Education Chat

Teacher Job Satisfaction

On Nov. 1, our guests discussed the findings of a recent survey that shows that teacher job satisfaction is at a 20-year high.

Teacher Job Satisfaction
Nov. 1, 2006

Guests: Dana Markow, vice president of youth and education research for Harris Interactive; and Michelle Armstrong, corporate contributions manager for MetLife.

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Welcome to today’s chat about the findings of a recent MetLife poll, which shows that teacher job satisfaction is at a 20-year high.

Why would teachers be more satisfied now than they were 20 years ago? What effect has NCLB had on teacher satisfaction? And how was the MetLife survey conducted?

Our two guests will address those and other questions during this discussion. We have some excellent questions waiting to be answered. So let’s get started ...

Question from Hayes Mizell, Distinguished Senior Fellow, National Staff Development Council:
What has your research revealed about professional development as a factor in teachers’ job satisfaction? Do teachers indicate whether the quality and/or utility of their professional development plays a significant role in their job satisfaction?

Michelle Armstrong:
Professional development is key, particularly during teacher prep programs before people actually enter the career. Many feel ready to teach content and prepare lessons, but aren’t ready to handle classroom mgmt. issues, work with parents, etc. Not being ready to take on these challenges creates stress, and many don’t get this training in workshops/classes offered by their districts. So, it becomes “on-the-job” skill development. Still, this year’s Survey does point out that teachers w/ 0-5 years experience feel better prepared in some of these areas than did more experienced teachers when they first entered the classroom, so that may contribute to the rise in satisfaction we’ve seen over the past 20 years.

Question from Miles Myers, Senior Researcher, ISCA, Los Angeles:
Since teachers are satisfied with their jobs today (20 year high), teacher turnover must be at a 20 year low. Teachers leave\quit their jobs when dissatisfied. Does turnover confirm your findings?

Dana Markow:
One of the interesting findings of this year’s survey is that although teacher satisfaction has increased over the past 20 years, likelihood to leave the profession has remained the same. Our analysis showed that dissatisfaction with his/her career is only one of the predictors of a teacher being likely to leave the profession. The biggest predictor was being assigned to classes that the teacher did not feel qualified to teach. Another predictor was not having a mentor during the first year of teaching.

Question from Beth Romano, Graduate Student in Science Education, Hofstra University:
How has NCLB affected teacher retention?

Michelle Armstrong:
Teachers do feel the pressure of being held accountable for student performance; some talk about the unexpected bureaucracy they faced in this year’s Survey. I think teachers have always been viewed as the gatekeepers of knowledge, but now, they’re being questioned about how well they’re preparing kids. I do think some feel they’re blamed when they’ve done the best they can, and that probably does make them more likely to want to quit. But, on the other hand, I think NCLB might also help better ensure kids are getting the type of teaching and skill development they should. It’s really a catch-22 in many ways . . .

Question from Luz Amparo Cuero, English teacher, Autonoma University:
What do you think would be some good reasons for teachers to feel satisfied in their job when basically most of them became teachers accidentally but did not study for that?

Michelle Armstrong:
We asked people about to become teachers and former teachers what they think would be good retention strategies. Higher salary, more money for the school system and more respect for teachers are major drivers of satisfaction, which may lead to retention. And, many of these same people gave specific reasons for becoming teachers, e.g., giving back, helping to nurture the academic development of young people, working with kids, etc. (see “In Their Own Words” sections in our 2006 MetLife Survey). That said, people seem dedicated to the profession, but it’s the conditions that are beyond their control that cause many to opt out early.

Question from James Martinez, Media Relations Specialist, National PTA:
How does parent involvement factor in teachers satisfaction of career? Any additional comments about parent involvement in the survey or anecdotaly? Thanks!

