National poll of public school teachers provides important insight into teacher shortage, major concerns, and possible solutions
Listen to Your Teacher: An Analysis of Teacher Sentiment on the State of Public Education is 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. The survey examined teachers’ experiences and opinions to learn more about their motivations for entering, staying in, or leaving the classroom, as well as the challenges they believe the American public education system is facing. Results revealed similarities for all teachers in public schools as well as interesting findings unique to charter school teachers.
“Next to parents, teachers are the backbone of education. It is valuable to have insight into how they feel in today’s climate and find out how we can better support their heroic work in and outside the classroom. Although we certainly have a special interest in charter school teachers, we care deeply about the experience of all public school teachers,” says Nina Rees, President and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
“The National Alliance partnered with The Harris Poll on this study because we wanted to hear directly from public school teachers in both charter and district schools to learn more about what motivates them, what challenges them, and how they think we might improve aspects of the profession,” said Debbie Veney, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and author of the report. “Spoiler alert—our report will show that teachers are indeed concerned about what you think would concern them, but it’s not only what you think. We found some compelling data points about job satisfaction and motivational experiences of charter school teachers—even in tough times—proving that teaching in a public charter school is a special kind of experience.”
Key data from the survey indicate the following trends:
- Teachers Agree Families and Students Should Have Education Choice: 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) and 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).
- Something Has to Change: Public school teachers cite student behavior and discipline issues (74%) as the top challenge they believe teachers currently face, followed by pay (65%). Eighty-four percent 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.
- There’s Something Special About the Experience of Charter School Teachers: Eighty percent 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).
- Aligning with Culture: 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.
- Keep Politics Out of the Classroom: 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%).
- Teaching Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: 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.
- Money Matters, But So Does Having a Voice: 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. 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. Given the numerous responsibilities teachers have to shoulder in the classroom, especially those related to student wellbeing, it is perhaps not surprising that 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.
Veney continued, “Perhaps the most important lesson may be that, if we want to tackle the issues facing the public education system, we would do well to listen to our teachers. They are navigating this system every day, and their perspective is critical not just for students and families, but for all of us.”
Listen to Your Teacher includes stories of teachers and leaders whose personal experiences put this data into perspective:
- On teacher retention: Washington Latin Public Charter Schools has found multiple innovative ways to keep lines of communication open and meet teachers’ needs. Some of the school’s strength comes from addressing the basics. Diana Smith, Chief of Classical Education, says, “We ask a lot of our people in terms of out-of-school time as well as work time, but we do a lot for them.”
- On compensation: Mr. Nathaniel Dunn III, one of the National Alliance’s 2023 Changemakers and a 3rd-grade charter school teacher at i3 Academy in Birmingham, Alabama, explains, “I think it is important to recognize that individual motivations can vary among teachers and the reasons why some charter school teachers express higher motivation regarding pay and benefits [can vary] from case to case… While compensation is an essential factor, we do find value in non-monetary rewards such as personal fulfillment, recognition, and motivation.”
- On cultural alignment: When a teacher feels culturally aligned with students and the school in which they teach, the benefits are enormous for both students and teachers. As Ms. Stacey Coonsis, the Elementary Head of School at the Native American Community Academy (NACA) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, says, “We didn’t have the words for it as kids, but we can have those words now: representation matters.”
- On the challenges of student behavior: Finding a way to deal with discipline issues is critical to academic progress. George Parker, a senior advisor at the National Alliance and former president of the Washington, D.C., teachers union makes the point that “academic achievement could increase tremendously if we would just address the behavior that causes a teacher not to be able to provide quality instruction to students.” Even though dealing with this issue may be difficult both practically and politically, it has never been more necessary. Parker echoes our survey findings: “Teachers are telling you now: This is our number one problem. Give us a prescription to solve it. We need your help.”
The research was conducted online from May 10 to May 30, 2023, in the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools among 1,211 public school teachers. For more information and to speak with a National Alliance expert, please email Jennifer Diaz at email@example.com.