Poll: Teacher Job Satisfaction Coexists With Deep Concerns

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Teachers surveyed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching have offered a conflicted view of their profession, in which relatively high job satisfaction contrasts sharply with concerns about their students, the lack of parental support for education, and their own working conditions.

The nationwide poll of 22,000 public-school teachers is the most comprehensive survey of teacher attitudes ever conducted, according to Carnegie officials. It was released this week in a report entitled The Condition of Teaching: A State-by-State Analysis, 1988.

Gap Between School and Home

More than three-fourths of those surveyed report that they are satisfied with their jobs in the public schools. And the majority plan to remain in the profession until they retire.

But teachers also depict a growing gap between the school and the home that Carnegie officials warn could bode ill for the future.

For example:

90 percent of teachers say lack of parental support is a problem in their schools.

89 percent report abused or neglected children to be a problem.

69 percent say poor health among students is a problem.

68 percent say undernourishment among students is a problem.

And 94 percent estimate that at least some of their students are living in homes where the family income is below the poverty line.

In addition to the questionnaire responses, more than half the teachers wrote comments about their exces in the classroom. These detailed observations, which will be published in a separate report next spring, reinforce the survey's findings, according to Carnegie officials.

In a forward to the report, Ernest L. Boyer, the foundation's president, notes that teachers describe students as "emotionally needy" and "starved for affection."

"The data and teacher comments suggest that we have not just a school problem, but a youth problem in the nation," he writes. "Teachers repeatedly made the point that in the push for better schools they cannot do the job alone, and yet there is a growing trend to expect schools to do what families, communities, and churches have been unable to accomplish."

If the country is truly concerned about the quality of schools, he argues, parents must be recognized as their children's primary teachers, and ways must be found to build new partnerships between the home and the school.

'Apathy and Anonymity'

According to Mr. Boyer, teachers demonstrated a "striking" concern about the social and physical well-being of their students.

But the result is a disturbing portrait of the problems that teachers encounter in their classrooms on a regular basis.

For example, a majority of those surveyed identify disruptive behavior, absenteeism, turnover, and apathy among students as problems in their schools.

Nearly 9 in 10 report disruptive behavior is a problem, and 83 percent say absenteeism is a problem. At least 8 in 10 teachers in every state identify student apathy as a problem.

"Clearly," Mr. Boyer argues, "one of the most urgent challenges schools confront is overcoming this sense of apathy and anonymity8among students. Caring parents, concerned communities, and enlightened business leaders all must join with educators to make sure that our children have a sense of identity and purposefulness in life."

Almost 70 percent of those polled also identify theft and vandalism as problems at their schools, and about half say alcohol and other drugs are problematic.

In contrast, a minority of teachers report violence against students or teachers as a problem. And just over one-third say that racial discord is a problem in their schools.

Sense of 'Powerlessness'

Perhaps most significant, Mr. Boyer adds, is the continued frustration teachers express about their "powerlessness" and the negative conditions under which they work.

In an earlier survey of teachers' attitudes toward the school-reform movement, released in May, Carnegie officials concluded that the teaching force was more "dispirited" and "less empowered" as a result of school reform than it had been five years ago. (See Education Week, May 25, 1988.)

More than half of the 13,500 teachers polled for that survey said morale within the profession had substantially declined in the last five years. And 70 percent said the national reform effort deserved a grade of "C" or less, despite such successes as raising student achievement, clarifying school goals, and increasing teacher salaries.

In the new survey, teachers report that "political interference" in edu is on the rise. Over all, 6 in 10 teachers express this view; only 4 percent see political interference on the decline.

Similarly, the majority of teachers say that state regulation of local schools has increased as a result of the school-reform movement.

Not surprisingly, these views are most common in states that have passed large, comprehensive reform packages, such as Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, and Texas.

In Arkansas, for instance, 90 percent of teachers say political interference in education has increased, and 92 percent say state regulations have increased. In contrast, in New Hampshire, only 36 percent and 38 percent of teachers, respectively, share those views.

Meanwhile, the ability of teachers to participate in important decisions that affect them and their students continues to be severely limited, according to the survey.

A majority of those polled say they participate in textbook and curriculum decisions within their schools. But the majority have no sway in determining such matters as: the selection of teachers and administrators, teacher evaluation, staff development, school budgets, and student promotion and retention.

Other Working Conditions

The survey also revealed these aspects of teachers' concern over their working conditions:

Most say they have less than one hour in a typical school day to prepare their lessons.

More than half say respect for teachers in their community is lower than they expected when they entered the profession.

More than one-third of those express disappointment with their opportunities for advancement. And 49 percent say their financial compensation has been lower than they expected.

56 percent of those surveyed describe the space available in the schools as only "fair" or "poor."

In contrast, teachers appear to have a relatively positive view of their ability to help students learn--despite the obstacles.

Majority 'Satisfied'

More than three-fourths disagree with the statement that schools cannot really expect to graduate more than 75 percent of all students.

Slightly more than half report that they are "satisified" with student progress in problem solving, writing, and independence in learning. And 71 percent say they are "satisfied" with student progress in general language skills.

Teachers were also asked to express their views about learning and instruction more generally.

A majority of those surveyed agree that the school's most important job is to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. But most teachers also say the arts are as essential as the "three R's."

The teachers polled are evenly divided about whether every student should become fluent in a second language. And only about half say their school has effective instruction for students for whom English is not their first language.

More than 7 in 10 teachers say the instructional materials being used in their schools are appropriate, giv4en their students' ethnic backgrounds, interests, and reading abilities. But a similar proportion agree that better use of technology would be an important way to give teachers more time for instruction. This view is particularly widespread among teachers in the South.

Finally, 63 percent of those surveyed say tracking students by ability is a useful way for schools to deal with diversity, despite research findings to the contrary.

Three Recommendations

Based on the survey, Mr. Boyer concludes that the next phase of school reform must place a greater emphasis on the "human dimension" of schooling.

Elements of that emphasis, he writes, would include strengthening partnerships between the family and the school; focusing on the growing needs of students; and improving the working conditions of teachers.

In addition to presenting information about teachers' attitudes toward schools, the 106-page report provides state-by-state data on such topics as: public-school expenditures, teacher salaries, average years of experience, typical class size, and student-enrollment trends.

It does not contain some information included in previous Carnegie surveys of teachers published in 1983 and 1985--such as supply-and-demand trends for teachers and the performance of prospective teachers on college-entrance tests.

But the new survey provides instead an opportunity to compare teachers' attitudes on a state-by-state basis over a broad range of subjects. According to Carnegie officials, there are both "striking similarities and dramatic variations" in how teachers reply from one state to another.

Copies of the report, The Conditions of Teaching: A State-by-State Analysis, 1988, may be obtained by contacting Princeton University Press, 3175 Princeton Pike, Lawrenceville, N.J. 08648, or by calling (609) 896-1344. The price is $10.95 prepaid.

Vol. 08, Issue 15

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