Michelle Armstrong:
It’s a major factor of satisfaction. We’ve asked about this in the Survey over the past years. Many teachers have commented that they felt unprepared to work with parents/families, and have felt disconnected to the communities in which they teach (see 2001 and 2002 Surveys). Also, in this year’s “In Their Own Words” sections, former teachers talk about this. One said he felt he’d be respected for help contributing to the upbringing of young people, but said that was just a fairytale.

Question from Joanne McCluskey teacher Alexandria School District:
As a teacher who attends many workshops and speaks with other in my profession, the one concern I often hear about are parents who pull students out of school for trips and vacations during the school year and expect the teachers to prepare a weeks work or more that their child will miss before they leave. Years ago this was considered truancy. The only time you were out of school was for illness or a death in the family. Today students go on weeks, even months vacations and parents expect the child not to miss the work but have it sent with them. Most of the time the work does not come back anyway. How do teachers take on this extra work with little time to do it? And is this a trend across the country?

Michelle Armstrong:
I can’t say if this a nationwide trend, but one can certainly understand that these kinds of requests create added work for teachers. This year’s Survey outlines how “time is of the essence” for teachers--time to prepare/plan, time to work with individual students, etc. This issue is one that may be best addressed by teams comprised of principals and teachers who can communicate to parents how difficult these requests can be so a joint solution can be developed.

Question from Elizabeth Baker, PD Coach:
School Districts pay alot of money for PD and yet teachers often complain that the district mandated PD is not on target for their classroom needs. How can we make PD more accountable to both teacher and district needs. What data do we need to support high quality professional development that links student data and professional growth?

Michelle Armstrong:
I think it’s a matter of districts really hearing what teachers have to say. Teachers know best what they need to become better professionals and to prepare students, so they should be looked to when districts are planning PD programs. I think the data are already there--they’re found in test scores, grades, pass/fail rates, etc. It’s a matter of encouraging schools to look to data-driven assessment--a new concept for some--as a way of informing PD offerings and student support. It may also mean including relevant PD in the action plans districts develop re: NCLB.

Question from Karen Fernandez, teacher, Denver Public Schools:
I am one of many urban Denver high school teachers recently “displaced” by the closure of my school due to failure to meet some of the mandates of No Child Left Behind. Although most of us were tenured and thus, were placed in new assignments, the experience was stressful and humiliating. To what extent do you feel that the threat of sanctions under No Child Left Behind is impacting, or will impact, teacher satisfaction? Were teachers who have lost their positions due to such sanctions included in the MetLife survey?

Dana Markow:
Teachers included in this year’s survey were those who were currently teaching at least part-time in a public school during March 2006. Former teachers who lost their positions or who left the profession on their own were not included in the survey, although we did conduct focus groups with teachers who had left the profession for another occupation and their perspectives are included in the MetLife report. To date, we have not seen a decline in teacher satisfaction due to NCLB.

Question from Evie Hakeem, parent:
I read the survey, “Survey Finds Teachers� Biggest Challenge Is Parents,” June 22, 2005. It was no surprise to me that parents weren’t surveyed. If they had been surveyed, all parties would have a better idea of what it takes to communicate their needs/desires to parents. Why don’t educational professionals appreciate the desire of most parents to be more involved in their student’s education and not just when asked to support extra curricular activities or help with fund raising?

Michelle Armstrong:
I think educators do appreciate and hope parents become involved; the problem is getting the two groups to communicate effectively about how to make this happen. We’ve surveyed parents over the years to get their feedback, e.g., what they think about principals’ leadership (which differed greatly from how principals viewed themselves). Many of the nonprofits we fund at MetLife Foundation develop parent involvement programs based upon the findings of the Surveys as a way to bring teachers, students, parents and principals together. We focus each year on activities that create connections between schools and communities, and that focus comes out of what parents have reported in the Survey since the mid-80s.

Question from Paul J. Smith, Ed.D., Facilitator, Accelerated Learning Center, Little Rock School District:
How important is mentoring with experienced teachers in helping new teachers to be more satisfied at school?

