Confronting the Top Challenges from the MetLife Survey

Communicator May 2013, Volume 36, Issue 9 According to the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, teacher satisfaction has slid 23 percentage points since 2008. That’s the bad news. But, there’s good news in this year’s data, too, and the survey reveals important takeaways for principals.

May 2013, Volume 36, Issue 9

According to the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, teacher satisfaction has slid 23 percentage points since 2008.

That’s the bad news. But, there’s good news in this year’s data, too, and the survey reveals important takeaways for principals.

Since 1984, The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher has been conducted to give voice to educators and uncover the most pressing issues they face in schools. For this year’s edition, titled Challenges for School Leadership, 500 K-12 public school principals were surveyed, along with 1000 K-12 teachers.

Here are the top challenges the survey revealed, and what to do to help your staff through them:

Challenge: Stress
If you’ve been feeling inundated at work, you’re not alone: three-quarters of principals surveyed say the job has become “too complex.” Half of principals report feeling that they’re under “great stress” at least several days a week.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that teachers are just as stressed. In 1985, the last time the question about stress was asked, 36 percent of teachers reported feeling very stressed at least several days a week. That number has jumped now to 51 percent. Notably, elementary teachers were more likely than middle- or high-school teachers to report this level of stress.

Action: Have open conversations with your staff members about stress and well-being. Psychologist Adam Sáenz, interviewed in the September/October issue of Principal, suggests not only asking teachers how you can support them, but engaging them in a schoolwide wellness campaign. See “Teacher Wellness” for his strategies.

Challenge: Job satisfaction
Job satisfaction is closely tied to stress levels: teachers with low job dissatisfaction are twice as likely to report feeling great stress.

And, it seems that both teachers’ and principals’ job satisfaction levels have dipped. The report’s authors point out that principal satisfaction has slipped nine percentage points over five years, while teacher satisfaction is at a 25-year low.

It’s important to note that the majority of teachers and principals still report being at least “somewhat” satisfied at work. But, as a basis for comparison, just four years ago, 62 percent of teachers reported being “very satisfied” at work. Now, just 39 percent of teachers are.

Action: These facts about the teachers who report lower levels of job satisfaction may surprise you:

  • They are more likely to be mid-career teachers rather than those new to the profession.
  • Urban, rural, or suburban teachers are just as likely to be satisfied. The key difference: teachers in schools with over two-thirds low-income students are more likely to report dissatisfaction.
  • Dissatisfied teachers are more likely to report that their professional development time and time to collaborate with fellow teachers have decreased this year.

Know which teachers in your school are most likely to slip into dissatisfaction and target their professional development needs.

Challenge: Tightened Schedules
In many schools, strapped budgets have made it tougher to squeeze in professional development and time for collaboration. The good news: about half of the teachers surveyed report that the time they spend this year on professional development and collaborating with other teachers has stayed the same as last year. Unfortunately, 25 percent of teachers say they have less time this year than last year to collaborate with their peers.

Action: Make collaboration a priority. Principals know it’s never easy to reorganize packed school schedules, but shifting to a culture of collaboration is the only way to support teaming. Kurtis Hewson wrote for Principal about the challenges and triumphs of switching to a professional learning community strategy in “Time: Shift: Developing Teacher Teams.” Read his tips here.

Challenge: Mismatched Priorities
When asked about the experiences and skills that are important for a principal to have, principals’ top three answers are:

  • Using data about student performance to improve instruction
  • Leading the development of teaching capacity, and
  • Evaluate teachers using multiple measures.

Since this year’s MetLife Survey focused on principals, teachers were asked about the traits of strong school leaders, too. Teachers also ranked building educators’ capacity as an important skill for principals. Teachers reported that principals should have been a classroom teacher and have strong operational skills, such as managing schedules and budgets.

Notably, teachers were less likely than principals to cite leveraging student data as a very important skill.

Action: One way to help teachers understand your priorities is to empower them with leadership roles, as department chairs, team leaders, or teacher mentors, etc. Elementary teachers were more likely than high school teachers to report that it’s important for principals to share leadership responsibilities.

“Teacher leadership emerges as a potential resource for translating big challenges into opportunities,” write the report’s authors, “[…] and as a method for addressing personal growth and satisfaction.”

The authors point out that teachers who hold leadership roles are more likely to agree with principals on the importance of data use. Open—and keep having—discussions about the importance of using data to drive instruction, especially in the context of the Common Core standards. Review “Schools as Effective Data Users” from Principal or Essentials for Principals: Data-Based Decision Making from the National Principals Resource Center for strategies.

On the other hand, address teachers’ priorities by empathizing with them as a fellow educator. The extent of teaching experience among principals may be on the decline, but nearly all principals have at least three years of teaching experience to draw on, according to the survey.

Read the full MetLife Survey of the American Teacher here.

Meredith Barnett, Associate Editor/Writer, NAESP

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