School & District Management

Here’s What Teachers Think About Training, Pay, Strikes, and Choice

By Madeline Will — January 22, 2020 5 min read
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About a third of teachers would go on strike over pay, a new survey finds. Yet despite frustrations with the profession, more than 80 percent of teachers plan to spend their entire career in the classroom.

These are some of the findings in a new survey by Educators for Excellence, a group that advocates for teacher leadership. Ten of the group’s teacher members developed a questionnaire that took the temperature of teachers across the nation on issues ranging from compensation to preparation to union membership.

The bulk of the survey was conducted online from Nov. 4 through 15, among a nationally representative sample of 1,000 public school teachers (both from charter schools and traditional public schools). Then, a supplemental survey to ask some additional questions was conducted online from Dec. 11 through 17, among a nationally representative sample of 500 public school teachers. An independent research firm administered the survey.

“We wanted to do this as we head into a really important election year to hopefully inform the conversation that is happening at the national level and also at the state level,” said Evan Stone, the co-founder of Educators for Excellence, during a press call.

Educators for Excellence last did a wide-ranging survey of American teachers in 2018. Here are some of the highlights from the latest 100-plus-page report, released today.

Teachers Point to Gaps in Preparation

Only 12 percent of respondents said teacher-preparation programs train aspiring teachers “very well” for the realities of the classroom. Nearly 60 percent said prospective teachers are trained “somewhat well,” with a quarter saying “not very well.”

Fewer than half of teachers said their preparation program was “very effective” in teaching them how to provide rigorous and culturally responsive instruction, and how to engage parents in students’ learning.

Almost 40 percent of teachers said they would like to have additional professional development in social-emotional learning, supporting English-language learners and students with special needs, and alternatives to punitive discipline, such as restorative practices.

A Third of Teachers Would Strike Over Pay

A demand for higher wages has sparked a wave of strikes and walkouts across the country in the past two years. According to this survey, 35 percent of teachers said they would be “very likely” to participate in a teachers’ strike over not receiving a pay raise, and 32 percent said they would strike over an insufficient pay raise. (Sixty percent of teachers said they would participate in a teachers’ strike over a pay cut.)

Other issues that garnered some support for a strike included a decrease in school funding, an increase in class sizes, and a lack of resources.

Most Teachers Want to Stay in Their Jobs

Most teachers—77 percent—said they entered the profession thinking they would stay in teaching for the rest of their working lives. Asked now, nearly half said they were “very likely” to spend their entire career as a classroom teacher, and 37 percent said they were “somewhat likely.”

What reasons did teachers have for leaving the profession? Sixty percent said they want a higher-paying job, and 56 percent said they do not enjoy addressing discipline issues. About a quarter said they don’t have enough professional autonomy.

Almost all teachers agreed that opportunities to progress in their teaching career, such as the potential for leadership roles and increased pay, would make them more likely to stay in teaching.

Teachers Are in Favor of Financial Incentives

Teachers were largely in favor of financial incentives, especially for teacher-leaders and teachers who work in hard-to-staff schools. Teachers of color were more likely to support financial incentives across-the-board.

When asked which financial incentives would be most effective in recruiting and retaining talented and diverse teachers, most teachers—41 percent—said higher starting salaries, followed by 27 percent saying student loan forgiveness.

Teachers Are Considering Opting Into Their Unions

In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that teachers do not have to pay “agency” fees if they’re not union members. Experts and union leaders predicted that they would lose members, since teachers could now be represented in collective bargaining without paying anything. (Major membership losses for the unions have not yet materialized.)

According to the survey, 10 percent of teachers who are union members said they were “very likely” to opt out in the coming year, and 13 percent said they were “somewhat likely.”

The survey also asked teachers who are currently not members of their union how likely they would be in the coming year to actively opt in. Twenty-two percent said they would be “very” likely, and 31 percent said they would be “somewhat” likely.

The most common reason that teachers said they were not union members was that they don’t want to pay dues, followed by not believing the union helps them professionally.

Teachers Oppose Most Forms of School Choice

Most teachers said they oppose universal vouchers (in which government funds are used to pay the tuition of all students who attend private schools), vouchers for low-income students, and charter schools. However, only 39 percent of teachers said they oppose tax credits for donations that pay for scholarships to help low-income parents send their children to private schools. (That’s down from 2018, when 44 percent of teachers said they oppose tax credits.)

The majority of teachers said they support school choice when it is equally accessible to all students, doesn’t shift funds from public schools, and doesn’t discriminate against students. (Charter school teachers were not as concerned about shifting funds from public schools, and instead prioritized school choice that increases academic achievement for low-income students and that provides completely free educational options to low-income families.)

See the survey’s full results here.

Image via Getty, charts via Educators for Excellence

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.