Michelle Armstrong:
Very important! For ex., see “In Their Own Words” in this year’s Survey. So many talked about how much they learned from their mentor teachers, both while student teaching and on-the-job. We’ve also learned that pairing the new with the experienced is more common today than it was years ago, based upon questions we asked new and veteran teachers about what, if any, mentoring they received. Teaching is a job that requires newcomers to perform up-to-speed beginning Day 1, so having a helping hand along the way is something many have said is invaluable.

Question from Miles Myers, Senior Researcher, ISCA, Los Angeles:
How does per-pupil funding in the districts where teachers work correlate with teacher satisfaction measures?

Dana Markow:
We did not analyze the data by per-pupil funding. However, we found that teachers in schools with predominantly low-income students (more than two-thirds) were less likely than others to be very satisfied with their careers. Forty-six percent of teachers in schools with predominantly low-income students were very satisfied with their careers, compared to 63% of teachers in schools with one-third or fewer low-income students.

Question from Nancy Pettigrew, owner, The Healthy Workplace, Ltd.:
What do you feel is the impact of school climate and/or culture on teacher performance, satisfaction and retention?

Michelle Armstrong:
According to our findings, when teachers feel they are working in unsupportive environments (e.g., not askedf or their opinions, not treated with respect), they are more likely to say they will leave the profession. This shows the effects of this kind of climate on satisfaction and retention.

Question from Paul J. Smith, Ed.D., Facilitator, Accelerated Learning Center, Little Rock School District:
A big factor in how satisfied teachers are at the work site is how well they get along with the principal. What can principals do to encourage more teacher satisfaction?

Michelle Armstrong:
Be available, listen and respond! When a principal is thought to be inaccessible, teachers see this as lack of leadership and an impediment to getting their voices and concerns heard. And, if they aren’t heard, no action, no response is expected. We’ve asked teachers about this in our Surveys (e.g., see 2003), and sometimes there can be a disconnect b/w how teachers see principals and how principals see themeselves. Just knowing someone is steering the ship can make a big difference in feelings of satisfaction.

Question from Paul J. Smith, Ed.D., Facilitator, Accelerated Learning Center, Little Rock School District:
Please summarize how parents can help to improve teacher morale in the school?

Michelle Armstrong:
I don’t think it’s the job of parents alone. True, teachers in the Survey talked about not feeling respected as a professional, but respect goes both ways. Teachers need skills to communicate with parents effectively, regardless of the school setting (urban, suburban, rural) in which they work; parents need to understand that teachers face numerous challenges in their work, and their child is only on of many they teach each day. I think open dialog about these and related issues would better get key issues on the table, and result in better parent-teacher relationships that could boost the morale of both.

Question from Y. Bilgili, FLDOE:
What would be the effects of States incentives programs on teachers’ remaining in the profession?

Michelle Armstrong:
In the “In Their Own Words” section that addresses the issues of why teach in a public vs private school, one teacher talk about the cash incentives as a motivator for going into public schools. Also, teachers reported providing a decent salary is one way to keep people in the profession, so if we consider incentives from a monetary perspective, this is something that might help.

Question from Lance Fogle, Induction Coach, Hemet Unified School District:
Do you see quality induction programs improving teacher satisfaction and does being better prepared to teach affect teacher retention when factors outside of their control is a major reason for leaving the profession?

Michelle Armstrong:
We use the findings of the Survey each year at MetLife Foundation to fund initiatives that are “actionable” when it comes to addressing teacher retention. One major program we funded was with National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF), a group that looked specifically at teacher induction programs as a retention stratgey by hosting a national series of forums across the country on this issue. It’s a matter of teachers not only being prepared for what they’ll face in K-12 schools, but also being supported once they transition into the profession from their teacher prep programs. Some issues may seem out of the individual teacher’s control, like increasing salary and dollars for districts, but that’s why why fund programs that can have impact and tangible outcomes that contirbue to solving some of these challenges.

