Howard County teachers are somewhat stressed out and overworked but on the whole love their jobs and feel ultimately successful in their endeavors, according to a new survey.
Local education experts said the results are not surprising in the teaching profession. The extra hours required for planning can cause fatigue and personal conflicts, they said. But teachers tend to be idealists driven by the desire to help children, which explains the overall satisfaction rate, they said.
The 30-question survey of 2,500 teachers and administrators was released this month by the Howard County Education Association. It found that:
Teachers, on average, strongly agreed that they feel good about teaching and successful at work.
They strongly disagreed with statements that job-related stress does not affect their well-being and that the number of on-the-job hours is "reasonable."
There was a slight drop from 1998 survey results in teachers who said they had access to the material resources and technology needed in the classroom.
Teachers said they feel more valued by the community than by the school system.
On average, they disagreed with the statement that they are compensated "fairly."
A running theme in the survey is the fragile balance between the joys and the hardships of teaching.
"I think the results say something about what drives people to be teachers. They are willing to go to great lengths to do their job because they believe in it," said Karen Dunlop, president of the Howard County Education Association.
Howard County school officials agreed.
"Planning takes a lot of time. I think teachers have always put a lot of time into this," said Mamie J. Perkins, director of human resources for Howard.
One of Perkins's responsibilities is recruiting new teachers and retaining those already working in Howard.
Teachers generally do not quit or burn out because of the stresses, she said.
"We don't have a huge turnover rate," Perkins said. "People talk about burnout, but it's not a problem for us."
In 1998, 143 teachers left Howard schools. The number one reason given was moving, according to county statistics. Second was other employment, followed by resignation after a leave of absence and "personal" reasons. Only three teachers listed dissatisfaction as the reason for leaving.
Stress or overwork could play a factor in all these decisions to leave Howard, but Perkins said that the teacher-retention issues faced by the county are no different than those nationwide.
"The issue of balance between work responsibility and family responsibility does come up certainly," Perkins said. "But we see the same issues here you see all over the country."
Perkins travels the country recruiting college graduates to Howard schools. She said she often has to warn prospective teachers--especially those unsure about teaching--of the rigors of the classroom.
"Often they may not know how difficult it is. I tell them about all the additional hours spent planning to make sure they are getting into the right field," she said.
The county contract for teachers calls for 38 hours a week. Not a single classroom teacher who answered the survey reported working 38 hours or less.
In addition, the survey showed that teachers--especially high school teachers--are concerned about class size.
They also are worried that too much emphasis is being placed on high scores on standardized tests rather than on broad reasoning skills.
"Much of what's being done is being driven by accountability requirements from outside. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but teachers have the sense that a lot is happening to them," Dunlop said.