The job satisfaction of teachers has plummeted to its lowest level in a quarter-century as shrinking school-district budgets take a toll on the psyche of American educators, a major study shows.
Just 39 percent of teachers report being "very satisfied" with their jobs, down from 44 percent a year ago, according to MetLife's annual Survey of the American Teacher.
Since 2008, teachers' job satisfaction has dropped a staggering 23 points. It hasn't reached these depths since 1986.
Many leaders in the education community point to reduced state and school-district budgets as the main drivers of teacher discontent, as they often are asked to take on bigger classes with fewer resources.
"There are no surprises here. Teacher job satisfaction will continue to free fall as long as budgets are slashed," said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the nation's largest labor union, representing more than 3 million teachers.
"Educators are doing everything they can to provide the best education possible for their students, but the rug just keeps getting pulled out from under them," he said.
The picture for principals is also bleak. Fifty-nine percent of principals say they are very satisfied with their jobs, the lowest number in a decade and down from 68 percent in 2008.
Principals also say that their jobs are changing rapidly and have become much more difficult in recent years, according to the survey of more than 1,000 teachers and 500 principals. The MetLife survey, which was taken late last year, asks teachers and principals separate and annually varying questions related to all aspects of their jobs.
Three-quarters of principals say the job has become too complex, while nearly 70 percent say their responsibilities are "not very similar" to what they were five years ago. Half of all principals say they are "under great stress" several days a week.
One explanation for the high dissatisfaction rate may be that principals have less control over their institutions than in years past.
Only 42 percent of principals say they have control over curricula, and just 43 percent say they are influential in the firing of ineffective teachers, according to the study.
That leaves teachers with a great burden of responsibility to students, their parents and the community, but without the necessary power to get results, researchers say.
"Principals see themselves as responsible for everything that goes on in their building, even more so than teachers do. Principals see themselves as accountable, the public sees them as accountable, but they have a lack of control in many areas," said Mel Riddile, associate director of high school services at the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Even more so than teachers, principals struggle with less money to spend, Mr. Riddile said. State education funding has dropped in most states over the past five years. Although President Obama's stimulus package filled some of the gap in 2009 and 2010, that money is long gone.
Principals not only must oversee an entire building with fewer resources, but also must explain to teachers why, for example, they have fewer dollars for classroom supplies.
Having seen the challenges, more than two-thirds of teachers report no interest in becoming principals, the report shows.
"It's really important to understand that we're asking principals to do a lot more with, at best, the same resources," Mr. Riddile said.
Over the next few years, teachers and principals will face another daunting challenge as most of them implement the Common Core education standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states. Although the standards have been praised by lawmakers and many others, educators aren't sold on whether they will lead to dramatic improvements.
Just 17 percent of teachers and 22 percent of principals are "very confident" that Common Core will improve student achievement, and only 20 percent and 24 percent, respectively, think they will better prepare students for college or a career.
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