Many teachers in America experience stress and dissatisfaction for various reasons on the job. A survey performed by educators from the American Federation of Teachers and the Badass Teachers Association a few years ago delved into teachers’ self-reported quality of work life to find out how they felt about their jobs and factors like levels of stress, distrust, treatment, and wellbeing in the workplace. Before being conducted, the survey was examined and refined by a professional pollster and a workplace stress expert.

Survey respondents

Eighty percent of the 30,000 respondents were teachers (including special ed), 8 percent were counselors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, and librarians, and 12 percent held other positions in schools. Their years spent working in education ranged from 0–10 years (24 percent), 11–20 years (38 percent), and 20+ years (another 38 percent). Fifty-eight percent of respondents had spent 11+ years in their current position.

The vast majority of survey respondents worked in public schools (98 percent), with 2 percent working in charter schools or private/parochial schools. Female teachers accounted for 81 percent of respondents, with 19 percent being male, and the majority were white, with 34 percent belonging to a minority group of some kind, whether Latino/Hispanic, African-American, Asian-American, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ, or an ethnic or religious minority.

Findings

When asked whether they felt enthusiastic about their profession at the start of their careers, 89 percent of respondents strongly agreed with that statement while 11 percent somewhat agreed. These numbers changed dramatically when teachers were asked the same question regarding the present moment in their careers: only 15 percent strongly agreed that they felt enthusiastic about their profession (with 38 percent somewhat agreeing), while 47 percent strongly or somewhat disagreed with that statement.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents reported finding their work to be “often” stressful (73 percent), 24 percent said “sometimes,” and 3 percent said “rarely.” Zero percent of respondents said they “never” found their work stressful. And among all respondents, the following were some commonly cited stressors in the workplace:

  • Adoption of new initiatives without proper training or professional development (71 percent)
  • Uncertain job expectations (47 percent)
  • Salary (46 percent)
  • Lack of participation in decision-making (40 percent)
  • Fear of job loss (32 percent)

In terms of everyday stressors in the workplace, the following were some of the reasons cited by respondents:

  • Time pressure (47 percent)
  • Disciplinary issues (26 percent)
  • Student aggression (18 percent)
  • Problems with supervisors or coworkers (11 percent)

Among all respondents, everyday stressors specifically in the classroom included the following:

  • Mandated curriculum (35 percent)
  • Large class size (33 percent)
  • Standardized testing (32 percent)
  • Student discipline / lack of administrative support (29 percent)
  • Data gathering (27 percent)
  • Implementation of special education (25 percent)
  • Classroom management (17 percent)

Some notable statistics about respondents’ experiences within the last year included being threatened with physical violence at school or in a school setting (18 percent of all respondents) as well as actually being physically assaulted (9 percent of all respondents, including 18 percent of special education teachers), and 30 percent of respondents reported being bullied in the workplace—with the majority of those respondents identifying their bullies as being administrators or supervisors (58 percent).

When it comes to health and wellbeing, some interesting responses included:

  • 45 percent of respondents do not get adequate bathroom breaks (and 44 percent report being unable to use the breaks they do get).
  • 51 percent work in facilities where conditions are only fair or poor.
  • 26 percent report that in the last 30 days, their mental health (e.g. stress, depression, and emotional challenges) was “not good” for 9 or more days.
  • Only half report that their school district encourages them to take sick leave when they are ill.
Improving the workplace

According to survey responses, teachers felt that they are not treated with enough respect in the workplace. Respondents reported that they felt most disrespected by public officials, the media, and the school board (in that order), and if this issue were to be improved, many stressors would in turn be ameliorated. Teachers wanted less intrusion by lawmakers and district administrators into pedagogical and classroom decisions, as well as better treatment of educators as professionals who can decide what’s best for their students, without the use of humiliation as a form of control.

Other responses included a desire for more funding, less testing, and fewer meetings outside of scheduled work time. The data tells us that teachers need more professional freedom and respect in order to feel more satisfied in their work lives—and that’s not such a tall order.