Working in Education
Despite Challenges, Most K-12 Teachers Would Recommend the Profession
Standardized testing and policies originating from those outside the profession were cited by teachers as their greatest professional frustrations.
- By John K. Waters
Why do K-12 teachers stay in the profession despite its many challenges and notoriously limited financial rewards? According to a recent survey of just over a thousand elementary, middle, and high school teachers around the country, the answer is: job satisfaction.
"We all know what a challenging profession teaching can be," said Pamela Roggeman, Ed.D., academic dean for the University of Phoenix College of Education. "Our goal with this survey is to understand what it is that keeps them coming back to it, year after year."
The survey was conducted online in the U.S. by polling and market research firm Harris on behalf of the University of Phoenix between April 14 and 27. In total, 1,002 full-time K-12 teachers responded to the survey, explained Tanya Burden, director of public relations at Apollo Education Group, of which the University of Phoenix is a subsidiary. All respondents had earned at least an undergraduate degree, she said.
A majority (88 percent) of survey respondents cited job satisfaction as the primary reason they continue to pursue the teaching profession. Many (71 percent) said that seeing students grow is what they most enjoy about the job. And more than half (68 percent) of those who entered the field in the last 10 years said they would recommend the profession to others.
Among the other factors that keep them in the profession, respondents cited:
- The ability to affect students' lives (68 percent);
- Lifelong learning opportunities (43 percent);
- Variety — no two days are alike (41 percent);
- Job benefits (19 percent);
- Collaboration in schools today (16 percent);
- Technology in the classroom (15 percent); and
- Professional development opportunities (15 percent).
And 69 percent of respondents said they became teachers because they enjoy working with children; 65 percent had a desire to make a difference in children's lives; and 30 percent said they wanted to inspire change in education.
Their list of most vexing frustrations included: policy development by those outside the profession (78 percent); standardized testing (67 percent); and students' lack of respect for authority (60 percent).
Survey respondents were also asked for their recommendations for improving teacher retention.
Tuition reimbursement programs topped that list (56 percent), followed by mentorship programs that support teachers in their first few critical years of teaching (53 percent), relevant professional development opportunities driven by school needs (49 percent) and teacher preparation and continuing education aligned with classroom dynamics, merging theory and practice (48 percent).
"It's important to keep in mind that K-12 is a different place from what it was 10 years ago, in terms of leadership opportunities for teachers," Roggeman said. "It used to be that you were either a teacher or an administrator. But today, savvy district leaders are recognizing that you've got to tap into the talent pool of your teachers for creative problem solving."
This is the second such annual survey conducted by the for-profit school, and the responses remained relatively consistent, Burden said. The teacher retention questions were new to this year's survey. "We've been hearing a lot about this looming teacher and substitute teacher shortage around the country," she said. "So it made sense to focus on that a little bit more this year."
Burden's favorite finding from the survey: Nearly half (47 percent) of respondents reported that they were inspired to join the profession by a teacher they had when they were students. "That number was very similar year over year," she said.
Almost all (97 percent) survey respondents agreed that parents should play an essential role in the learning process. And yet, more than half (56 percent) said that they believe fewer than 25 percent of parents are actually involved in their classrooms.
Among the ways that parents could become more involved, the teachers suggested:
- Ask about areas for improvement with their child (63 percent);
- Communicate regularly with the teachers (63 percent);
- Do not wait until there is an issue to connect with teachers (62 percent);
- Donate supplies (54 percent); and
- Volunteer in the classroom (34 percent).
The release of the survey results were timed to correspond with Teacher Appreciation Week, Burden said, which is sponsored by the National Parent Teacher Association.
The University of Phoenix College of Education offers associate, bachelor's, and master's degree programs.
John K. Waters is a freelance journalist and author based in Palo Alto, CA.