- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2012

Students aren’t the only ones who hate going to school.

An increasing number of teachers don’t like their jobs and are considering a new line of work, according to a major survey by MetLife.

The study, which sampled more than 1,000 instructors in kindergarten through 12th grade, found that only 44 percent of American public school teachers are “very satisfied” with their jobs, down 15 percentage points from 2009 and the lowest figure in more than 20 years.

Nearly 30 percent of teachers - up from 17 percent in 2009 - are now “very or fairly likely” to leave the profession entirely, the report shows. MetLife officials said the poll was the first to reflect how the recent economic downturn and cutbacks in public spending have affected teachers.

Teachers’ job satisfaction is at its lowest level since 1989, and the decline has accelerated since President Obama took office in 2009. That year, 59 percent of teachers said they were happy with their jobs and 17 percent were pondering career moves, the survey says.

Analysts point to the recession as the primary factor, as substantial cuts in state education budgets have left instructors with fewer resources and larger class sizes. More than three-quarters of teachers reported that their school’s budget has decreased in recent years.

Job security also has become a big concern, as many districts lay off workers to balance their budgets.

Four years ago, 8 percent of teachers said they feared losing their jobs. Now, 34 percent worry that they will be shown the door, according to the study.

“Policymakers’ actions have real consequences, and those are being felt in classrooms across the country,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest labor union, representing more than 3 million teachers.

“Important programs have been cut. Early childhood education has been eliminated. Computers and textbooks were out of date, and classes such as history, art, [physical education] and music - which provide a well-rounded education - are no longer offered,” he said.

But finances are only one piece of the puzzle, researchers say.

Over the past 10 years, the federal No Child Left Behind law has shed new light on students’ performance in the classroom, and poor test scores - particularly among minorities and in low-income school districts - are sometimes laid at the feet of instructors.

Achievement gaps between white students and their black and Hispanic counterparts remain high, and those looking for someone to blame for those disparities and other problems often find teachers to be easy targets, said Barnett Berry, a former high school teacher and founder and president of the Center for Teaching Quality, a nonprofit education-advocacy organization.

“Another component here is all of the negative press about teachers. It’s the blame game, where the fingers get pointed at the teachers and no one else,” he said. “Teachers pay attention to those kinds of messages.”

Teachers also have found themselves in the middle of high-profile political fights, most prominently in Wisconsin.

Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to eliminate much of public workers’ collective bargaining power and other efforts, many analysts say, have left teachers feeling as if they are under attack, even though Mr. Walker and others dispute the notion that they are attacking teachers, and instead argue that they are taking necessary steps in difficult economic times.

As those political fights continue, instructors are being asked to take on additional responsibilities and work in less-than-ideal environments.

Two-thirds of teachers reported that their school has laid off staff. More than half of all teachers say their district has reassigned them or given them additional classes during the past year. One-third say their “educational technology and learning materials” have not been kept up to date, and 21 percent said their schools have not been kept in “clean or good condition” over the past year.

“This is not the way America should treat its students,” Mr. Van Roekel said. “It is especially outrageous to students in schools of greatest need.”

Many also feel that teachers aren’t paid adequately for the work that they do. More than two-thirds of instructors, along with 53 percent of parents, don’t believe teacher salaries are high enough, the survey says.

While most teachers don’t get into the field to become wealthy, the relatively low salaries - when compared with counterparts in countries such as South Korea and the Netherlands - can affect morale, said Daisy Stewart, associate director for academic programs at Virginia Tech University’s School of Education.

“There are a lot of countries in which being a teacher is one of the most prestigious occupations. It’s very difficult to get into and very highly paid,” Ms. Stewart said.

Despite the relatively low pay and likelihood that they eventually will get caught up in political fights, Ms. Stewart said, her students haven’t become disenchanted with the profession, and she remains optimistic that future teachers will be happier with their career choice than the current crop.

“The enthusiasm and motivation to go into classrooms and share their knowledge with the next generation - that’s still there,” she said.

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