Forty percent of teachers are disheartened and disappointed with their jobs, says a new study published this week. The study, conducted by nonprofits Public Agenda and Learning Point Associates and funded by the Gates Foundation and the Joyce Foundation, surveyed 900 teachers across the country.
Teachers surveyed fall into three broad categories which researchers designated the “Disheartened,” the “Contented,” and the “Idealists.”
- Disheartened teachers account for 40 percent of those surveyed and are twice as likely as other teachers to strongly agree with the view that teaching is “so demanding, it’s a wonder that more people don’t burn out.” More than half teach in low-income schools and 61 percent cite lack of support from administrators as a major drawback to teaching.
- Contented teachers make up 37 percent of teachers and are more likely to say that their schools are “orderly, safe, and respectful.” About two-thirds of this group teaches in middle-income or affluent schools, and the majority holds a graduate degree. Sixty-three percent strongly agree with the statement that “teaching is exactly what I wanted,” which is supported by the fact that 82 percent have been teaching for more than 10 years.
- Idealist teachers make up 23 percent of teachers surveyed and are more likely to believe that “good teachers can lead all students to learn, even those from poor families or who have uninvolved parents.” More than half are 32 years old or younger and teach in elementary schools, and 36 percent say that, although they intend to stay in education, they plan to leave classroom teaching in the future for other jobs in education.
These insights into how teachers see their profession particularly resonate with me this week, a week in which I had a very raw and honest meeting with the entire staff of one of our hard-to-fill elementary schools. I am not sure I have ever seen a staff as dedicated and cohesive as this one — they support each other and they are entirely committed to the district’s goals and the ideal of social justice. When you walk through the school, you can feel that you are in a place where all children are loved and challenged. But disillusionment is creeping in, because even though this staff is doing everything we ask of them (often more), it’s not enough. They don’t have what they need to do their jobs and the school doesn’t have the resources to offer its students what they need.
Because this school is “hard to fill,” most of the teachers are newer to the profession — and therefore low on the seniority list. Eighty-five percent of the teachers at this school got pink slips last year, and I couldn’t promise them that it wouldn’t happen again this year. This spring, many will get pink slips and the way it looks now, at least some of them will lose their jobs at the end of the year.
Their question for me was: What are you going to do about it?
Mainly what I can do is continue to remind the central office of the importance of bending over backwards to support sites, like this one, that are struggling under the weight of educating a high concentration of children who are low-income, disadvantaged and often traumatized by witnessing violence. There were a few specific “asks” we identified that I can agitate for at the district level, but I can’t solve the pink slip problem and I can’t solve the budget reality. Every site in San Francisco Unified feels underfunded, and we are continually prodding our budget mechanisms to ensure that funds are distributed equitably. Are there times equitable distribution doesn’t happen? Yes, but in large part curbing abuse is like adding a few drops to a very big bucket.
Part of the long-term answer is contained in the work we are doing to redesign the assignment system, since we’ve seen clearly in our data that schools with large concentrations of low-income children of color are often low-performing schools. Some studies seem to indicate a “tipping point,” a threshold where the concentration of low-income children of color begins to affect the achievement of every student at the school. It’s easy to see how such a “tipping point” could arise: in the school I visited this week, a large number of the students have untreated post traumatic stress disorder. These students are unable to focus, are often disruptive, and eat up the lion’s share of their teacher’s time. They need specialized treatment to help them be available for learning; treatment that even the most skilled and caring teacher isn’t trained to provide. If too many of these students are in the same school, our fragile support systems are quickly overwhelmed, and every student’s learning suffers.
But at the core is the same old truth “everybody” except 33 percent of the Legislature knows — California doesn’t fund its schools at a level that is realistic for what we expect them to accomplish. And until we do that, too many of our well-trained, dedicated teachers are going to feel “disheartened.”