatisfied teachers are more likely to report that they have inadequate ability to influence policies that affect them, involvement in shaping school curriculum, and opportunity for team-building and problem-solving, and that they have been assigned classes they feel unqualified to teach.

Question: What has your research revealed about professional development as a factor in teachers’ job satisfaction?

Armstrong: Professional development is key, particularly during teacher-preparation programs, before they actually enter their careers. Many feel ready to teach content and prepare lessons, but aren’t ready to handle classroom-management issues, work with parents, and so forth. Not being ready to take on these challenges creates stress, and many teachers don’t get this training in the workshops or classes offered by their districts. So it becomes “on the job” skill development. Still, this year’s survey does point out that teachers with five or fewer years’ experience feel better prepared in some of these areas than the more-experienced teachers did when they first entered the classroom. That may contribute to the rise in job satisfaction we’ve seen over the past 20 years.

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A version of this article appeared in the November 15, 2006 edition of Education Week as Chat Wrap-Up: Teachers’ Job Satisfaction

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