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Report: Nearly two-thirds of American teachers feel undervalued

teacher appreciation

One of the most significant education storylines of the 2017-2018 school year featured a series of statewide teacher protests that took place in Arizona, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and other states.

While classroom teachers have long expressed frustration with stalled salaries and dwindling resources, multiple demonstrations showed an emerging willingness among educators to make their voices heard.

Despite a steadily growing sense of teacher empowerment, high teacher attrition rates and waning interest in the profession among college students points to deep challenges for America’s teaching corps.

Now, a new study from the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education (CPE) finds that teacher morale may also be affected by something more fundamental than resources or money–call it a lack of appreciation.

In the report, “How teachers in the U.S. and Finland see their jobs,” CPE researchers examine survey data from the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) and compare responses from American teachers and their Finnish counterparts. Students from Finland, the researchers point out, consistently score high on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which compares educational progress among different countries.

When asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “I think the teaching profession is valued in society,” only one-third of U.S. lower secondary teachers agreed or strongly agreed. That’s compared to nearly 60 percent of Finnish teachers.

This perceived lack of teacher appreciation may highlight a new point of emphasis for school leaders when it comes to employee engagement. Other key findings from the study paint a picture of American teachers who feel overworked and undervalued:

1. Teachers in America work longer hours than those in Finland.

While Finnish teachers spend an average of 4.8 hours on classroom planning, American teachers spend more than 7 hours, according to the report. In terms of overall work, teachers in Finland report an average of 31.6 hours while American teachers report close to 45 hours per week.

2. American teachers face bigger challenges when it come to students’ socioeconomic backgrounds.

A majority of American teachers–nearly 65 percent–said they work at schools where more than 30 percent of students are disadvantaged. Compare that to only 3.1 percent of Finnish teachers. More than double the amount of American teachers than Finnish teachers work in schools where more than 10 percent of students’ first language was different from the language of instruction.

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3. Teacher evaluation measures are very different in Finland and the U.S.

According to the report, teachers from Finland report a larger emphasis on parent and student feedback and teacher collaboration as measures of progress, as opposed to U.S. teachers, who report an emphasis on student assessment practices and student performance. More than 80 percent of U.S. lower secondary teachers place a moderate or high emphasis on student assessment practices as compared to nearly 64 percent of Finnish teachers. And, while nearly three-fourths of Finnish teachers said student feedback was emphasized in their performance appraisals, only half of American teachers reported the same.

4. Teachers in Finland have more autonomy than in the U.S.

On five different measures of teacher decision-making power–learning materials, courses offered, course content, student disciplinary policies, student assessment policies–a far higher percentage of teachers in Finland reported autonomy over their classrooms as compared to teachers in the U.S.

Autonomy. Holistic evaluation. Socioeconomic support. Work-life balance. Finland and the United States are two very different countries. It’s difficult to make a complete apples-to-apples comparison between their education systems. But, this data no doubt shows important areas of emphasis when it comes to understanding and evaluating teacher morale.

As a new school year begins, lawmakers and district leaders should take the time to evaluate whether the educators in their schools feel appreciated and empowered.

What do you think of the CPE study? Does it ring true in your school or district? What programs do you have to improve teacher engagement? Tell us in the comments.

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email: tkominiak@k12insight.com.

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