Data found in a new report on developing strategies for teacher retention and recruitment in California “should be a wakeup call for all of us,” according to Tyrone Howard, faculty director at UCLA’s Center for the Transformation of Schools (CTS).
A Sept. 27 webinar “Voices from the Classroom: Teaching in the Golden State,” highlighted findings from the survey, conducted by Hart Research Associated on behalf of CTS and the California Teachers Association. More than 4,600 TK-12 teachers from around the state took part in the survey in summer 2022.
Job satisfaction, outlook
Helping students and making a positive impact in the world were the top two motivations most teachers gave for entering the profession and sticking with it. Job security was a motivation for younger teachers in particular, while having a work schedule where summers are free was important to newer teachers.
“Exhausting,” “stressful” and “overwhelming” were emotions that the majority of respondents said describe the work of teachers very well. The majority also chose “enjoyable” and “fulfilling” to describe their work.
Variation exists in how satisfied teachers are with their jobs. Thirty-nine percent indicated they were highly satisfied in their position, 29 percent were in the middle with mediocre satisfaction and 32 percent had low satisfaction. Teachers ages 55 and older, high school teachers and Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) teachers reported being the most highly satisfied.
According to the findings, students play a key role in teachers’ satisfaction and dissatisfaction with their current job. “Helping students grow, develop, mature, learn new things” was one of the things they liked the most about their profession while “student attitude, apathy, discipline, behavioral problems, truancy” was among the things they like the least.
The survey found that educators’ outlook on the job has gotten more negative since the pandemic began. “Almost eight in 10 California teachers are telling us that since the onset of the pandemic, things in the profession are changing for the worse,” said Rebecca Naser, senior vice president of Hart Research Associates.
When asked about specific aspects of teaching, more than 50 percent had low satisfaction in the areas of district leadership, input in professional/academic decision making, workload, class sizes and having enough support and resources to do the job. More than 50 percent of respondents were highly satisfied in terms of being accepted for who they are and having a work environment free of discrimination/prejudice.
Teachers also relayed the financial stress they suffer, saying it’s difficult to do things including finding affordable housing near where they teach, saving for long-term goals, keeping up with basic expenses and saving for retirement.
Researchers found that one in five teachers are expecting to leave the profession sometime in the next three years with older teachers most likely to say they’ll do so across demographics followed by those under age 35.
Burnout, political and ideological attacks, staffing shortages/having too many responsibilities and low salaries were the top reasons teachers are considering leaving.
On the other hand, better pay, smaller class sizes, strengthening discipline policies for disruptive behavior and better staffing levels/a more manageable workload were at the top of the list of changes that would improve retention.
Diversity and inclusion
“We want teachers to feel, and we want the reality to be, that the school environment in California truly does embody the value of diversity and inclusion,” Naser said.
To that end, while teachers are more likely than not to agree that the school they work at has an environment that is supportive of diversity, the majority of respondents could not strongly agreed that their schools embodied those values, Naser pointed out.
Hispanic, AAPI, Black and American Indian/Native Alaskan (AI/AN) teachers were often less likely than their white counterparts to strongly agree that their school environment supports diversity and inclusion.
When asked how comfortable they feel expressing themselves, the majority of Hispanic, AAPI and AI/AN teachers responded that they are almost always comfortable while 60 percent of Black teachers said they sometimes feel uncomfortable. Of note, significant proportions of Hispanic (18 percent), APPI (38 percent) and AI/AN (41 percent) teachers responded that they are uncomfortable at times as well.
Hispanic, AAPI, Black and AI/AN teachers are also less satisfied than their white peers that their work environment is free of discrimination and prejudice with most Black and AAPI teachers responding that they’ve experienced racial discrimination at their current job.
Additionally, four in 10 LGBTQ teachers indicated that they had experienced discrimination due to their sexual orientation at their current job.
“We cannot say that we believe that young people are our most cherished commodity but yet those who we place to care for our most cherished commodities, we don’t cherish,” Howard said.
While pondering if and how Californians are going to morally respond to these issues, Howard offered steps to follow up on the report’s findings, including increasing public awareness of the situation and putting pressure on elected officials to ensure that teachers and schools are supported when COVID relief funds dry up.