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Opinion: Better pay, better materials, training, respect — what survey says teachers want

Sydney Morris | May 24, 2023

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Educators for Excellence teacher survey (

Teacher Appreciation Month is a time when educators are recognized for their many contributions to students, families and communities. It’s also a time to ask: “Are the teachers all right?” With the recent release of Educators for Excellence’s annual Voices from the Classroom national teacher survey, it’s clear the answer is “not really.”

This survey is made for teachers by teachers, offering a direct line of sight into student learning, educator effectiveness and where to focus future policy and reform efforts — based on the voices and ideas of those on the front lines.

Supporting the educators who passionately teach students is mission-critical. As a former second-grade teacher at a public elementary school in the Bronx and leader of an organization that advocates for teachers, I have seen first-hand the long-term, widespread benefits that teachers can bestow. Teachers have a greater impact on students than any other in-school factor. But teachers struggle to make such an impact when they, themselves, are not supported.

For too long, educators have faced working conditions that would be unacceptable and even unimaginable in other professions. And it’s these difficult working conditions and experiences, such as poor relationships with administrators, lack of professional growth opportunities, unsustainable workloads, poor compensation and a lack of access to high-quality instructional materials that put the profession at risk.

E4E’s National Teacher Leader Council is made up of teacher leaders from across the country. These educators not only developed the survey, but analyzed the results and provided insights into the findings. Dr. Winnie Williams-Hall, a middle school teacher at Nicholson STEM Elementary of Chicago Public Schools and a council member, tied the survey findings to the classroom, saying, “Every day, teachers are feeling the stress and overwhelm of the classroom, but they’re also feeling undervalued. You can feel this in schools, and it impacts teaching and learning.”

Though education is the industry that builds the country’s future leaders, future workforce and national success, teachers are not treated as the professionals they are. The survey shows that fully two-thirds feel they do not have the autonomy or resources to effectively help students learn, especially those who have been historically underserved. Perhaps it’s no surprise that districts and states are suffering from teacher shortages that principals attribute to a lack of applicants and that only 14% of educators say they would recommend the profession to others.

Teachers are burned out, and their current workloads are unsustainable. They have been asked to wear too many hats and take on too many tasks, which escalated even more during the pandemic. In the survey, 87% of teachers agreed that they have too many responsibilities, making it difficult to be effective.

Teachers need roles to be better defined, and they need higher-quality instructional materials. Only 36% of teachers in the survey reported that they have the curricular materials needed for effective instruction; only 30% have received the training to effectively use the materials they have; and only 29% have a curriculum that incorporates formative assessments — the quizzes,

homework and tests that provide academic progress checkpoints and help teachers adjust

their lessons. As a result, teachers search for curricular resources outside of their district-provided materials, which research shows can lead to less effective instruction.

As Cory Cain, dean of instruction in Chicago and a council member, remarked in the survey: “If you’re buying or downloading something that should be an already existing piece of the puzzle, that’s a problem. Teachers shouldn’t have to do that. They should have a coherent and cohesive curricular roadmap.”

At the same time, for individuals to even consider teaching as a career, their salaries must reflect the critical nature of this work and the professionals they are.

Teachers are paid less than their college-educated peers in other professions, resulting in a “teacher pay penalty.” “For people who do not come from money and have to create their own financial wealth from scratch, starting a career in education is a huge risk,” Joseph Tadros, a council member and high school math and science teacher in the Bronx, said in the survey.

Attracting and retaining great teachers takes acknowledging and appreciating the important work they do every day, and nearly two-thirds of teachers in the survey said they believe that higher salaries can help draw talented, diverse candidates and keep them in the profession.

Educators are calling for holistic reform so they can ensure that every student learns and thrives. Their voices are critical in helping identify how to best go about this, as they provide an essential, direct line of sight into where students are, the challenges they face, and the resources and support needed to help all children learn. If policymakers and education leaders don’t work together to improve the profession and attract a new pool of candidates, in 30 years, there may be no one left to educate the nation’s children.

It’s time to move beyond gift cards and lunches this Teacher Appreciation Month and build policies that support the nation’s educators.

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