Every day in classrooms across America, teachers are responsible for countless “aha” moments. These flashes of understanding in students’ eyes are precious because as they accumulate, they become knowledge that lasts a lifetime. In the same way, teaching is a thousand acts of thoughtful instruction, guidance and encouragement that build upon each other to shape students and citizens of the world.
Today’s teachers are working in an era of change. Our economy is increasingly global and the jobs our children will compete for are rapidly changing or not yet imagined. By necessity, our schools and the teaching profession itself are adapting in order to better prepare students for college and the careers of tomorrow.
With change comes opportunity. If we are to ensure that every student achieves his or her full potential, it is critical that we learn from teachers’ views on what enables the most effective teaching to flourish as changes are planned and implemented in our nation’s schools.
The importance of teachers to students’ individual success and America’s continued prosperity has never been clearer. To that end, we are proud to present Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on Teaching in an Era of Change. This joint project of Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation reports the views of more than 20,000 public school teachers on important issues related to their profession. Fielded in July 2013, the survey asks teachers about their motivation, new learning standards, teacher evaluations, how they collaborate within and beyond school walls and how they are using technology. As was the case with the previous two editions of Primary Sources (2009, 2011), the results of this survey demonstrate teachers’ commitment to student success.
A vast majority of educators cite changing demands on students and teachers as the most significant challenge facing teachers today. But teachers’ dedication is also clear, with an even greater majority agreeing that the rewards of teaching outweigh the challenges and reporting that they are either satisfied or very satisfied with their choice of profession.
A key finding from this research is the strong correlation between teachers’ job satisfaction and feeling that their voices are heard. We offer this report as a resource to bring teachers’ voices directly to administrators, district leaders, union leaders, legislators, parents and education advocates.
This year, we heard:
Teachers Bring Passion and Commitment to Their Challenging Work
- To learn more about teachers and their motivation, we asked why they chose teaching as their profession. Eighty-five percent (85%) of teachers say it was to make a difference in the lives of children.
- Nearly every teacher (98%) agrees that teaching is more than a profession; it is how they make a difference in the world.
- Almost all teachers (99%) agree that teaching is more than academics; it is about reinforcing good citizenship, resilience and social skills, and they believe great teaching demands a mastery of many skills.
- The combination of skills that hallmark great teaching is important as teachers strive to differentiate instruction more than ever before. All teachers report having two or more student populations in their classrooms, and nearly one-quarter (23%) of all teachers have seven different populations, such as special education students, gifted students and students working two or more grade levels below their peers.
- More from teachers on teaching→
Teachers Are Enthusiastic About the Implementation of the Common Core State Standards, Even as They Acknowledge Challenges Ahead
- Today’s classroom cannot be understood without a deep look at teachers’ views on the Common Core State Standards, a set of learning standards currently being implemented in 45 states and the District of Columbia. Overall, 73% of teachers who teach math, English language arts, science and/or social studies in Common Core states are enthusiastic about implementation in their classrooms. At the same time, an equal percentage of these teachers believe implementing the standards is or will be challenging.
- As classroom implementation of the Common Core progresses, the degree to which teachers believe the Common Core will positively impact students increases. For example, teachers who say implementation is fully complete in their school are most likely to say the standards will have a positive impact on the overall quality of education students will receive (73%, compared to 56% who say they are in the early stages of implementation and 40% who say implementation has not started).
- Teachers feel increasingly prepared to teach the Common Core (75% in 2013 vs. 59% in 2011), but want more resources, professional development and time to prepare lessons. When asked about their students meeting the standards, teachers express the most concern for students who are already struggling. The tools most requested by teachers are age-appropriate, leveled and high-interest instructional materials.
- More from teachers on the Common Core→
Teachers Find Evaluations Most Helpful When They Include Actionable Feedback and Multiple Measures of Teacher & Student Performance
- In this and previous waves of Primary Sources, teachers consistently tell us that they value the opportunity to grow their practice through evaluation, observation, feedback and professional development. Three-quarters (77%) of teachers feel they should receive a formal evaluation at least once a year and nearly all teachers (99%) believe they should receive one at least once every few years.
- Most teachers tell us they are formally evaluated and do find their evaluations at least somewhat helpful (78%) in refining or improving their practice, although just 21% say their evaluations are very helpful and 8% extremely helpful.
- The helpfulness of evaluations increases dramatically when they include actionable feedback, best garnered through frequent observations by qualified staff, multiple measures of teacher practice and student performance, and when professional development and classroom resources are tailored as a result of the evaluation systems.
- Conversely, the views of teachers who do not find their evaluations very or extremely helpful share that they desire more feedback (42%), increased fairness in the evaluation process (30%) and a desire for more—and better qualified—evaluators and observers (23%).
- More from teachers on evaluations→
Teachers Seek to Collaborate In and Outside of School to Best Serve Students
- Finding time to collaborate with colleagues is a challenge oft cited by teachers, but technology is changing how they collaborate and is enabling new types of collaboration. Nine in ten (91%) teachers report using websites to find or share lesson plans. Teachers are also using websites to get professional advice and support (65%) and to collaborate with teachers with whom they wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity (57%).
- Teachers are connecting with their students’ parents and families to build a strong foundation of support for every child. Ninety-five percent (95%) of teachers say they encourage parents to reach out with questions, and 85% percent of teachers report initiating contact with parents outside of traditional progress reports.
- When asked what parents can do to support their children’s schooling, teachers’ responses reflect their understanding of today’s busy families. By and large, engagement at home—such as making sure children are not absent and talking with them about school, etc.—are considered most helpful.
- More from teachers on collaboration→
These insights and observations come directly from our nation’s teachers and provide critical insight about the experience of teaching in an era of change. This report presents teachers’ voices on the national and state levels, by grades and subjects taught, by years of teaching experience and by other aspects of teachers’ diverse perspectives. By considering their nuanced and thoughtful viewpoints, we can all better understand the day-to-day challenges and rewards of teaching and the need for leaders, families and communities to support teachers, just as they support our students.
It is clear that one constant remains in this era of change: teachers’ commitment to the success of their students. As one teacher in Ohio told us, “During my years in education, I find that the teaching styles, technology and curriculum change, but the students remain the same.” We are pleased to share the third edition of Primary Sources with you, and hope it deepens your respect for teachers and their work, as it has ours.
Primary Sources is part of an ongoing dialogue with America’s teachers. We welcome your thoughts and opinions on the report on our feedback page.
Vicki L. Phillips
Director of Education, College Ready
United States Program
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
President, Scholastic Education