Parents across the United States have a lot of love for their children's teachers. So says a new survey of parents whose children completed kindergarten through 12th grade in the past school year.
It shows that 82 percent of parents rate their child's teachers as excellent or good, and just 5 percent rate them as poor. And parents were almost universal in saying that teacher quality is a central factor in determining the quality of education a child receives.
Parents of elementary school students rate their children's instructors most positively: 87 percent called them excellent or good, compared with 77 percent of parents of middle school students and 78 percent of high school parents.
The poll, conducted by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, went further and asked parents who gave teachers high marks to say in their own words what qualities made their child's teacher a great one. Such open-ended questions allow researchers to explore public opinion thoroughly, when giving poll respondents a more limited list of possible answers could mean missing something meaningful.
Parents' answers were collected word-for-word, then coded into categories to get a better sense of which traits in particular garnered the most frequent mentions.
At the top of many parents' lists were traits related to attentiveness to students, presentation style or being a good communicator. Overall, 35 percent of parents mentioned the teacher's paying attention to their students' needs, 22 percent cited factors related to presentation style, 12 percent mentioned communication skills and 10 percent an overall positive attitude or personality.
But these broad categories don't fully capture what parents mean. Parents' descriptions of their children's best teachers varied greatly, even when they all speak to a single trait. Looking at those who praised attentive teachers, for some it was personal:
_ "She was able to get in touch with him and let him know he can do anything."
_ "The fact that she took the time to listen to my daughter and help her."
_ "He takes the time to know my child and he knows when to push or not."
_ "Her ability to work with my child, with her personality, and allowing her to be who she is."
Others described a broader engagement with the class as a whole or a style of teaching that emphasized attentiveness:
_ "Very engaged with each student."
_ "They take the time to make sure the students understand one-on-one."
_ "She was very attentive to each child's needs, whether they were advanced or average."
_ "His way of paying attention to his students."
Open-ended questions like this can take a lot of work, but they allow researchers to accomplish two goals at the same time – presenting a big-picture look at how a group views a complex issue, while also enlightening with details that would otherwise be lost in the numbers.
The AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey was conducted June 21-July 22, with funding from the Joyce Foundation. The nationally representative poll involved landline and cellphone interviews in English or Spanish with 1,025 parents of children who completed grades K through 12 in the past school year. Interviews were conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points; it is larger for subgroups.
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