America's public school teachers love their jobs, despite feeling underappreciated by society and facing enormous challenges in the workplace, according to a new international survey of educators.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which oversees the international PISA student assessment, surveyed a representative sample of educators in 34 countries, including 1,900 teachers across the United States. The findings for American teachers, particularly on job satisfaction, are consistent with similar studies including the latest Gallup Poll and a survey by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. And there are some consistencies in responses internationally: Teachers feeling undervalued is the headline for the OECD survey story in a number of countries including Australia, England, and Sweden.
As I dug through the OECD findings, three questions came to mind:
Do teachers get enough respect? While overall job satisfaction hovers just under 90 percent, only 34 percent of U.S. teachers believe their work is valued by society. (The recent Scholastic/Gates survey found that only one out of every 20 teachers believed their opinions mattered outside of their school.) How is that perceived lack of respect influencing recruiting, hiring and retaining a high-quality teacher workforce?
Do longer teacher hours pay off for students and schools? U.S. teachers said they work an average of 45 hours per week, of which 27 hours are spent on classroom instruction. By comparison, their international peers work an average 38 hours per week, with 19 hours teaching. Are teachers getting the opportunity to make the most of their work time, or are there unreasonable demands being placed on them? How will these ratios be influenced by the national push for expanded learning time in American schools?
Are U.S. students more challenging to teach? The next time you look at the U.S. vs. The World results for student test scores (in which American kids typically trail their international peers), consider this: In the new OECD survey, 64 percent of American teachers said they work in schools where at least 30 percent of their pupils are economically disadvantaged. That's compared with 20 percent of teachers on average for the other 33 countries in the OECD's survey. In other words, U.S. teachers are three times as likely to work in schools with some poverty. Additionally, 62 percent of U.S. teachers said they were regularly able to motivate struggling students to take an interest in their work, compared with the international survey average of 70 percent.
Keep in mind that these findings represent a snapshot rather than a definitive statement on all teachers. (For more on surveys measuring teacher job satisfaction, and why that's a particularly tricky question to ask or answer, go here.) At the same time, the OECD report offers plenty of food for thought when considering how the experiences of some U.S. educators compare with their international peers.
"This survey provides strong evidence that teachers are open to change and keen to learn and develop throughout their careers," Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills, said in a statement. "At the same time, they need to take more initiative to work with colleagues and school leaders, and take advantage of every opportunity for professional development."
In a statement on the survey, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the international comparisons show just how much the nation's educators are up against -- and that there are clear lessons to be learned from how teachers in other countries are treated.
"This stark contrast should be the flashing red light that gets policymakers in this country to stop promoting hyper-testing and sanctions, and instead emulate what works," Weingarten said. "This, and so many other international surveys, presents a clear road map for what teachers and their students need -- evidence-based interventions for disadvantaged students, high-quality teacher preparation, time to collaborate, sufficient resources and respect for the profession."