favorite professor at Michigan State (known locally as "Moo U") was
fond of telling his grad students that researchers should just explain what
they found in their studies, and resist the urge to add specific policy
implications. Good research should stand on its own, he said--and determining
What It All Means was the reader's job.
Cynic that I am, I would add that readers should draw their own conclusions without input from research funders, as well--whose strategic fingerprints often turn up in the policy implications section of glossy, graphics-laden reports.
Public Agenda's fascinating new report, Teaching for a Living: How Teachers See the Profession Today, divides teachers into three loose groups--the disheartened (40%), the contented (37%) and the idealists (23%). Discussing the report with a group of teachers in New York this week, one teacher noted that she is frequently idealistic, disheartened and contented in the space of a single day--but we generally agreed that the data and characterizations squared with our prima facie impressions about our teacher colleagues. Some are passionate believers in using education to change the world, some have settled into situations where they have support and resources, and feel confident that they're efficacious. And some, unfortunately, see little to be optimistic about--poor working conditions, poor leadership, and poor results.
struck me in the Education Week article about Teaching for a Living was the summary of policy implications:
Are the Idealists the best prospects for high-needs schools and for reinvigorating the profession, and what do school leaders need to do to retain them in the field? Given the Idealists’ passion for improving their students’ lives, how can administrators ensure that they have the skills and support to fulfill that goal? More than a third of Idealists voiced a desire to move eventually into other jobs in education. How does the field respond to those aspirations? The Disheartened pose a different challenge. Some may be ill-fitted to the job and ready to move on, but how should the field encourage and support their transition? Others may be good teachers trapped in dysfunctional schools and, in the right environment, might change their views and become Idealists.
Which group is missing in this analysis?
would we want to convert disheartened teachers into firebrands, especially since
idealistic teachers in the survey were overwhelmingly young and frequently
admitted that they weren't interested in teaching as a long-term career? The
thing about idealists is that they burn out--or they become pragmatic,
understanding that changing the world happens slowly, but is worth the effort.
giving the satisfied and confident teachers a bovine label--contented--was
Public Agenda has a reputation for solid, non-ideological research and thoughtful analysis. Here's the teaser for the report, on their own web page:
Two out of
five of America’s 4 million K-12 teachers appear disheartened and disappointed
about their jobs, while others express a variety of reasons for contentment
with teaching and their current school environments, new research by Public
Agenda and Learning Point Associates shows.
Compare that to Education Week's opener for a similar report published in February--the "MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Past, Present and Future:"
Teachers’ views on their profession have become markedly more positive over the past quarter century, at least partially validating the widespread school-improvement efforts of the period, concludes a retrospective survey report released this week by MetLife Inc.
Sixty-two percent of American teachers said they were "very satisfied" with their job in the MetLife survey, taken in 2008. When you add up Public Agenda's idealistic teachers and contented teachers, you come up with 60%--about the same number, actually. The difference? Policy suggestions for what to do about teachers who are dissatisfied. Maybe we should be providing them with the resources and support that they say they need, turning their discouragement into realism.
Contented cows give better milk, after all.
Image: dali, Flickr Creative Commons