Question from Lynn Snyder, teacher, OH:
I am curious as to why some feel that they are so satisfied with their teaching careers. Where have teaching conditions improved recently? How has NCLB created a better teaching environment? Teacher input and respect are lower in our district than ever before, even though our school and district received “Excellent” ratings in 5 out of the past 6 years. We are constantly bombarded with change, rapid change, and no time to deal with the change. This doesn’t translate into teacher satisfaction. I would like to know which districts actually treat teachers like contributing professionals. How can teachers get their district to see that respect will get more dedication from teachers? We are suffering from generalized burn out in our district, particularly in the elementary schools.

Michelle Armstrong:
Satisfaction is something determined by the individual, so it’s difficult to say what drives satisfaction for each person. We can, however, look to this year’s Survey data for insight, and see that making certain expectations more closely match experiences is key. That means schools of ed. should prepare students for the realities of classroom life so they know what they’ll encounter. Other drivers include better preparation for working with students of various abilities, matching new teachers with experienced colleagues and feeling prepated to engage families. All of these can contribute to a more positive experience.

Question from Deb Winans, graduate student, Univ. of Southern Misissippi:
Could you address the issue of how being mentored might enhance new teachers’ job satisfaction?

Michelle Armstrong:
In our Survey, teachers who weren’t assigned mentors said they felt unsupported (see “In Their Own Words: The Power of Mentors”). Teachers reported feeling isloated and exhausted when entering the profession w/out collegial support, but those who worked with experienced teachers pointed out these relationships help ease their transition into the classroom. Also, see 2004-05 MetLife Survey on Transitions and the Role of Supportive Relationships.

Question from Miles Myers, Senior Researcher, ISCA, Los Angeles:
Does degree of satisfaction correlate with years of experience?

Dana Markow:
No, we did not find that career satisfaction was related to years of experience.

Question from Jo-Anne Guerriere, former educator:
What are the basis for the questions in the survey? Teacher satisfaction has reported improved where teacher preparation programs have declined. Is the correlation between mentoring programs for new teachers and leadership programs for administrators creating a more satisfying atmosphere? Why do veteran teachers plan to leave by 2011?

Michelle Armstrong:
The questions are developed to address issues relevant to each year’s topic; this year, we focused on why people enter and leave the profession. You’ll see in the major findings that, actually, teacher training programs are showing signs of improvement. New teachers feel better prepared to work with students of various abilities, engage families and manage classrooms. Also, new teachers are more likely than their experienced colleagues to be assigned a mentor. All of these factors contribute to increased satisfaction. Also, it’s more common today to pursue second and third careers than it was years ago, so this may be a reason veteran teachers say they are likely to leave within five years--more options are open to them.

Question from John Richard Schrock, Chair, Dept. Biological Sciences, Emporia State University:
With extensive ongoing contact with secondary science teachers across my state, I have never seen morale so low and so many veteran teachers at a “push me one more time” limit. Likewise, the college students are avoiding teaching due to perceived deprofessionalization of the field by NCLB. Why is your survey not picking up this?

Michelle Armstrong:
We do address this. In fact, we conducted focus groups with former teachers to find out what drove them to leave teaching and pursue other careers. This info. is reported in the “In Their Own Words” sections. We’ve also examined this over the years (see previous Survey publications).

Question from Carol Donohue, Va. Education Association:
How did you choose your sample to survey?

Dana Markow:
Respondents for the survey were screened to confirm that they were currently teaching at least part-time in the classroom, in grades K-12 in a public school. The sample frame was created from a random selection of a listing of U.S. teachers obtained from Market Data Retrieval.

Question from Anne Jolly, Project Director for Professional Learning Teams, the SERVE Center at UNCG:
The findings of this survey indicate that 56% of those surveyed are very satisfied with teaching as a career - an increase of 70% since 1986. What are the primary reasons for this increase in job satisfaction?

