A recent study by Gallup shows that just 30 percent of teachers are “actively engaged” in their jobs. The study also estimates that teachers who aren’t engaged account for 2.3 million missed workdays every year.
Based on a phone survey of 6,711 full-time teachers from across the U.S., Gallup finds that 57 percent of teachers say that they are “not engaged” at work, with an additional 13 percent saying that they are “actively disengaged"—that is, they “act out their unhappiness in ways that undermine what their coworkers accomplish.”
Gallup defines an engaged teacher as one who is “involved with, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work.” By contrast, unengaged teachers are merely satisfied with their jobs and are less likely to look for opportunities for growth or to feel “emotionally connected” to their work.
Teacher engagement also varies significantly by state. In Washington, 35 percent of teachers are engaged, while only 22 percent of Michigan teachers say the same. Washington also has a low rate of disengagement, with just one in 10 teachers reporting feeling actively disengaged.
The more engaged a teacher is, the fewer unhealthy days they report having each year: Engaged teachers average 10.1 days when they feel unable to do their usual activities, while actively disengaged teachers average more than twice that, reporting 20.4 unhealthy days per school year. (Click the chart at left to enlarge.)
Those “unhealthy days” may turn into missed work days. Though teachers who are not engaged report only slightly more unhealthy days—11.3—than their more-engaged peers, their greater share of the workforce means that they account for nearly 782,000 additional missed work days. Gallup estimates that actively disengaged teachers, despite their small numbers, miss more than 1.5 million additional days as a group.
The analysis also suggests that districts may play a role in both engagement and teacher health. A supportive environment can encourage engagement in the classroom while also providing resources for teachers who are unwell.
Gallup reached these totals using data from past surveys of all American workers, which show that 31 percent of unhealthy days translate into missed workdays. It’s not clear whether or not teachers follow the rest of the population where this is concerned. Given that teachers, unlike many other workers, require substitutes when they call in sick, it’s possible that they are less likely to miss work when feeling unwell.
Regardless of exactly how many days teachers miss each year, the study makes it clear that there is a connection between engagement in the classroom and teacher health, though it does not seek to establish causality in its results. Gallup does note that workers in other professions are equally engaged—in fact, past polls have suggested that teachers are more engaged than other workers. However, in a field where personal connections can be critical, it’s worth considering the impact of a system where so many teachers don’t feel connected to their work.
Chart courtesy of Gallup, Inc.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.