Families & the Community

Survey Finds Teachers’ Biggest Challenge Is Parents

By Linda Jacobson — June 21, 2005 3 min read
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More than 80 percent of new teachers say that to be effective, they need to be able to work well with parents. Yet communicating with and involving parents is their biggest challenge, according to this year’s MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, released last week.

“The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, 2004-2005: Transitions and the Role of Supportive Relationships” is available from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.

Many new teachers said they lacked guidance from their principal on parent involvement, and about a quarter of the respondents said they felt unprepared to engage parents in their children’s education.

Principals surveyed, however, generally had more positive views of the steps their schools took to involve parents and prepare new teachers for that task. Seventy-one percent of principals agreed that including parents is a priority at their school, compared with 59 percent of new teachers.

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Chart: Degrees of Satisfaction

Focusing on the transitions into schools for teachers and students, the survey commissioned by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. gathered responses from 800 public school teachers who are in their first five years of teaching. The telephone survey was conducted last fall by Harris Interactive Inc., a market-research company based in Rochester, N.Y.

More than 1,000 students in grades 7-12, who made the transition from elementary to middle school or from middle school to high school, were also surveyed online. In addition, almost 850 principals were questioned by phone. The margin of error for the teacher survey is 4.4 percentage points, 4.3 percentage points for the principals’, and 4.1 percentage points for the student survey.

About half—45 percent—of the students agreed that their schools do a good job of encouraging parent involvement, but only 27 percent said that atmosphere carries through to the classroom level. Among secondary school students, 68 percent said that their schools contact parents only if a problem has occurred.

A Lack of Support

Many students new to their schools said the transition was made more difficult because they didn’t have anyone to help them navigate their way through the process. Almost one-third of the secondary students interviewed said they didn’t receive any guidance about what classes to take, and 20 percent said they received no information about where some offices or facilities were located.

New teachers also often experience a similar lack of support. About 20 percent said they were not assigned a more experienced teacher as a mentor when they arrived, even though almost 40 percent said that would have been the most helpful kind of training.

“Without the support system of formal and informal mentoring, these struggles can be exacerbated and lead to dissatisfaction,” the report says.

Still, more than half the new teachers surveyed agreed that cooperation exists between veteran and rookie teachers at their schools.

Teachers who could end up leaving the education profession were less likely to feel positive about their relationships with students, other teachers, and principals. They were also less likely to strongly agree that their principal fosters an environment that allows them to be effective teachers—40 percent, compared with 63 percent of those who said they planned to continue teaching.

John Mitchell, the deputy director of the educational issues department at the American Federation of Teachers, said the survey shows that strong relationships are important for both teachers and students.

“This is about getting the support that you need when you need it the most,” he said. Successful teachers also need guidance on how to mentor new teachers, he added. “We need this most in difficult-to-staff schools.”

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