Dana Markow:
That’s an interesting question. The results of the current survey cannot directly address the reasons behind the increase. We did find that newer teachers are more likely than more experienced teachers to have had a mentor during their first year of teaching. And having a mentor is important in keeping teachers in the profession. We also found that there were several significant factors driving a teacher’s satisfaction with their career today: Not being assigned to classes he/she feels unqualified to teach, feeling that his/her salary is fair for the work done, having enough time for planning and grading, not having problems with threats by students, not having a problem with disorderly student behavior, being treated as a professional by the community, having adequate involvement in problem-solving and the ability to influence policies had having adequate time for classroom instruction.

Question from Jennifer Daniels, Second Language Specialist, Mesa County Valley School District:
Has there been any study of the correlation between teacher job satisfaction and the type of curriculum they are using. For example, are they more or less satisfied with a scripted, week by week, school-wide curriculum plan?

Dana Markow:
We did not ask about the type of curriculum they were using in this year’s survey, so our data can’t answer that question. I am not aware of other studies on this issue. Perhaps one of the attendees of this chat session could shed some light on this?

Question from Linda Reutlinger, Teacher, Smith Elem.:
What geographic locations did most of the result from your survey come from?

What was the average number of years of experience of those who answered the survey?

Dana Markow:
The survey was nationally representative -- the results were obtained from interviews with teachers from across the country and the distribution reflects this: -Northeast: 18% -Southeast: 22% Midwest: 27% West: 33%

The average number of years of experience of those who answered the survey was 17 years: 18% had 0-5 years experience, 19% had 6-10 years experience, 31% had 11-20 years experience and 34% had 21+ years experience.

Question from Diana Scalera, Assistant Media Coordinator, Region 5 Media Center NYCDOE:
I wonder how many urban teachers were interviewed. If the main complaint that teachers had was managing their relationship with parents, they are not talking about urban schools. In addition, what we are seeing in NYC schools is a large number of young teachers who see a few years of teaching as a resume builder. Is it possible that lack of commitment to the profession is one of the main reasons that satisfaction rates are higher? If you don’t plan to stay, why should you invest in the difficult process required to improve conditions?

Dana Markow:
The survey interviewed 1001 teachers, 252 of whom teach in an inner city/urban school. Although we did find that many teachers (50%) found parental involvement inadequate, this is not among the main predictors of teacher satisfaction or their intention to leave. We did not ask directly about commitment to the profession. However, we did ask about their intention to leave teaching for another profession within the next five years. That level has stayed at the same level as 20 years ago, highlighting that while satisfaction is related to a teacher’s intention to leave, it is not the only factor.

Question from Beverly Rowls, Lead Literacy Specialist, Northeastern Illinois University:
Were professional development options and opportunities considered to be a source of teacher job satisfaction? Do teachers find specific types of professional development to be more fulfilling, beneficial, or gratifying in improving their knowledge regarding teaching and learning?

Dana Markow:
We did ask teachers if they felt that their school or district provided adequate opportunities for training. Most teachers -85% - said yes, adequate opportunities are provided. This was not a key determinant of teacher satisfaction or likelihood to leave, although satisfied teachers are more likely than dissatisfied teachers to report that they have these opportunities. In addition, 52% of teacher believe that providing more opportunities for professional development will help a lot in attracting good people into teaching and encouraging good people to remain in teaching.

Question from A Kelleher, Special Ed Teacher/ Dept Chair:
I noticed that job satisfaction was rated at an all time high. Was data seperated by teaching area or content, region, urban versus suburban or rural? It would be interesting to me to see how the regions/states compare in this way. Also, how the data correlates to pay/compensation. It is no news that job expectations and duties are different within school divisions and from around the country. Thank You

Dana Markow:
We did look at the results by region and urban vs. suburban/rural. Teachers in the Northeast were more likely than those in the South or the West to be very satisfied with their career, and those in suburban or rural areas were likely to be satisfied than their urban counterparts. We did not gather information about specific pay/compensation, but we did find that a teacher feeling that his/her salary is fair for the work done is a main predictor of satisfaction.

Question from Wes Ouzts, ESE Teacher, Bartow High, Florida:
With the current level of violence and discipline problems in the school system nationwide, from the local classroom to Columbine, how do you explain such low stress statistics?

Michelle Armstrong:
When you say low stress stats, I assume you’re talking about the increase in satisfaction over the years? While violence is increasingly a major issue for concern, I think the rise in satisfaction again ties back to new teachers having more realistic expectations about what they’ll experience in the classroom, and therefore perhaps being somewhat less overwhelmed than their colleagues have expressed over the years. Our Survey findings point to newcomers feeling better prepared to work with diverse learners, engage families, etc.

Question from Margaret Hansen, Northwest Arctic Borough School Board:
They talked about teachers changing careers by 2011, what are some ways we can excite students to become teachers? How can we find students that are teacher material so we can encourage them in that direction?

Michelle Armstrong:
Our Survey data don’t specifically address recruitment, but one might look at at what prospective teachers say motivated them to enter the profession. This type of insight might help with recruiting people into the profession.

Question from Y. Bilgili, FLDOE:
Who are the most and less satisfied teachers?

Dana Markow:
Satisfied teachers are more likely than dissatisfied teachers to teach in suburban/rural schools, in schools with fewer low-income students and in schools with fewer minority students. I think it’s also interesting to look at the ways that they do not differ. Satisfied teachers and dissatisfied teachers do not differ by the grade level they teach (elementary vs. secondary) or their years of experience. Dissatisfied teachers are more likely to report that they have inadequate ability to influence policies that affect them, involvement in shaping school curriculum and involvement in team building and problem solving, and have been assigned classes that they felt unqualified to teach.

Question from Susan H Sped teacher Region One:
Was your survey broken down by type and level of teacers?I’d be very interested to know how, say, special ed teachers feel vs primary grade teachers vs high school content instructors feel. I’m considering getting out of sped (even though I still love it in theory) due to the Solomon-like demands of IDEA vs NCLB...

Dana Markow:
We did examine the data by level of teacher. More information on this can be found in the report at

Question from Deanna Enos, retired teacher elementary:
Why is MetLife doing polling on teachers?

Michelle Armstrong:
Our goal since we began this series in 1984 has always been the same--to bring the voices, views and perspectives of those closest to the classroom to the attention of the American public. Moreover, we use the findings each to develop and encourage nonprofits to develop initiatives that build upon/address key findings of the Survey, e.g., creating school-community connections, developing leadership skills, etc. The Survey informs our grantmaking and helps us be certain we address key and relevant issues that face today schools, students and educators.

Question from Yakup Bilgili, Florida Department of Education:
Did you look at the relationship between teachers qualificiation and their satisfaction rate in the profession?

Dana Markow:
We didn’t look at specific qualifications. However, we did examine teacher expectations upon entering the profession and how prepared they felt for their first teaching position.

Question from Deanna Enos, Retired Teacher Elementary:
I’m glad to see some teachers being honest in thes chat about the horrors of life in the classroom under the NCLB Act. Why does MetLife not investigate the affects of this law and record the distruction it is having in schools across this nation? Who hand picked the teachers for the poll?

Michelle Armstrong:
Teachers interviewed from the Survey were a nationally representative sample of teachers of grades K-12 in U.S. public schools; none were handpicked. Our goal is to bring the voice of teachers to the attention of education stakeholders and policymakers, and to focus on solutions to the challenges many say they face. In fact, we’ve worked with our government relations unit at ML to get the Survey into the hands of legislators, so a major goal is to make certain these policymakers know what’s being said from within and about the nation’s schools.

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Thank you for joining us for this informative discussion. This chat is now over. A transcript of the discussion will be posted shortly on

If you are interested in reading more about the results of the MetLife survey, go to

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