Listening to America’s Teachers

April 09, 2012
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, United States
CATEGORIES Research & Studies

Educators’ voices are too often absent in the often fractious debate about education reform, something that Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation aimed to change with their ongoing national Primary Sources survey of more than 10,000 teachers. The 2012 survey focuses on “America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession” and asks teachers about the state of their schools, their classrooms, and their job.

The objective of this year’s survey is to “place teachers’ voices at the center of the conversation on education reform by sharing their thoughts and opinions with the public, the media and education leaders.” The report also aims to achieve four main goals:

  • Identify the supports and tools that directly impact student achievement and teacher retention;
  • Identify the way teachers and students benchmark their successes;
  • Explore teacher views on teaching – where the practice of teaching stands today and how it should evolve to suit the changing needs of students and teachers;
  • Identify the tools and resources necessary to attract and retain good teachers.

Results, gathered by an email-to-online survey method, found that 99 percent of teachers believe that “effective and engaged” educators are absolutely essential or very important to ensuring academic achievement. Few other sources in the survey’s history have been rated higher. However, even the best teachers are not enough to ensure success of all students. A combination of quality resources, access to well-integrated technology, and supportive, active role models is necessary to ensure student success. As one elementary teacher in Florida wrote: “The education of a child involves three major components: teacher, student, and parents.”

According to survey findings, educators from various teaching backgrounds identified family involvement as “the most critical factor of student success,” followed closely by “high expectations for all students.” As one New York high school teacher put it, student achievement will rise when “the whole community has high expectations for students, and encourages them to meet them.”

Teachers also said that it is integral for educators to have the resources and supports they need to maximize student success. These resources included supportive leadership, professional development, and the ability to provide students with different avenues of learning so as to better accommodate those with varying abilities.

Survey results find that on average teachers work about 10 hours and 40 minutes each day, and spend about four and a half hours each day on in-class instruction. They have about 23 minutes for lunch and personal time.

The results provide detailed graphs evaluating how teachers communicate with students and their parents, both inside and outside the classroom, as well as the preparedness of educators. One of the questions asked teachers how equipped they consider themselves to teach the Common Core Standards, which 45 states adopted in November 2011. Results showed that, while 78 percent said they were familiar with the Common Core Standards Initiative, only 22 percent said they were “very prepared” to teach them. Fifty-one percent considered themselves “somewhat prepared,” and 27 percent said they were “somewhat/very unprepared.”

Teachers said they need tools and supports to effectively implement these standards in their classroom. Specifically:

  • 64 percent of teachers need student-centered technology and resources to help students best learn to these new standards.
  • 63 percent need professional development focused on the requirements of the standards.
  • 61 percent will need formative assessments that measure how well students are learning the standards.
  • 60 percent need professional development on how to teach parts of the standards that are new to them.
  • 59 percent need new curricula and learning tools aligned to the new standards in English and math.

Everything from the impact of class size on efficiency in the classroom, to how teachers feel about standardized testing is covered in this lengthy – yet absolutely worthwhile – analysis. The study takes a thorough approach to measuring how American educators are feeling in this sometimes hostile, too often polarizing moment in U.S. education. Fortunately, it appears that despite the daily stresses and the lack of appreciation educators too often face, 83 percent of those surveyed said they plan to stay in the classroom up to or past their retirement age, and the majority said that professional development is a must throughout their careers.

We’d love to hear from you. What’s your biggest hurdle to teaching effectively today? If you were to do it all over, would you still become a teacher?


Photo by woodleywonderworks.