The National Alliance is giving “listen to your teacher” a whole new meaning. During Back to School Month, we released a new report based on results of a national survey of more than 1,200 public school teachers, both district and charter, conducted by The Harris Poll and commissioned by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
What the report found may surprise you. But what’s not surprising is that all public school teachers are rowing in the same direction whether they teach at a district school or a charter school—though teaching at a charter school is a special experience.
Key data from the survey indicate the following trends among public school teachers:
1. Teachers Agree Families and Students Should Have Education Choice
The assumption that school choice is just for students and families is incorrect. Teachers’ voices have rarely been heard on this issue, but when asked, they speak in favor of it.
- About 4 in 5 teachers agree that regardless of its politicized nature, public school choice is important for both families and teachers (79% of all public school teachers; 87% of charter school teachers and 78% of district school teachers)
- More than two-thirds agree that having more than one type of public school option is a good thing (69% of all public school teachers; 90% of charter school teachers and 67% of district school teachers).
2. Something Has to Change for Teachers to Stay in the Classroom
When asked what they think might make teachers more motivated to stay in the profession, public school teachers primarily cite higher pay and better benefits (84%), as well as support from school systems and administrators (68%). But better safety in schools (67%)—and its link to student behavior—is another key component that needs to be tackled
- Public school teachers cite student behavior and discipline issues (74%) as the top challenge they believe teachers currently face, followed by pay (65%).
- 84% of all the teachers we surveyed agree that student mental health is at an all-time low.
- Three out of four teachers (75%) feel they are often asked or required to do things outside of their teaching purview, and they estimate they spend, on average, about 17% of their workday supporting their students’ mental or physical well-being and 23% on classroom management—for a total of 40% of time spent on these non-instructional activities.
3. There’s Something Special About the Experience of Charter School Teachers
Even though all public school teachers are doing heroic work under extremely difficult circumstances, 9 in 10 teachers (90%) agree that teachers’ experiences in this country depend on the type of school setting in which they teach. The experiences of charter school teachers seem to be particularly special.
- Charter school teachers are more satisfied with their jobs than district school teachers (97% vs. 83%).
- 80% of charter school teachers say they are as or more motivated than when they initially entered the profession (vs. 34% among district teachers), whereas 66% of district teachers report feeling less motivated now than before (vs. 20% of charter teachers).
- A full 96% of charter school teachers report feeling aligned with their current school’s culture in terms of values and beliefs about education. Only 75% of district school teachers feel this way.
4. Teachers Want to Keep Politics Out of the Classroom
Teachers are politically engaged—but that does not mean they want politics to influence their work in the classroom. These responses were consistent across all geographies and political affiliations.
- Teachers say they just want to teach (94%) and report feeling like they are caught in the crossfire of a culture war (91%).
- Teachers overwhelmingly feel politicians and decision-makers should listen more to students, families, and teachers (97%).
5. Teaching Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time
Most public school teachers agree that teaching is more than just a job. But the strength of this initial calling, as well as the conviction that goes along with it, tends to fade over time as teachers experience the reality of what it means to work in the public education system.
- Nearly two-fifths (39%) 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.
- The vast majority of both district (97%) and charter (88%) teachers say they understand why other teachers have left the profession.
- 84% of public school teachers believe that higher pay and better benefits would make teachers feel more motivated to stay in the profession—though it seems that perhaps more resonant forms of support will be necessary for the majority of professionals who, above all else, are currently motivated by the fact that they can “positively impact the lives” of their students (59%).
6. Money Matters to Teachers, But So Does Having a Voice
Teachers want their voices to be heard and valued by those who can take action on their feedback. What teachers say they need goes beyond compensation and being included in the conversation, however. They also want access to a more holistic kind of support.
- Nearly all public school teachers (97%) wish decision-makers would listen to teachers’ opinions and perspectives, and almost half of them (48%) think having a less bureaucratic, or top-down, education system would help.
- Nearly 1 in 2 public school teachers (48%) want greater access to counseling for themselves. Currently, only about a third (31%) of teachers seem to have access to mental health support.
- Charter teachers especially would like greater access to community involvement opportunities (33%), in contrast to district teachers (24%).
For too long, teachers have been missing voices in discussions about education, even though polling says they are a trusted source of information. We hope this report sheds some light on what they need—and that we start taking steps toward rebuilding a sustainable career for teachers in public education.
Melinda Tolliver is the director of digital strategy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.