This year's MetLife Survey of the American Teacher was recently released and results indicate lots of teachers and principals feel stressed out on a daily basis and teacher job satisfication is on the decline. Edu-bloggers who are put out with the pace and direction of school reform efforts blame the implementation of the Common Core, or the focus on accountability, or overhauls of teacher evaluation systems, or "reform" in general (see Anthony Cody, who never saw a reform he liked, for an example).
I wouldn't read too much into the MetLife survey, for a couple of reasons.
First, there's no real surprise that educators are stressed out. The challenges of teaching and school leadership have never been greater. The public has never had higher expectations for their schools - and rightly so. To blame reform efforts is to suggest that education was better back in the 1970's when teachers were less stressed - and when we just happily accepted the fact that vast majorities of our students would drop out or graduate with no meaningful knowledge or skills.
Second, it's important to look at the entire breadth of data in the MetLife study, and not just fluctuating levels of teacher job satisfaction. For one thing, a full 82% of teachers reported that they are "very" or "somewhat" satisfied with their jobs. I'd call that a pretty impressive statistic for an industry that has faced an unprecedented level of pressure to improve. What's more, early career teachers - those without the protection of tenure and with the most to learn - seem the most happy in their jobs. That seems pretty inconsistent with the conclusion that all this talk of education reform is undermining teacher satisfication, much less teacher effectiveness. (For a thorough analysis of the MetLife survey from this perspective, see RiShawn Biddle's commentary here and here).
In my own experience, early career teachers are the most enthusiastic about reaching all students and largely embrace the "no excuses" philosophy that schools can - and must - change. This is promising for the future of school improvement efforts.
Ultimately, school leaders hold the responsibility for simultaneously creating supporting structures and insisting on continuous improvement of teaching practice. Teachers might be more stressed than necessary because school leaders have failed to prioritize improvement efforts, establish a clear framework for effective teaching, or provide meaningful feedback and support so teachers can actually transform their practice. Leaders who are serious about this should read three books: Mike Schmoker's Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Achievement; Marzano, Frontier, and Livingston's Effective Supervision: Supporting the Art and Science of Teaching; and Rick Hess's just-released wonder-book, Cage-Busting Leadership (which I hope to review on this blog in coming weeks).
These authors provide an excellent roadmap for effective instructional leadership. And good leadership can enhance teacher satisfaction, even when the stakes for improvement are high.