This story has been updated.
A new survey of more than 30,000 U.S. teachers finds that most of them report high levels of stress and low levels of autonomy, but it also shows that they are not ready to bail on the classroom.
Teachers said they feel particularly anxious about having to carry out a steady stream of new initiatives — such as implementing curricula and testing related to the Common Core State Standards — without being given adequate training, according to the survey.
The online survey was created by the American Federation of Teachers, which acknowledges that it was not a scientifically valid sampling of the teaching profession.
But the AFT, the nation’s second-largest teachers union, said the results were startling enough that it has asked the U.S. Department of Education and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to follow up and conduct a valid survey to determine if there is a national problem of stressed-out teachers.
“We ask teachers to be a combination of Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr. and, I’m dating myself here, Tony Soprano,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT. “We ask them to be Mom and Dad and impart tough love but also be a shoulder to lean on. And when they don’t do these things, we blame them for not being saviors of the world. What is the effect? The effect has been teachers are incredibly stressed out.”
The 80-question survey was completed by 31,342 teachers online between April 21 and May 1. It was designed by the AFT as well as the Badass Teachers, a group of teachers that has been aggressively fighting the use of student test scores to measure teacher quality, the rise of charter schools and other market-based education policies.
“What people have to realize is that this new push for corporate reform is decimating the teaching force,” said Marla Kilfoyle, general manager of the Badass Teachers, who has been teaching in New York for 29 years.
Among the survey respondents, 89 percent said they were strongly enthusiastic about teaching when they began their careers but just 15 percent felt the same way today. Most said that drop in enthusiasm has happened in the past two or three years.
[New teacher attrition is far lower than previously thought.]
Most teachers had positive things to say about their supervisors, with 55 percent saying they can count on their manager for support when they need it. But six out of 10 teachers said their schools lack a good mentoring program for newly minted teachers.
And most teachers said they were not treated with respect by their school boards, the government or the media.
Perhaps one of the clearest signals of job dissatisfaction had to do with the fact that more than half — 52 percent — of teachers surveyed said their jobs prevented them from making a lot of decisions on their own. Research has shown that when workers have autonomy, job satisfaction rises.
Seven out of every 10 respondents said they “often” felt their work is stressful and nearly eight out of 10 indicated they recently felt physically and mentally exhausted at the end of the work day. Three out of four survey participants said they spend at least two hours on school work either before or after school. Most said the typical work day did not leave them any time to pursue hobbies or leisure activities.
Still, 60 percent said they did not plan to leave the classroom in the coming year.
“Even with all of this, teachers were saying ‘I don’t want to give up on my kids, I want to stay in this profession’,” Weingarten said. “And they’re telling us they want the tools, time and trust they need to do their jobs.”
New research shows that about 17 percent of teachers leave the classroom within five years, far lower than previous estimates.
Correction: An earlier version of this post had a word incorrect in a quote from Weingarten. The story has been updated.