Blog: The Educated Reporter

Two Takes on the ‘Well-Being’ of Teachers

Teachers rank second only to physicians when it comes to reporting the sense of “well-being” they derive from their chosen profession, a new Gallup Poll has found.

The poll asked more than 170,000 people, more than 9,000 of whom were teachers, to create a “Well-Being Index,” based on answers to questions about their physical, emotional and fiscal health.

So how does the new poll stack up against the recent headlines proclaiming that teacher job satisfaction had fallen to a 25-year low in the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher? As New York Times education reporter Motoko Rich noted, the findings really aren’t that far apart

While the percentage of teachers in the Metlife survey who were “very satisfied” dropped to 39 percent from 62 percent in 2008, there were still 43 percent of teachers who described themselves as ’somewhat satisfied.” The remaining 17 percent described themselves as at least somewhat dissatisfied.

Significant questions have come up regarding MetLife’s methodology, including the fact that the wording of the key question on job satisfaction had shifted over the years, making apples-to-apples comparisons difficult. (Eduwonk blogger Andrew Rotherham was the first to point this out.) Here’s what Rotherham had to say about the Gallup poll:

“Surprise! Teachers like their jobs. That’s a result you get when you ask questions in a straightforward manner. It’s challenging work but being with kids is, you know, fun, despite how much time people spend talking the job down.”

While teachers certainly ranked high on well-being, it wasn’t all good news from Gallup. Teachers ranked closer to the bottom – 8th out of 14 professions — when it came to a sense of well-being about their work environment. Those findings will likely be used by advocates of efforts aimed at improving school climate, not only for the students but for the staff as well.

And teachers were in last place when it came to answering whether their “supervisor always creates an environment that is trusting and open.” To be fair to those theoretical supervisors, “always” is a  tough hurdle to clear. At the same time, coal miners and truck drivers in the Gallup poll were more likely to praise the collaborative vibe of their work environment than the teachers.

In their blog post on the new survey, Gallup’s Education’s executive director Brendon Busteed and senior scientist Shane Lopez contend that teachers are “a happy bunch.” They point to the poll findings that teachers topped the list of professionals who said they had “smiled or laughed a lot yesterday,” and the most likely to report experiencing “happiness” and “enjoyment” yesterday. The solution to the nation’s struggling schools is improving workplace engagement for teachers, and better leadership at the top:

“It doesn’t matter how much money or technology or policy we throw at it, none of that will move the dial of school performance sufficiently, except for building the greatest teacher and principal talent machine the world has ever seen. Calling all young Americans with teaching and leadership talent! Your time is now. You’ve never been as needed or more important — and a life of high wellbeing is awaiting you in return.”


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