Teaching Profession

Teachers Around the World Say They’re Satisfied With Their Jobs

By Madeline Will — June 19, 2019 4 min read
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Teachers in the United States, like their counterparts around the world, are satisfied with their jobs even while largely agreeing that society does not value their profession, a new global study shows.

But U.S. teachers report working more hours, and place more of an emphasis on the importance of raising salaries, than other teachers across the globe.

The Teaching and Learning International Survey, coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, asked teachers and principals in 49 education systems, including the United States, about their working conditions and professional practices.

More than 150,000 teachers in lower secondary grades and more than 9,000 principals participated in the survey. In the United States alone, 2,560 teachers in grades 7-9 responded to the survey, as did 165 principals for those grade levels.

The results in the 200-plus page report “provide a window on how U.S. teachers and principals and their working and learning environments compare internationally,” said Peggy Carr, the associate commissioner for assessment at the National Center for Education Statistics, which conducted the U.S. portion of the survey, in a call with reporters.

In the United States, two-thirds of lower secondary teachers are female, while 52 percent of their principals are male. U.S. teachers in these grade levels have an average of 15 years of teaching experience—less than the global average of 17. And typical U.S. principals spent, on average, a dozen years in the classroom, while their international counterparts spent an average of 20 years as a teacher.

Even so, these U.S. teachers and principals have higher levels of educational attainment than their international peers. More than half of U.S. lower secondary teachers, for instance, held a master’s degree, compared to the global survey average of about 41 percent.

Working Long Hours

U.S. teachers reported working an average of 46.2 hours a week, more than the global survey average of 38.3 hours. Only teachers in two other education systems—Japan and Kazakhstan—reported working more hours.

However, this might be indicative of the general working culture here: A recent analysis published by the Brookings Institution found that within the United States, teachers and nonteachers work roughly the same number of hours during a school year.

Of the hours U.S. teachers reported working in the global survey, the bulk of that time—28 hours—is spent teaching, as opposed to administrative work or professional development. That’s more than teachers in any other education system. The survey average was 20 hours spent teaching.

U.S. teachers also reported spending about 7 hours a week planning lessons, 5 hours grading student work, and 3 hours counseling students.

The vast majority—90 percent—of U.S. teachers said they are satisfied with their jobs, in line with the rest of the world. But only 36 percent of U.S. teachers think that society values the teaching profession. While that’s similar to the global survey average, in high-performing education systems like Finland; Alberta, Canada; and Shanghai, more than half of teachers think that society values their profession.

“Teachers love their jobs all across the globe, but our teachers, not unlike many teachers elsewhere, feel as though we don’t value their profession,” Carr said. “There’s a message there, I think, that we need to think about.”

Since early last year, scores of teachers have walked out of their classrooms across the United States in protest of stagnant pay and cuts to school funding. Raising teacher salaries has been a national talking point, including among several presidential candidates.

Indeed, the global survey also asked teachers what they would consider to be the most important priorities if the education budget increased. Almost 70 percent of U.S. teachers pointed to improving teacher salaries—more than any other expenditure. And about 57 percent said reducing class sizes by recruiting more staff would be important.

A Need for More Training?

Most teachers around the world, including in the United States, said they felt well prepared to teach subject-area content and pedagogy. But fewer teachers felt prepared to teach in a multicultural or multilingual setting, or in a mixed-ability classroom—in the United States, only 48 percent and 56 percent, respectively, said they were prepared to do so.

On average in the United States, a quarter of teachers work in classes with at least 10 percent of students whose first language is not English. And just over half of U.S. teachers work in classes where at least 10 percent of students have special needs.

Teaching in those two settings were among the greatest areas of need for professional development, U.S. teachers reported. Still, compared to their international counterparts, relatively few teachers here indicated a high level of need for any area of professional development.

While 24 percent of teachers across the world said they had a high need for training on teaching students with special needs, for example, only 9 percent of teachers in the United States said the same. And only 6 percent of U.S. teachers said they needed training on teaching in a multicultural or multilingual training, compared to 16 percent of teachers worldwide.

NCES officials said they didn’t know why fewer U.S. teachers felt a strong need for professional development than their peers in every area surveyed.

“It may be that American teachers feel they are sufficiently prepared to do their jobs, or it could be that they think the professional development opportunities they are offered are not particularly useful,” said James Lynn Woodworth, the commissioner of NCES, in a statement.

Almost half of U.S. teachers said that professional development conflicting with their work schedule was a barrier to participation, and almost the same percentage of teachers said they don’t participate because there are no incentives for doing so.

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