A new report from EPI Economist Emma García and Research Associate Elaine Weiss explores an often-overlooked factor in the teacher shortage: teachers’ working environment. The authors find the challenging “school climate” many teachers experience affects their satisfaction, morale, and plans to stay in the profession.
Using data from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Teacher and Principal Survey, the authors reveal that the relationships between teachers and their administrators are often negative. Fully half of teachers reported not feeling a great deal of support or encouragement. 6 out of 10 reported not feeling a lot of cooperative effort among staff members. And 71.3 percent of teachers reported not having much control or influence on selecting the content, topics, and skills they will be teaching in their classrooms.
Over one in four teachers, 28.8 percent, also reported that poverty was a “serious problem” challenging their ability to teach and their students’ learning. In addition, 27.3 percent and 21.5 percent, respectively, reported that students’ unpreparedness to learn and parents’ struggles to be involved were serious problems.
Less common but very troubling, in the 2015–2016 school year, 21.8 percent of teachers had been threatened by students and one in eight (12.4 percent) had been physically attacked.
“It’s important to keep in mind that our findings are reflective of larger societal issues. Schools’ climates are shaped by rising poverty, ongoing racial and economic segregation of schools, and insufficient public investments,” said García. “Because these larger societal forces contribute to deteriorating working environments in schools, they can’t be blamed on students or parents. Rather, improving the funding and resources to counter them should be made a priority.”
The report also shows that a very hefty share of teachers—over 1 in 4—plan to or may quit teaching if, for example, a specific life event occurs or a more desirable job appears. This share increased from 24.0 percent to 27.4 percent in just the past four years.
“The teacher shortage is a growing national crisis that needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner,” said Weiss. “Obviously compensation is a major part of the issue, but improving teaching environments would go a long way toward helping teachers feel more supported.”
This is the fourth report in our series on the national teacher shortage. The first report established that current national estimates of the shortage likely understate the magnitude of the problem. When aspects such as teacher qualifications associated with excellence and the unequal distribution of highly credentialed teachers across high- and low-poverty schools are taken into consideration, the teacher shortages are much more severe than previously recognized. The second report found that U.S. schools struggle to staff themselves due to a combination of high rates of voluntary turnover and attrition and a decreasing interest in teaching careers. The third report found that teachers are severely underpaid across the board, with particular problems in high-poverty schools, and that a majority of teachers take on additional work to supplement their pay.