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81% of Teachers are Satisfied with Teaching: Going Beyond the Headlines of the MetLife Teacher Survey

Anyone reading anything about education this week inevitably read about the latest results from The Metlife Survey of the American Teacher: Teachers, Parents, and the Economy.

And there's lots of commentary from the results. Discussing survey results is always interesting, as authors will choose specific components to highlight based on their perspective.

Edweek chose to highlight the wording from the Major Findings from the report of how the percentage of teachers who are "very satisfied" has declined significantly from 2009 from 59% to 44%.

Then, in the Huffington Post, one commentary says, "Over the past two years of gut-punching, teacher job satisfaction has fallen from 59% to 44%."

Then, back at Edweek, the online commentaries continue and go in different directions.

But when one looks at this question and responses in more detail , the question (Q905, Section 900: Teaching Profession, p. 79) asks, "All in all, how satisfied would you say you are with your job as a teacher in the public schools?

The percentage of teachers who are "very/somewhat satisfied" is actually 81%, because the excluded percentage of teachers who are "somewhat satisfied" is 37%.

So, 44% very satisfied teachers and 37% somewhat satisfied teachers make for a profession where 81% of current teachers are satisfied.

This number is in the report, but one would have to go the actual question data in the back to find it. This question is important, because it is a reflects a summative ("All in all") perception of teaching that takes all other factors into account.

Do we not want to focus on the overall percentage of teachers who are just satisfied?

Is reporting the drop in percentage of satisfied teachers from 92% in 2009 to our current 81% not convincing enough to make headlines?

While there is a definite a drop in overall satisfaction that we need to concerned about, how we report the findings says equally as much about ourselves and our politics, that we would choose to comment on the results as we did.

Questions of Previous Trends

Even as we focus on the 44% very satisfied teachers, we have been here before. This is not new.

In 1985 and 1989, only 44% of the teachers surveyed were "very satisfied." It would be interesting to dig into the data and contextual history to understand those numbers, because a lot of the current reasons explaining this low percentage were not present in in the 80's.

And what's to explain the growth of the percentage of "very satisfied" teachers from 52% in 2001 to peaking in 2008 at 62%. Commentators of all sides of the political, economic, and education spectrum could have some "interesting times" writing and going back and forth about that!

And looking back at the different years of the Metlife Survey, one finds interesting themes.

For example, in the 2001 Metlife Teacher Survey, did you know that 84% of teachers believed that watching TV, videos, playing video or computer games interfered with students doing well in school? Other interesting student information included: 73% of students completed homework, 49% visited a library, and 64% of the students surveyed said they did not get enough sleep.

These questions were no longer included in future Metlife surveys, it would be interesting, from an instructional perspective, to see how those numbers change over the time. Actually, even reading about the different themes for each survey over the year reflects alot about how we view the issues.

Wishing for Consistent Themes

And going wayback to 1985 to the first of the three times when the percentage of teachers were at the 44% "very satisfied" point, and we were 2% below our current 81% satisfaction with the profession, there were several questions that dealt with teacher satisfaction, stress, reasons for leaving, and reasons for staying.

But, of most interest, were the questions that addressed why teachers enjoyed their profession, specifically when reporting the results for those wanting to leave.

Of the 985 current teachers who seriously considered leaving, for the question, "What were the main things that made you decide to stay in teaching?"

  • 74% stayed because of job satisfaction.
  • 40% stayed because of relationship with students.
  • 27% stayed because they loved to teach.
  • 23% stayed because of satisfaction in seeing students grow and progress.

Other reasons cited included job fulfillment, feeling capable as teacher, relationships with colleagues, liking to help, and the challenges of teaching.

Future Lessons

It is helpful for us to know that during the first time we were at this point, there were identifiable factors that retained teachers. For those of us who still work in schools, we need this data.

Would these joys of teaching be enough to keep teachers in classrooms today?

Given the selective discussion around the current Metlife report, would we even talk about it?

And most importantly, given our very real concerns about the future of the teaching profession, must we really be so selective in the data we highlight to discuss our challenges?

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