Standards Opinion

Feeling Stressed? MetLife Survey Shows You are Not Alone

By Anthony Cody — February 21, 2013 2 min read
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The Metlife Survey of the American Teacher is out, and it shows that more than half of all teachers feel under great stress. This relates closely to the number of teachers who describe themselves as “very satisfied,” which has fallen to its lowest level since 1986, at 39%.

I wrote about the implications of this state of affairs last March. Last year’s survey discovered that 29% of the nation’s teachers were planning to leave the profession in the next five years. This question was not asked this time, but since the level of job satisfaction has dropped an additional 5%, we can assume that the number of teachers planning to leave has increased as well.

Let’s take a closer look at what the report says.

Stress among teachers has increased since 1985. In 1985--the last time this question was asked and when job satisfaction was also low--more than one-third (36%) of teachers said they felt under great stress at least several days a week. Today, that number has increased; half (51%) of teachers feel under great stress at least several days a week. Elementary school teachers experience stress more frequently. They are more likely than middle school or high school teachers to say they feel under great stress at least several days a week (59% vs. 44% vs. 42%). The increase since 1985 in the number of elementary school teachers who experience great stress at least several days a week is also noteworthy--59% today compared to 35% in 1985.
Stress is related to job satisfaction for teachers. Teachers today with lower job satisfaction are more than twice as likely as those who say they are very satisfied with their job to feel under great stress several days a week or more (65% vs. 28%).

Last March, I wrote with some concern about the downward trend in teacher job satisfaction. That trend continues this year.

Job satisfaction and stress are not uniformly distributed. Teachers are less satisfied and more stressed at low performing schools, and the schools that have had budget cuts. (Note: 53% of schools reported budget cuts in the past year.)

Teachers with lower job satisfaction are more likely to be mid-career teachers and less likely to be new teachers. In addition, they are more likely to teach in schools with two-thirds or more low-income students or in schools where most students are not performing at or above grade level in English language arts and mathematics.
Budget decreases are associated with lower morale and greater stress among teachers. Teachers at schools where the budget has decreased within the past year are less likely than teachers at other schools to be very satisfied with their profession (33% vs. 48%).

Principal’s satisfaction with their jobs is likewise at an all-time low, and they also report high levels of stress.

The survey features an extensive exploration of perceptions of the Common Core quasi-national standards. Most teachers take a generally favorable stand, and are already working to implement them, though they are not highly confident that they will improve student achievement in any great way. The positive reception for Common Core perhaps reflects the fact that we are in what might be considered the “honeymoon phase,” when teachers have been asked to implement the standards, but tests and accountability consequences for performance have not yet arrived. I remain very skeptical about how these standards will affect schools once the inevitable tests arrive.

I have come to appreciate the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher. Through the use of polls and phone interviews, this gives us an up close look at where our profession stands, and how the policies we discuss and debate are playing out in classrooms across the country. Looking at the trend line for teacher job satisfaction, it is worth noting that since 2009, when Arne Duncan took over at the Department of Education, the percentage of teachers who were very satisfied has dropped from nearly 60% to below 40%. Perhaps this statistic should be incorporated into the Value Added Model for his position.

While a little bit of stress may be a natural part of any job, too much becomes overwhelming. I think we have reached that point and beyond in many of our schools. My post last week, How Can Teachers Overcome Depression and Strife, got more views than anything I have posted in the last few months. And if our teachers are stressed, the children with whom they work are likely to be stressed as well. If we want our schools to be places of learning, exploration and creativity, we need a serious examination of the sources of stress, and ways to address them.

Stress, like war, is not good for children and other living things.

What do you think? Are you feeling more stressed than ever? What might help you feel less stressed and more satisfied?

Continue the dialogue with me on Twitter at @AnthonyCody

Graph from the Metlife Survey, used with permission.

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