Here’s Why Teacher Satisfaction Is Down And How To Fix It

I read a statistic that over 60% of teacher’s in the 90’s said they were satisfied with their jobs. That’s a lot more than the percentage of teachers in 2012. In 2012 only a meager 39% of teachers said they were satisfied with their jobs. So what changed? Does it matter that teachers are less satisfied with their jobs? I researched these questions and found some amazing research to answer them.

90’s Education

Parents and educators in the 1990’s had many of the same concerns that they do today: school safety, student achievement, adding standardized goals and testing, and high school drop out rates.

However, extra demands on teachers began in the 1990’s. State and federal governments wanted to see results, and this trickled down to superintendents, principals, and finally teachers. You can read about these changes from actual teachers from eNotes. Today teachers are reporting feeling more stressed than ever.

Some of these stresses included more security at schools, more safety procedures for school personal to be responsible for, federal and state education requirements changing frequently, additional legal paperwork, new curriculum that follows standard based or test driven teaching, demands from administrators not to deviate from curriculum, heightened parent expectations and demands, increasingly diverse classrooms with students who have many needs, and the list could continue to go on…

When a job becomes more demanding, and nothing else changes (salary, training, support), it creates less satisfied employees.

Does Teacher Satisfaction Matter?

Why yes it does. A whole lot. Teacher satisfaction directly effects teacher retention in schools. This was found to be consistent across schools with similar demographics. Thus proving that “difficult” students or old buildings have less to do with teacher satisfaction.

Equally important, test scores increase when teacher satisfaction increases and teacher attitudes are positive. One study in particular showed a correlation between poor test scores and poor teacher attitudes.

Not to mention teacher satisfaction also leads to teacher retention. Teachers who stay in a position longer can have a more meaningful impact on their students. They also cost the district less money and a lot less headaches.

What Increases Teacher Satisfaction?

Susan Moore Johnson, Matthew A. Kraft, and John P. Papay (in 2012) completed terrific research on teacher satisfaction. It is printed in Teacher’s College Record, volume 114. Because they did such a fantastic job, I am going to quote their conclusion below:

We found that measures of the school environment explain away much of the apparent relationship between teacher satisfaction and student demographic characteristics. The conditions in which teachers work matter a great deal to them and, ultimately, to their students. Teachers are more satisfied and plan to stay longer in schools that have a positive work context, independent of the school’s student demographic characteristics. Furthermore, although a wide range of working conditions matter to teachers, the specific elements of the work environment that matter the most to teachers are not narrowly conceived working conditions such as clean and well-maintained facilities or access to modern instructional technology. Instead, it is the social conditions—the school’s culture, the principal’s leadership, and relationships among colleagues—that predominate in predicting teachers’ job satisfaction and career plans. More important, providing a supportive context in which teachers can work appears to contribute to improved student achievement. We found that favorable conditions of work predict higher rates of student academic growth, even when we compare schools serving demographically similar groups of students.

Johnson, Susan Moore; Kraft, Matthew A.; Papay, John P. 2012. How Context Matters in High-Need Schools: The Effects of Teachers’ Working Conditions on Their Professional Satisfaction and Their Students’ Achievement. Teachers College Record. volume 114. issue 10.

In short: Teachers typically don’t leave schools because their students are hard to work with (although they mention that hard students influence a teacher’s decision), statically school culture, leadership, and coworkers are more important to job satisfaction. And high job satisfaction means that teachers will stay at the school.

As an additional note, schools who retain teachers and principals are schools that are going to have better results. Consequently, school culture can be established. Teachers with more experience are going to have more tools in their teaching tool belt. And finally, teacher routines can become consistent. (So if you’re a parent you should be looking for schools that have teacher retention rather than test scores. Read more about that here.)

A Call To Action

Part of the reason teacher satisfaction has fallen dramatically is because federal, state, and local government has increased demands on teachers without changing education culture to meet the higher demands. Research points to school administration, coworkers, and over all positive school atmosphere, as critical ways to retain and keep teachers. When teachers are satisfied and retained, student scores increase.

If you are a parent reading this:

A great way to support this is to attend your locally assigned school. (Are there exceptions to this, yes. But if we don’t support our local schools, change is going to be much more difficult.) Then participate in the school. Volunteer, attend meetings, vote on local policies that will help teacher work conditions. Talk to teachers! Ask them what they need to help their work conditions. Advocate for their needs. Parents often have more power in local change than the actual teachers do.

If you are a teacher reading this:

Look for schools where teachers and principals are staying. Once you’re in a school work on building a supportive relationship with your coworkers. Invite them to go out after work, collaborate on lessons, meet together often, and get to know each other. When you have the opportunity to have your voice heard, advocate with these research points.

If you are a school administrator reading this:

Really this needs to be completely different post, but here are some starting points… Listen to your teachers. Remember they are experts in the field too. Do fun things to boost morale with your teachers. Encourage teacher input in instructional design. Support, advocate, and trust teachers. Give them the benefit of the doubt and they will trust you back!

Let me know about your school culture. Good, bad? Why?

Referenced Research

Chenoweth, Karin. 2007. “It’s being done;” academic success in unexpected schools. Reference & Research Book News. volume 22, issue 4.

Hanushek, E. A.Kain, J. F.Rivkin, S. G. 2004. Why Public Schools Lose Teachers. Journal Of Human Resources. volume 39, issue 2, starting on page 326.

Johnson, Susan Moore; Kraft, Matthew A.; Papay, John P. 2012. How Context Matters in High-Need Schools: The Effects of Teachers’ Working Conditions on Their Professional Satisfaction and Their Students’ Achievement.Teachers College Record. volume 114. issue 10.

Stomff, Mihaela. 2014. The Effects of Teachers’ Attitudes on Anxiety and Academic Performances. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, volume 127, starting on page 868.

Wise, Alyssa.; Chang, Juyu; Duffy, Thomas; Valle D., Rodrigo. 2004. The Effects of Teacher Social Presence On Student Satisfaction, Engagement, and Learning. J. Educational Computing Research, Vol. 31(3) 247-271.

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