Some U.S. teachers have just about had enough.
No, really. A new report from Phi Delta Kappa International, a professional association for educators, finds that half of teachers have “seriously considered” leaving teaching in the last few years.
Their reasoning? Many say they’re working longer hours for less pay than ever before. They juggle high-stress classrooms and constant pressure from administrators and state officials to improve students’ standardized test scores. On top of that, they don’t feel they have earned the respect of students and their parents.
“I am a fool to do this job,” one teacher wrote in a response on the 51st annual PDK “Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.”
“I will never be able to own my own home at this rate,” said another, referring to the income she draws as a teacher. According to the National Education Association, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of public school districts still offer their teachers a starting salary below $40,000.
“Tired of being treated like dirt,” a third said.
And a fourth wrote: “I am not just considering it. I am getting out. There is no support. We are asked to do too much for too little money.”
Joshua Starr, CEO of PDK International, says the survey results are clear: Teachers have reached a “crisis point.”
“I’m not surprised, but I’m shocked,” Starr tells EdSurge. “In the last 20 years, the agenda that has been pushed forward—it’s demonized teachers, dehumanized teachers and focused on standardized tests in math and literacy as the only measures of success. The underfunding of schools, lack of support for kids .... I don’t think anyone should be surprised that we are reaping what we’ve sown in the American public teaching profession.”
After 50 years of surveying parents and the general public about their opinions on education issues, PDK included an oversample of public school teachers in its poll this year for the first time since 2000. Out of 2,389 adults surveyed, teachers account for 556 of respondents.
The report finds that other adults tend to agree with teachers about the state of the profession. While 55 percent of teachers said they’d vote to go on strike for higher pay, 74 percent of parents of school-age children and 71 percent of all adults would support teachers taking this action. This is especially notable given the recent wave of teacher strikes in the United States, which has galvanized more than 500,000 educators from states including West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, Arizona and California.
Another eye-opening response from the poll: 55 percent of teachers say they would not want their own children to follow in their footsteps and become educators. They point to insufficient compensation and benefits, a lack of respect and appreciation, and stressful work as their explanation.
Last year, for the first time since PDK began polling the public about education in 1969, a majority of parents (54 percent) also said they hoped their children would not go into the teaching profession, citing low pay and benefits.
Beyond salary, the survey also revealed how the public and teachers feel about other issues and trends.
For one, across religious affiliations and political ideologies, 77 percent of all adults and 87 percent of teachers favor schools offering courses on comparative religion. Relatedly, Starr says, nearly all Americans (97 percent) think civics should be taught in schools, and 70 percent say it should be required.
“There’s a real desire for civics and religion to be taught in public schools,” Starr says. “It tells me we’re missing the soul in education in some ways. We’re so focused on standardized test scores and math and literacy, but people want more.”
He adds: “Particularly today, when we are so divisive in society, schools should be the place to talk about differences and have constructive dialogue.”
In addition to gauging the public’s views on workforce preparation, school funding and the quality of America’s public schools, the PDK poll also asked respondents about what they think is a more effective form of school discipline: zero-tolerance measures such as detention and suspension, or restorative justice practices such as counseling and mediation.
Seventy-one percent of adults support zero-tolerance in response to drugs and weapons violations. For less serious offenses, however, there seems to be an appetite for restorative approaches. Two-thirds of all adults see mediation and therapy as a better response to dealing with student misbehavior than resorting to detention, suspension or expulsion.
Starr says the responses around discipline are in line with the PDK poll’s previous findings for “interpersonal skills”—another term for social-emotional learning. “There’s overwhelming support for teaching skills such as respect, cooperation and problem solving,” he says. “They value those skills more than they do scores on standardized tests.”