Forty Percent of America's K-12 Teachers Appear Disheartened

Teaching for a Living


Two out of five American K-12 teachers appear disheartened and disappointed about their jobs, according to new research by Public Agenda, a New York City-based nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, and by Learning Point Associates, a nonprofit education research and consulting organization based in Chicago, Ill. These results are being reported for the first time in the October 21edition of Education Week.

The nationwide study, “Teaching for a Living: How Teachers See the Profession Today,” offers a comprehensive and nuanced look at how teachers differ in their perspectives on their profession, why they entered teaching, the atmosphere and leadership in their schools, the problems they face, their students and student outcomes, and ideas for reform.

“This snapshot of America's four million K-12 teachers comes as economic-stimulus dollars pour into schools that are focused on dramatically improving student learning and ensuring that effective teachers are more equitably distributed among all schools,” said Sabrina Laine, Ph.D., Chief Program Officer** of Learning Point Associates “Additionally, as Congress considers reauthorization of the 2001 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, it is even more critical to have a better understanding of what motivates teachers to excel in the classroom and what support they need to sustain high levels of effectiveness with all students.”

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.
“Teaching for a Living: How Teachers See the Profession Today” is based on a nationally representative survey of 890 teachers. Data were collected by phone and online between April 16 and June 22, 2009. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 percent. The work was underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Joyce Foundation. The publication in Education Week is part of a new partnership involving the publication, Public Agenda and Learning Point Associates.

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