Teaching in 2022 was a wild ride.
This calendar year marked a return to normal schooling since the start of the pandemic: Nearly all districts resumed full in-person instruction, and most dropped their masking requirements. Yet some of the most pressing challenges of the past three years—staffing shortages, academic declines, the lingering effects of sickness, mental health issues, and teacher stress and burnout—still plagued schools.
And the politicization of education continued, with public scrutiny and debate on how teachers taught about race, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Attempts to ban books from schools and classrooms expanded.
This year also brought one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history, rocking teachers’ sense of safety at work.
Through it all, teachers worked to meet students’ academic and social-emotional needs. But the research published this year shows a workforce that’s stretched thin. Teachers say they feel as if more and more is being added to their plates, with nothing being taken off. The heavy workload—and sense of being unappreciated—is contributing to a sense of dissatisfaction and burnout, leading some observers to worry whether more teachers will leave the classroom and fewer will enter.
Here are some of the most significant findings related to teachers, published this year. Much of this research is from the EdWeek Research Center’s own surveys, which went out to nationally representative samples of teachers, principals, and district leaders on a regular basis to gauge their opinions on issues related to the pandemic and other major events.
Chart #1: Teacher Job Satisfaction Appears to Hit an All-Time Low
In early 2022, only about half of teachers said they were satisfied with their jobs, and only 12 percent said they were “very satisfied.” In 2012, 39 percent were very satisfied, and in 2008, 62 percent were very satisfied.
These results are from the Merrimack College Teacher Survey, a nationally representative poll of more than 1,300 teachers conducted by the EdWeek Research Center and commissioned by the Winston School of Education and Social Policy at Merrimack College. The survey, which was conducted between Jan. 9 and Feb. 23, was designed to replace the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, which ran for more than 25 years and ended in 2012.
In follow-up interviews, teachers said they still love teaching—but they’re fed up with everything else. They feel burdened by a constantly growing workload, especially with more students having greater academic and social-emotional needs than ever before. They don’t feel like they’re paid appropriately for all the work they do. And they don’t feel respected as professionals.
“This year has been a struggle more than any others in my career,” said LéAnn Cassidy, a veteran middle school history teacher in Connecticut, in April. “I’ve never seen the number of people break down as I have this year. I think the pandemic has dampened that joy [of teaching], and people are trying to find it again.”
Chart #2: Teachers Are More Stressed, Burned Out, and Depressed Than Other Working Adults
The pandemic stress and workplace challenges have taken more of a toll on educators than other workers, according to a nationally representative RAND Corporation survey of 2,360 teachers that was conducted in January.
The majority of teachers said they were experiencing frequent job-related stress and burnout, and more than a quarter said they were experiencing symptoms of depression. Other working adults reported much higher rates of well-being.
A different study, published in November, found that teachers experienced higher rates of anxiety during the pandemic than health-care workers.
Chart #3: School Staffing Shortages Persist
An EdWeek Research Center survey found that this fall, nearly half of district leaders said they have unfilled teaching positions in special education, with more than a quarter saying they had vacancies in elementary education. Just 21 percent said they don’t have any unfilled teaching positions.
Unfilled teaching vacancies can make teachers’ jobs more stressful, if they have to take on larger class sizes or pitch in to cover classes. But the vacancies can also be a worrying sign about the strength of the teacher pipeline.
State policymakers have been trying to fill those vacancies through relaxing job requirements, sparking concerns about placing underqualified teachers in front of students who need to make up academic ground.
Chart #4: National Math and Reading Scores Hit Historic Lows
The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress results from spring 2022 showed the biggest drop in math performance in 4th and 8th grades since the testing program began in 1990. Reading scores saw similar declines: About a third of students in both grades can’t read at even the “basic” achievement level—the lowest level on the test.
The “nation’s report card” was released in October, sparking alarm throughout the education community. Educators will need to ramp up academic support for students, but it’s not clear teachers feel ready to take on the severity of students’ learning loss.
Less than half of students in 4th or 8th grade had teachers who were confident in their ability to address knowledge and skill gaps in math.
