Teachers' Idealism Tempered By Frustration, Survey Finds

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Teaching is a labor of love for educators, yet many report that their working conditions are undesirable and they lack classroom-management skills, says a study released last week.

For More Information

Read the study, "A Sense of Calling: Who Teaches and Why," from Public Agenda.

Educators' frustrations range from a perceived lack of support from administrators to low pay to working with students who come to school unprepared to learn, according to the study, "A Sense of Calling: Who Teaches and Why."

For the report, Public Agenda, a New York City-based nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, polled more than 900 precollegiate teachers who work at private and public schools around the nation and have taught five years or less. The study also looked at the perceptions of more than 500 school administrators and some 800 college graduates younger than 30 who did not choose teaching as a profession.

"We've all read so much about this group of people who are demoralized, unhappy, and angry, but in fact, this study describes teachers as idealistic and committed to their chosen career," said Debra Wadsworth, the president of Public Agenda.

Best Practices chart

And yet, "many note that all the enthusiasm in the world can't make up for the difficulties," she said.

An overwhelming 96 percent of teachers surveyed reported that "teaching is work they love." Some 80 percent said they "would chose teaching again if starting over."

Teaching, however, is viewed as a problematic career for many reasons. Nearly 90 percent of teachers worry about their personal safety while on the job, according to the report, while 78 percent said they were seriously underpaid.

And 76 percent contend that they are made to be "scapegoats" for problems in education. Moreover, a majority of teachers told the pollsters that they don't see opportunities for career advancement nor do they feel appreciated for the work they do.

Blaming Education Schools

Teachers reported that their jobs are made even more difficult because they lack the skills to maintain disciplined classrooms. Six in 10 teachers said that most new teachers take over classrooms without the requisite experience in handling them.

Most blame their colleges' teacher-preparation programs for their inadequacies. Fifty-six percent of the respondents reported that colleges spend too much time on education theory and do not focus enough on practical experience. More than 60 percent of teachers said that the programs do only a "fair" or "poor" job readying educators for the stresses of teaching; 57 percent said colleges didn't do a good job of preparing educators to handle discipline.

Schools of education continue to have difficulties balancing theory and practice, said David G. Imig, the executive director of the Washington-based American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. "Finding ways to mentor beginning teachers and extending teacher education seems to be the obvious answer," he said.

Downplaying Certification

Teachers also reported that obtaining state certification is no guarantee that teachers will have good skills. Fifty-five percent of the teachers said that it only assures "a minimum of skills," while 17 percent said certification "guarantees very little."

"Most states do not have in place complete licensure systems," added Arthur E. Wise, the president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, a Washington-based group that advocates stronger licensure rules. "Most test content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge, but they do not fully reveal if a person is capable of teaching."

Keeping capable teachers in the classroom depends on improving each educator's quality of life during the school day rather than increasing their paychecks, the study found.

More than 85 percent of teachers polled reported that reducing class size would be the best way to keep teachers and improve quality. Raising salaries was ranked fourth on the list of practices likely to improve the teaching corps, behind mandating mastery over subject matter and increasing professional development.

The teachers' attitudes about salaries surprised Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, the organization that sponsored the study.

To date, many policymakers have suggested raising teacher salaries as one solution to strengthening the workforce, Mr. Finn said. "This might suggest that we place a different emphasis to get more and better teachers to schools and keep them there," he added.

Vol. 19, Issue 38, Page 6

Published in Print: May 31, 2000, as Teachers' Idealism Tempered By Frustration, Survey Finds
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