There can be many different answers to this question. Coping with new forms of curriculum implementation, the pressure of high stakes standardized assessment, the application of standards based educational reform, as well as greater scrutiny from the public are all challenging aspects of the public school teacher experience.
I believe that one of the largest challenges for public school teachers in the modern setting concerns the process of evaluation. Teacher evaluations are becoming increasingly linked to student performance. Proponents of such a model insist that doing so is the only way to guarantee teacher effectiveness. I think that this is a problem for the modern public school teacher because it adds an inordinate amount of stress to a teacher's being in the classroom. There are so many elements that contribute to student performance of high stakes standardized assessment. For a teacher to have to be wholly responsible for a condition that is not entirely theirs to control adds a brutal amount of stress. Linking student performance on standardized tests to teacher evaluations is one of the biggest challenges for public school teachers. It makes it impossible to find any level of security. The realm of comfort to broaden exploration of different ways students can learn is impossible to establish when teachers are living in constant fear of the standardized test.
Last year, the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike for many reasons. One of the most significant reasons they took to the picket line was because of the school board's desire to link teacher evaluation to student performance. I think that the growing trend to link teacher evaluation to student performance represents one of the biggest challenges that public school teachers face in 2013. Evaluations should be focused on enabling teachers to learn, without fear of making mistakes. As any teacher can attest, when children learn in absence of fear, greater learning and understanding is evident. The same principle applies in teacher evaluations.
The biggest challenge is trying to remain spontaneous and fresh with teachable moments dispersed throughout the lesson, while all the time being mindful of the core curriculum objectives. This can be extremely difficult because using this framework, which is basically a very scripted lesson does not allow for any aha! moments. Also, too many school districts are fixated on standardized testing. This too, leaves little leeway for trying to motivate and excite students as we too often are trying to cram in the curriculum the students will need to succeed on these tests. That is the primary challenge I see for this coming school year.
- Maintaining an adequate number of teachers is, of course, related to budgetary considerations as well. Fifty-two percent of teachers cite this as being a significant challenge. This is especially the case for teachers in high-needs schools.
Teacher Job Satisfaction
- Only 39% of teachers surveyed reported being very satisfied with their jobs. This is the lowest level of teacher satisfaction in 25 years. In the history of the survey, there has only been one year that teacher satisfaction has been lower (in 1986, only 33% of surveyed teachers reported being very satisfied with their jobs).
- Over half of teachers reported feeling great stress several days a week. In 1985, (what was up with the 80’s?) only 36% of teachers reported such high levels of stress. Elementary school teachers reported experiencing stress more frequently than middle school or high school teachers (59% vs. 44% vs. 42%).
- Less satisfied teachers are more likely than very satisfied teachers to be in schools where budgets declined in the last 12 months.
- Less satisfied teachers are more likely to work in schools that had declines in professional development opportunities and in time for collaboration with other teachers in the last 12 months.
- Mid-career teachers (between 6 and 20 years of experience) are most likely to experience low levels of job satisfaction.
This may all seem dismal but keep in mind that the purpose of this report is to identify challenges that teachers experience in the public school system. Even so, if you are like me, results from this survey leave you wondering why teachers keep teaching. As hard as things may seem, this is one example of why teachers continue to choose to fight the good fight: