During Back to School Month, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools commissioned The Harris Poll to conduct a national survey of more than 1,200 public school teachers in both district and charter schools.
The purpose of the study was to gain more insight into teachers’ motivation for staying or leaving the profession and learn more about their experiences and challenges in the classroom. Many of the findings shared by these teachers reflected my experience as a former teacher and the struggles I faced in the classroom—struggles that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Here are a few things that stood out to me from the report as a former teacher:
Something Has to Change for Teachers to Stay in the Classroom
Nearly all public school teachers—99%—agree something needs to change in public education in order to recruit and retain teachers. Nine in 10 teachers nationwide believe the public education system is in crisis mode right now. Eighty-four percent of teachers feel less safe by the day and the same percentage of teachers reported student mental health is at an all-time low.
While on the topic of mental health—most teachers have felt worried or anxious (58%), burned out (67%), and overwhelmed (72%). When asked, many teachers indicated that they spend nearly a third of their time in a typical day on things outside of teaching. Ninety-four percent of teachers say they just want to teach. As a former public charter school teacher, I too felt many of these emotions as I juggled all the demands that came with being a teacher.
When it comes to behavior management, 74% of public school teachers cited student behavior and discipline issues as the top challenge they are currently facing. Most indicated they are spending the majority of the school day disciplining, instead of teaching. As a result, it takes away critical instructional time from our students and further widening the achievement gap.
Teachers Agree Families and Students Should Have Education Choice
Regardless of the politicized nature of school choice, more than two-thirds of teachers agree that having more than one type of public school option is a good thing. Ninety-seven percent of teachers agree one size does not fit all when it comes to educating children. On this, I am in full agreement.
There’s Something Special About the Experience of Charter School Teachers
Eighty percent of charter school teachers are as motivated or even more motivated to teach than when they first entered the profession. Furthermore, 96% of charter school teachers feel aligned with their school’s culture in terms of education, values, and beliefs.
I also related to this feeling. At my former school, one of our core values was justice—meaning you meet each student where they are. For example, teachers adjusted their lessons to accommodate each student’s learning style. And when it came to correcting behavior, teachers used restorative practices or tools that are most likely to resonate with that specific child in order to improve behavior. I loved this about my school. I appreciated the encouragement and training to consider the child as a whole when trying to reach them to teach them.
Money Matters to Teachers, But So Does Having a Voice
Seventy-five percent of public school teachers believe that providing better benefits and compensation will increase teacher retention. While money is important, teachers also indicated they want their voices to be heard and valued by those who can take action on their feedback. According to the report, teachers want to keep politics out of the classroom. Ninety-one percent of public school teachers reported feeling like they are caught in the crossfire of a culture war.
Ninety-seven percent of teachers want to be part of the problem-solving and solutions in education. George Parker, senior advisory of school support for the National Alliance and a former teacher himself and union leader, put it this way in our recent podcast episode.
“School districts have to get back to seeing teachers as the doctors. If you went into a hospital with an illness, you wouldn’t want someone writing a prescription who has never examined you. What happens in education today is that policymakers and politicians make decisions about what goes on in the classroom without ever talking to the [expert].”
Nearly 40% of public school teachers have either seriously considered leaving the profession in the past or are planning to do so by the end of the year. It is critical that we listen to our teachers and value their feedback in our efforts to ensure students across the nation receive a high-quality public education.
Brittnee Baker is the manager of communications and marketing at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and host of the Get Schooled on Education podcast.