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Build Teachers' Capacity... or Lose Them

Results from the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Teachers, Parents, and the Economy, confirm the urgent need for professional learning that strengthens leadership and acknowledges educator expertise while building teacher capacity and improving student achievement.

New data from the survey, which was released yesterday, indicate that teacher satisfaction is at its lowest point in more than 20 years, with just 44% of teachers surveyed reporting that they are very satisfied in their professions. In 2009, 59% indicated they were very satisfied.

When I read the executive summary, I am struck by several findings. I see that among those things that distinguish teachers with high job satisfaction from those with lower satisfaction are access to professional development opportunities and time to collaborate with other teachers. I also see that the more satisfied teachers have more preparation and support to engage parents effectively.

Obviously these are all professional learning issues, and it isn't a surprise that professional development is important to teachers. We know from the 2009 survey how highly teachers value collaboration with their peers and the role peer learning plays in strengthening educator practice and ability to effectively teach all students.

We address these teacher needs in our Standards for Professional Learning, which describe the conditions, processes, and content necessary for professional learning that positively impacts leadership, educator practice, and student learning. The standards underline the importance of collaborative learning, collective responsibility, and a cycle of continuous improvement. While the goals that drive the standards don't explicitly outline job satisfaction as an intended outcome, we do recognize the importance of educators' confidence in their abilities to do their jobs, and the data from this year's MetLife survey help me see that connection more clearly.

I also noticed in the survey that many teachers and parents reported cuts in services and positions as a result of ongoing economic conditions. We know that the economy has resulted in fewer professional development opportunities for educators across the nation.

But while tighter budgets do emphasize the need to carefully examine the impact of the professional learning we undertake, the fact is a decline in investment in professional development at this point is dangerous. De-emphasizing educator growth at the same time that we're trying to increase the number of students who are college- and career-ready makes no sense.

I hope we all take valuable lessons from this new set of data and work to ensure that teachers - and all educators -- get the support they need to serve students. In schools where educators share leadership and responsibility for all students, not only do students benefit, but teachers know that they are respected professionals whose voices are critical to creating successful schools.

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward

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