In Teacher Poll, Minorities Show Signs of Distress

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Washington--Minority teachers are not as satisfied with their careers as other teachers, according to a national survey, and many say they will leave the profession within the next five years.

Other findings from the 1988 Survey of the American Teacher, which has been conducted annually since 1984 by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, show discrepancies between the views of teachers and students on such problem areas as school violence, but present a generally positive picture of student-teacher relationships.

The report on the survey, "Strengthening the Relationship Between Teachers and Students," was released last week. It is the first in the series to include student responses and the first to specifically target the attitudes of minority teachers.

Over all, 50 percent of the 1,208 teachers surveyed said they were "very satisfied" with teaching as a career, up from 40 percent who described themselves that way in last year's poll.

But black and Hispanic teachers, who currently make up about 11 percent of the teaching force, were much more likely, according to the report, to see themselves as leaving the profession.

Of the 300 minority teachers surveyed, 41 percent said they were likely to leave teaching within five years, as opposed to 25 percent of the nonminority teachers.

Even among minority teachers who said they were very satisfied with their careers, more than 1 out of 5 said they were likely to switch jobs, according to the report.

At a press conference here last week, John J. Creedon, president and chief executive officer of Metropolitan Life, said the poll results underscored the urgency of recruitment efforts designed to enlarge the small proportion of minority teachers in schools.

"We just have to focus some effort on, first, attracting more minorities into colleges ... and then, in turn, into teaching," he said.

Louis Harris, chairman of the research firm Louis Harris and Associates, which conducted the study, said minority teachers would be the determining factor in whether minority students "become a drain on society ... or make a positive contribution to society."

"It's possible that it is crucial to the survival of the entire country how this issue [the recruitment of minority teachers] is settled,'' he said.

What Minority Teachers Think

The survey also polled teachers on the need for minority recruitment efforts. Sixty-seven percent of the minority teachers agreed that more was needed, but only 25 percent of the nonminority teachers said they thought so.

Recruitment, according to the minority teachers, should be aimed at encouraging minority college students to consider teaching (65 percent), providing financial incentives (66 percent), and expanding school recruitment programs (62 percent).

The survey also revealed differences between minority and nonminority teachers in the way they view their work environment, a finding that may reflect the fact that 30 percent of the minority teachers surveyed worked in inner-city schools, as opposed to 9 percent of the nonminority teachers.

Minority teachers were more likely to say that dropouts, teenage pregnancies, drugs, and violence were serious problems in their schools.

They were also more likely to be critical of their colleagues, saying, in response to survey questions, that they "have minimal expectations for teaching and learning, show little expertise and personal knowledge in lecture material, and go through the motions of presenting the material."

But the report concludes that, on the whole, minority teachers are just as likely as nonminorities to say that their colleagues have a love or passion for teaching, and that they exchange ideas, techniques, and subject matter.

The survey also examined the solutions proposed by both minority and other teachers to the problems in urban schools.

The majority of all teachers said they believe that educationally disadvantaged students could be helped by having specified standards they must achieve before being promoted, and by the targeting of additional resources to schools with special problems. But minority teachers supported such propositions to a greater extent than nonminorities.

Both groups of teachers also4agreed that having after-school programs and in-school health programs would be helpful in urban areas. And minority teachers expressed support for the establishment of magnet or regional schools with a specialized curriculum.

Teacher-Student Relationships

In the survey, teachers and students both rated their relationship very highly, but they disagreed on the extent of certain problems in schools.

Teachers said, for example, that the most serious problem facing schools is drug and alcohol use among students. Thirty-three percent said they thought alcohol was a very serious problem, compared with 27 percent who thought so in 1985.

But student responses, especially in high school, showed that the problem was more prevalent than teachers' perceptions of it indicated. For instance, 47 percent of the students over all said they knew 10 or more fellow students who drink, and 25 percent said they knew of 10 or more students taking drugs. Among high-school students, the percentages jumped to 84 percent and 48 percent, respectively.

The percentage of teachers who ranked drugs as a serious problem was 14 percent.

The students also perceived violence as a far greater problem than teachers did. The survey indicates that one out of four--or 26 percent--of the high-school students know at least 10 students who have been involved in violent incidents. Only 1 percent of the high-school teachers said violence was a problem in their schools.

Morale and Salaries Up

More encouraging were the report's findings on teacher morale.

Since last year, the number of teachers who say they are "very satisfied" with their jobs has increased by 10 percent. The improvement is most prominent among women and those with more than 10 years of teaching experience.

Teacher salaries have also risen, according to the report, with the number of teachers saying they earn more than $30,000 a year having doubled over the past three years--from 13 percent in 1985 to 26 percent this year.

Those earning more than $30,000 tend, according to the report, to be male, to have 20 years' experience, to teach in urban or suburban schools rather than rural ones, and to be union members.

At the same time, the number of teachers earning less than $20,000 has declined, according to the poll--going from 42 percent in 1985 to 22 percent this year.

Mr. Harris attributed the increased morale to the improving salary scale, but the survey showed that teachers who earned less than $20,000 a year had as much job satisfaction as those with higher salaries.

The report concludes that "satisfaction has as much to do with other aspects of the job, such as the degree of autonomy and working conditions, as it does with salary."

Other Highlights

The survey also found that:

Teachers and students agree that the relationship between them is positive. More than 70 percent of the teachers surveyed described the re8lationship as "cooperative," 68 percent called it "respectful," 76 percent said it was "not at all strained," and 81 percent said it was "not distant."

Seventy percent of the students also reported that their relationships with teachers was either "good" or "excellent."

Students are more likely to describe a teacher as "excellent" when the teacher: gives them individual attention, interacts with them informally, and expresses a personal interest in them.

Forty percent of the teachers surveyed said they spend less than three-quarters of their work time in class teaching, and 13 percent said they spend about half their time teaching.

The majority of teachers feel their students are not paying attention most of the time. Only 36 percent said they felt their students were paying attention most of the time they taught. Only about one-third of the students said they paid attention all of the time.

Parental involvement in school makes a difference. Only 17 percent of the students whose parents discuss homework with them regularly say they "really do not like school," compared with 33 percent of those whose parents rarely discuss school work.

In addition, more than 40 percent of the students whose parents rarely discuss school work say they do not pay attention in class, compared with about 25 percent of those whose parents talk about school at home.

Copies of the report are available through Louis Harris and Associates Inc., 630 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10111; (212) 698-9600.

Vol. 08, Issue 05

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