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Despite Long Hours, Low Pay,
Teachers Love Their Profession

NEA Survey Paints a Groundbreaking
Portrait of Today's Public School Teachers

Apple for TeacherWith all of the problems in our public schools and the constant reminders of the low salaries that teachers are paid, you would expect job satisfaction to be low. Somehow, despite all the negative factors that make headlines, the reality is that most teachers love teaching!

A national survey, conducted by the National Education Association (NEA), showed that many of America's public school teachers spend their own time expanding their knowledge and skills. Classes and professional training are a way of life for many teachers. Some even go to summer school to learn new skills and keep up with advances in technology.

When supplies for the classroom are hard to find, teachers spend hundreds of their own dollars purchasing supplies, books, and materials for their students. The most impressive statistic is that, in spite of the long hours and low pay, a majority would still return to the classroom if they had it all to do all over again.

These findings are among the thousands of fascinating facts about the professional and personal lives of today's teachers contained in Status of the American Public School Teacher. The NEA has produced this report every five years since 1961. These pages paint a picture of the teaching profession over four decades. They are the most comprehensive look at today's public school teaching force and how it differs from previous decades.

"This survey takes you inside some typical public school classrooms and introduces you to the dedicated professionals who are working there," said NEA President Reg Weaver. "I'm proud to say that children attending public schools today are being taught by the best educated, most experienced teachers ever. And that's just the start of the good news within this report."

Some key findings include:

  • The average teacher has 15 years of classroom experience and more than half of today's teachers (56 percent) hold a master's degree or 6-year diploma. Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) began full-time teaching within the past five years.

This statistic should cause some concern. If the average teacher has 15 years experience and 23 percent began within the past five years, that means a large number of teachers are reaching retirement age - and not being replaced by new teachers. If this trend is not recognized and addressed, at some point this will result in an experience gap. Many new teachers in classrooms without the mentoring of the "old-timers" to improve their skills.

  • Teachers spend an average of 50 hours per week on instructional duties, including an average of 12 hours each week on non-compensated school-related activities such as grading papers, bus duty, and club advising.

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With salaries based on fewer hours and no overtime, the complaints of the classroom teachers become more understandable. Many outside the schools feel that the long summer vacations justify lower pay scales, but in reality, many teachers spend a good part of their vacation honing their skills for the upcoming year. Facing a classroom unprepared is tougher on the teacher than on students who wander in with no homework done. Curious children are demanding and can be unforgiving in a classroom setting.

  • More than three-quarters of teachers (77 percent) participated in system-sponsored professional development activities during the school year; more teachers than ever (35 percent) participated in such activities during the summer.

With a new set of federal requirement, meeting standards can be as difficult for the educator as it is for the children they teach.

  • Teachers spend an average of $443 of their own money each year to meet the needs of their students.

Many local areas are cutting back on the taxes available for school funding. The Federal government has mandated many changes that they have not provided funding for. Teachers are caught in the fiscal bind and many supply what they need out of pocket to keep their classrooms functioning.

Even with all of this, three-fifths of teachers (60 percent) said they would become teachers again. However, there were many (21 percent) who said they would not choose teaching as a career if they could start over again.

For the first time, the survey sought to identify the reasons for teachers leaving the profession before retirement. The most often cited reason (37 percent) for abandoning their training and professional experience was low salaries. Minority teachers (50 percent), male teachers (43 percent), and teachers under 30 (47 percent) were most likely to claim low pay as the reason they will not stay in teaching.

The opportunities open to young professionals with advanced degrees are often much more lucrative - financially - than teaching. Supporting a family on a teacher's salary is not an easy task. No matter how dedicated a teacher may be, fighting to pay bills on a regular basis, or working a second job to make up the difference between career paths they could have taken, can discourage long term commitment.

The report also reveals a profession that is struggling to provide role models of both sexes and all races within a teaching workforce that is predominantly white (90 percent) and female (79 percent). Since 1981, the ratio of male to female teachers has steadily declined - it now stands at a 40-year low (21 percent).

"While the news in this report is encouraging on many fronts, the survey also includes some warning calls that can't be ignored," said Weaver. "People are leaving our profession because of the low pay, and we're struggling to recruit and retain male teachers and teachers of color. These are areas that we must address and correct."

The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing 2.7 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators, and students preparing to become teachers.

Source: National Education Association (NEA)


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