- Media reports provide a steady diet of frustrated teachers.
- Survey results for teacher turnover and working conditions don’t support what you hear from the media.
- While some teachers may be frustrated, survey results suggest far higher levels of satisfaction than generally reported.
Teachers are a frustrated lot. So, we’re constantly told by vocal leaders of organizations like the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) and Red4EdNC, who tell us they represent the interests of teachers.
North Carolinians clearly saw that frustration at a rally in Raleigh last May. Some say that frustration also played a part in electing more Democrats to the General Assembly and in the process took away veto-proof majorities for Republicans in the House and Senate.
But how frustrated are teachers in North Carolina? It’s a difficult question to answer. However, results of two teacher surveys can aid this discussion.
Earlier this week preliminary results of the State of the Teaching Profession in North Carolina survey were released. One of the most widely-reported numbers out of this study is teacher attrition or teacher turnover, that is how many teachers left a position in the public schools. Last year 7,674 of the state’s 94,000 plus teachers are no longer working in a North Carolina public school. That figure represents the second consecutive decline since 2015-16, when 8,636 teachers did not teach in a North Carolina public school, or last year (2016-17) when 8,249 teachers did the same. Once you crunch all the numbers, North Carolina’s teacher turnover rate comes to 8.09 percent.
Those changes created almost 7,700 new openings in the public schools, positions that schools needed to fill or eliminate.
Interestingly, the 8.09 percent figure represents the third year in a row that the attrition rate has declined. Teacher attrition in 2015-16 was 9.04 percent. The following year, 2016-17, attrition declined to 8.70 percent. Because of changes in how attrition was calculated before 2015-16, comparisons to prior years are not meaningful. What explains the trend? Higher pay and a better economy are things that make people less apt to move. That seems to be reflected in the numbers.
Why are teachers leaving their positions? Over half of all departures (53.9 percent) cited personal reasons; reasons such as family relocation or career change. About one-in-five individuals (19.8%), said they left their jobs because they retired with full benefits.
Results from two other indicators may provide a more direct level of dissatisfaction. The number of teachers who resigned to teach in another state declined, from 767 (2017) to 704 (2018). In 2015-16, 828 teachers resigned to take a teaching job in another state. Moreover, the number of teachers who left the profession because they were “dissatisfied with teaching” declined from 140 in 2017 to 123 in 2018. In 2016, the same figure was 138. But let’s look at the big picture. If 123 teachers left the profession in 2018 because they were “dissatisfied with teaching” that translates to a little more than one-tenth of one percent of all public-school teachers.
Overall, such numbers suggest lower levels of dissatisfaction among teachers than reflected in media reports. Of course, another important question for this discussion is how do teacher turnover levels compare with other professions? While we don’t have time to delve fully into this topic, some responses are instructive. Is teacher turnover too high? It seems to depend on who you ask and the professions with which teachers are compared. Compared to some professions teacher turnover is in the middle of the pack. Others find that as much as we worry about teacher turnover, when compared to other professions, the rate looks much better. Yes, these two studies dealt with national data, but the perspective is still helpful in assessing teacher turnover in North Carolina.
Besides teacher turnover, other indicators of teacher dissatisfaction can be found in responses to the North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey. The survey is administered to educators in North Carolina every two years and provides an opportunity for teachers to voice their opinion on topics relative to their classroom and professional environment. This past year more than 90 percent of all educators responded to the survey.
Some key findings of the 2018 survey include:
- 59.8 percent of educators said that “class sizes were reasonable so that teachers have time available to meet the needs of all students.”
- 71.2 percent of educators said they “had sufficient instructional time to meet the needs of all students.”
- 65.3 percent of educators said the “non-instructional time provided for teachers is sufficient.”
- 75.5 percent of educators said they “had sufficient access to appropriate instructional materials.” That figure is up from 73.6 percent in 2014.
- 80.9 percent of educators said, “they have sufficient access to a broad range of professional support personnel.”
- 87.6 percent of teachers said, “the physical environment of classrooms support teaching and learning.”
- 80.2 percent of educators said, “sufficient resources are available for professional development.” That’s up from 78.3 percent in 2014.
Finally, and most importantly, 87.1 percent of educators agreed with the statement, “Overall, my school is a good place to work and learn.” That figure is up from 85.1 in 2014 and 86. 5 in 2016.
Of course, we do not suggest teachers do not face challenges in the school or classroom. Any reader of these pages knows we have chronicled many of them over the years.
However, what seems clear from the survey results is the teaching profession in North Carolina isn’t as radical and frustrated as NCAE and Red4EdNC portray it to be. If 87 percent of educators agree that their school is a good place to work and learn, most people would imply that teachers are generally satisfied with their jobs.
No, the jobs aren’t perfect. They have their challenges, but overall salaries and the economy has been getting better; two things that can brighten any outlook. Groups like NCAE and Red4EdNC have every right to organize, but when results suggest a profession far different than what’s conveyed in the media, it is newsworthy. It’s something we have long thought. Now there are just more reasons for believing it to be so.