Teaching Profession The State of Teaching

Administrators, Listen Up. Here’s What Teachers Say Would Improve Their Job Satisfaction

By Madeline Will, Elizabeth Heubeck, Ileana Najarro, Arianna Prothero & Sarah Schwartz — March 22, 2024 6 min read
Fourth grade students raise their hands as Helen Chan teaches a math class at South Loop Elementary School on November 15, 2023, in Chicago.
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Teachers have been saying for years that their morale at work is low, and they’re frustrated with many aspects of the job. But administrators don’t always see it that way.

Two nationally representative EdWeek Research Center surveys conducted as part of our new The State of Teaching project—one of teachers, the other of school leaders—found a disconnect between the two groups. Nearly half of teachers said their morale has worsened over the past year, but only 32 percent of school leaders perceived this decline among teachers. Forty-five percent of school leaders said teachers have mostly good morale—while just 26 percent of teachers agreed.

While some of the factors behind teachers’ poor job satisfaction are out of administrators’ control—including, often, teachers’ salaries and the amount of money they have to channel into resources for schools—others are not.

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Education Week reporters asked five teachers from across the country what school or district leaders could do that would lead to a significant, positive improvement toward their feelings about their jobs.

Their answers have been edited for length and clarity.

More support for students’ social-emotional needs

“At our school, we have a lot of great resources. But I know our social worker, she’s bombarded and she’s full of cases, because kids are mentally exhausted at this point. [Students are] sensitive, and they’re emotional, and it’s just so hard for them. Having more support staff available for the students [would be a positive improvement].

As a teacher, I also have to play that social worker role a lot. So it does take time away from the classroom, because I have to go and check on students to make sure they are OK. If they’re mentally not there, they’re unable to learn. We have a great social worker, but I just know she also needs more support. If there are people who could check in with the kids more often, then I feel like it’ll help instruction flow more smoothly. In turn, that’s going to help everyone succeed and do better.

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Even for teachers, giving us mental health days would really help. Teacher burnout is a crucial issue that often gets overlooked. Granting teachers mental health days allows us to regroup and recharge, [which fosters] more effective and meaningful classroom interactions. I believe mental health days can be one key out of many to help with nationwide teacher shortages. Personally, my most innovative ideas for my students come when I am free from the stress of daily classroom responsibilities.”

—Helen Chan, 4th grade math teacher at South Loop Elementary School in Chicago

More support for working with English learners

“[Having] iPads, at least for these non-English-speaking students, so they can be more successful, more independent.

Also, training. We do have training available for gen. ed. teachers, [and English-for-speakers-of-other-languages teachers in the district]. But I think that if we make it more [accessible]—we have early release days on Wednesdays, for instance, and maybe if we bring [in training] once per semester, twice a year, where we can share with the gen. ed. teachers strategies and model how to use them with their kids, they’ll be more successful.”

—Griselle Rivera-Martinez, an ESOL teacher at Enterprise Elementary School in Enterprise, Fla.

“There are so many kids who are not native English speakers, especially with all the children coming from Venezuela. It’s difficult to teach them [without an English-as-a-second-language certification]. Technology helps, obviously. But there could be more support.”

—Chan

“We have a really significant population of emergent multilingual learners, and that has been a personal research interest of mine. The amount of teachers that I see who don’t know how to navigate teaching those students—I feel like we could try to find more ways to foster a sense of community for them, involving them in all the things that we have going on in our school districts.

There’s definitely an effort [to do so]. But the places that I’ve seen execute this in the most utopian kind of way—it takes a huge investment, especially from administrators, honestly. They have to put in all the legwork to get parents to come, and you’ve got to figure out what’s going to get them to come. Not just that, but asking your teachers to also invest in it. That’s hard when teachers already give so much.

I hope to see school districts where emergent multilingual learners have teachers who know how to hold them accountable for high-quality work that’s going to help make them into competent ingesters of information and members of our society—because they deserve that. That’s the way that they get to build a beautiful life, however it is that they define a beautiful life. And I want that for my students who fall into that category.”

—Sofia Alvarez-Briglie, a 7th grade science teacher at Alcott Middle School in Norman, Okla.

More money

“I think it is so easy to tie in so many problems with the current teacher situation into teacher pay. Teacher pay is woefully underfunded, especially in the state of Texas, [and] is used as a political tool to get other things that have nothing inherently to do with teacher pay and teacher satisfaction.

Both [my partner and I] are teachers. We’re fortunate financially in comparison to what a lot of ... teachers across the state. And yet, inflation has directly impacted us. We’ve noticed our grocery bill going up, gas bill going up, and our teacher pay hasn’t.

We were the only, as far as I know, employees from the state that weren’t given a raise at the last special session. And now, as this debate about school vouchers is happening, the special session is using teacher pay as a political tool to attempt to get some people that are holding out on vouchers—I hate to be childish, but that’s not fair. [Editor’s note: The Texas legislature adjourned its special session without passing either the school voucher program or the teacher pay raise.]

—Frank Rivera, a middle and high school English/language arts teacher at Chaparral Star Academy in Austin, Texas

More respect

“Appreciation. I’m not looking for a stipend, or kudos. I just want that respect. I’m sick of hearing that teachers don’t get paid enough. You didn’t go into education for the money. Younger generations, they’re leaving in droves. But we do want to be acknowledged for our work.”

—Jacqueline Chaney, 2nd grade teacher at New Town Elementary in Owings Mills, Md.

More support with parents

“I think an issue that occasionally rises up is parents thinking that they can complain to admin. as opposed to directing the complaint to the teacher so that it doesn’t escalate into something more serious or concerning. And the admin. is usually—but not always—pretty good about directing the parent to talk to the teacher initially.

I think sometimes things get brought to the admin. or the school board that could be handled just by parents talking to the teacher and not having to—pardon the cliché—"Karen” your way into talking to their supervisor.

Talk to the teacher, understand their situation, make your situation understood, try to treat them with respect. They’ll treat you hopefully with respect, and if that happens, you’ve solved the situation before it becomes anything more than it needs to be.”

—Frank Rivera

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