imagesReally? No “sh-t”, Sherlock.

In the latest (May 2016) Center On Education Policy report entitled: Listen to Us: Teacher Views and Voices, teachers across the country were polled on a number of questions regarding their profession. Questions included: why they entered teaching; what is most rewarding; their greatest challenges; working with economically disadvantaged (Why can’t they say POOR?); their attitudes toward their school, job, and colleagues; and, how well their opinions are received.

First, the positives:

The most significant, if not also the most obvious, findings are that:

  • 68% become teachers to make a difference in students’ lives
  • 45% said they become teachers to help students reach their full potential
  • 82% said the most rewarding aspect of teaching was making a difference in students’ lives
  • 69% said it was to see students succeed academically
  • 60% said they liked their schools and colleagues
  • 94% said they do some sort of collaborative work and 90% of those found it helpful and a good use of their time.

Again, these are not surprises. Teachers have always been altruists who have, perhaps, given up more lucrative occupations to work with children for those reasons. They have also been generally “kind” and “generous” in their reactions to questions about their schools and colleagues. Not exactly pollyannaish, on the whole they tend to be more complimentary then derogatory, unless they feel put upon by outside factors.

So, when the questions turned to what the most challenging things about teaching are we clearly see the impact of the past 16 years of corporate/foundation fed federal and state policies.

The greatest challenges come from externally imposed policies and constantly changing demands. However, as alarming as the following numbers may be, to me they are still low,  because many teachers are optimists, while many are fearful of saying what they really think, even in a survey.

  • 46% cited these policies as obstacles to good teaching
  • 33% noted that constant changes made not only their jobs tougher, but also students’ lives rougher.
  • 60% feel their enthusiasm has lessened
  • 49% said the new stresses and disappointment are not really worth it and would leave teaching if they could get a higher paying job.

They feel their voices are not heard anymore. They feel they have lost control of their work. Consider this dichotomy.

  • Although 53% agreed that their opinions are considered at their school  (not a high percentage), they feel they are not heard at much higher percentages at the district level (76%), State (94%) or federal (94%). It is the latter two that have dictated policy and practice in many districts since 2001.

I feel their pain. I know too many fabulous teachers and administrators who resigned or retired early because of that push-pull. We are talking about college and post-graduate educated professionals who love working with their kids and colleagues. They love the actual work of being a teaching professional but the dictated top down policies made by non-educators kill their love for their job.

The last factor that has added stress and dissatisfaction to their work has been the amount of time used for testing and preparing for tests. Obviously this is directly caused by the top down policies they feel are adversely affecting their work with kids. It is the testing, the designed schedules and curricula for test prep that are daggers to the heart.

  • They believe they spend too much time preparing for tests (62% state, 51% district).
  • Showing their concern for their students, an overwhelming 81% believe students spend too much time taking any of these mandated tests.
  • There is an obvious unspoken result here as the vast majority, (86%) would keep teacher developed tests.

The report tells us that they are not against all standardized tests, only the amount and frequency. There are obviously some that are deemed important (for example high school exit exams such as the NYS Regents exams). The unspoken factor is who makes up these tests. Is it grade level and subject teachers or an outside entity such as Pearson?

Is it then a surprise that depending on the area in the USA, the percentages of teachers who leave the profession with 5 or fewer years of experience range from 17% to over 50%? (Gray & Taie, 2015, Ingersoll and Merrill, 2012).

More depressing is the fact that fewer and fewer potential teachers even consider the profession anymore. The US Department of Education (2015) reports enrollment in teacher preparation programs has dropped nationally and precipitously in some states.

The report is fascinating and provides a great deal of information, but as in any other poll, the numbers have a margin of error. It is my opinion that the margin of error leans to a greater reporting of positives and lesser reporting of negatives. Contrary to the stereotype, it is generally who teachers  are, optimistic altruists who would prefer to see the better side of things as we make a difference in students’ lives, help students reach their full potential, and see them succeed academically.