Chart #5: Teachers Say They Need More Support in Early Reading Instruction
An EdWeek analysis this year found that 29 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws or implemented policies over the past decade to bring teacher training, materials, interventions, or teacher preparation in line with evidence-based approaches to reading instruction.
But old practices are still happening in schools. For example, an EdWeek Research Center survey found that 61 percent of teachers said they tell beginning readers to use multiple sources of information—such as pictures and context, as well as letters—to predict what words say, an approach known as three-cueing. Research shows that method isn’t an effective way for beginning readers to learn to decode words.
According to the survey, which was conducted in May, many respondents said they or the teachers they worked with needed more training or support across a range of areas involved in early reading instruction—particularly phonemic awareness (ability to manipulate the discrete sounds in words) and phonics skills.
Chart #6: Teachers’ Comfort Level With Discussing Controversial Issues With Students Varies
Conservative politicians and pundits railed about the supposed presence of critical race theory in schools and classroom conversations about sexual orientation, politics, and other potentially controversial topics. But it turns out, those conversations largely aren’t happening.
The EdWeek Research Center polled a nationally representative survey of educators from across the political spectrum—with 32 percent identifying as liberal, 33 percent moderate, and 35 percent conservative—this fall.
More than half of teachers said they haven’t addressed any potentially controversial topics with their students this school year, with 17 percent citing concerns about legal consequences. Many teachers also say they’re uncomfortable having these discussions in class, especially about sex education, gender, and sexual orientation.
Chart #7: 1 in 5 Educators Say They Have Long COVID
People who have had COVID-19 can experience long-term effects for three or more months after first contracting the virus—a phenomenon known as long COVID, which encompasses a wide variety of disorders, including debilitating fatigue, memory lapses, heart and lung conditions, and anxiety and depression. Research into long COVID remains sparse.
An EdWeek Research Center survey in April found that 1 in 5 educators say they’ve personally contracted long COVID. The condition can be especially challenging for teachers, who say it’s exceedingly difficult to work with these long-lasting symptoms.
In April, EdWeek profiled nine educators dealing with long COVID. In December, EdWeek contacted them all again and found that five said their symptoms have dramatically improved while four are still suffering. Two have left full-time teaching for new jobs.
Chart #8: There Have Been More School Shootings in 2022 Than in Recent Years
There have been 50 school shootings this year that resulted in injuries and deaths—the most in a single year since Education Week began tracking such incidents in 2018. Thirty-eight people were killed, including 31 students.
The deadliest shooting happened in May at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Nineteen children were killed, alongside two 4th grade teachers who died trying to shield their students.
While school shootings are still statistically rare, the threat of gun violence has shaken educators’ sense of safety at work. An EdWeek Research Center survey of educators, conducted just a few weeks after the Robb Elementary shooting, found that 40 percent of educators said they felt less safe than they did five years ago—and fears of a “purposeful mass homicide” at their school was a key factor in their safety concerns.
Chart #9: There’s Been an Uptick in Student Misbehavior
Since the pandemic, students have been acting out and behaving badly more often in class, teachers say. An EdWeek Research Center survey found that two-thirds of educators say students are misbehaving more these days than they did in the fall of 2019.
Another EdWeek Research Center survey, conducted in August, found that 10 percent of educators say they have been physically assaulted or attacked by a student or students in the past year.
The rise in misbehavior might be connected to students struggling with the transition back to in-person schooling, the survey results suggest. Many students have also experienced trauma over the past three years, such as the loss of a loved one due to COVID-19, which could be fueling some of the misbehavior as well.
Chart #10: Better Pay Would Keep Teachers From Quitting
Amid unfilled teacher vacancies and fears of worsening staffing shortages, district leaders are hoping to hang on to their teachers—including by offering financial perks. Many districts have offered retention bonuses that range from a few hundred dollars to $10,000.
But salary increases—especially those that exceed increases in the cost of living—were the main financial incentives that teachers said would keep them from quitting, according to an EdWeek Research Center survey in July.
Just 7 percent of teachers said that no financial policy would make a difference in their plans to quit because their reasons for wanting to leave weren’t financial.