Forty percent of teachers say they are “disheartened”

I doubt this headline will surprise too many teachers: Forty Percent of America’s K-12 Teachers Appear Disheartened

The Oct. 21 Education Week will publish research showing that two out of five American K-12 teachers appear disheartened and disappointed about their jobs. The research was collected by Public Agenda, a New York City-based research organization, and Learning Point Associates, a Chicago-based education research and consulting organization. The findings are part of a nationwide study, “Teaching for a Living: How Teachers See the Profession Today.”

Teachers fall into three broad categories which researchers designated the “Disheartened,” the “Contented” and the “Idealists.”

According to the release:

Disheartened teachers account for 40 percent of those surveyed and are twice as likely as other teachers to strongly agree with the view that teaching is “so demanding, it’s a wonder that more people don’t burn out.” More than half teach in low-income schools and 61 percent cite lack of support from administrators as a major drawback to teaching.

Contented teachers make up 37 percent of teachers and are more likely to say that their schools are “orderly, safe, and respectful.” About two-thirds of this group teaches in middle-income or affluent schools, and the majority holds a graduate degree. Sixty-three percent strongly agree with the statement that “teaching is exactly what I wanted,” which is supported by the fact that 82 percent have been teaching for more than 10 years.

Idealist teachers make up 23 percent of teachers surveyed and are more likely to believe that “good teachers can lead all students to learn, even those from poor families or who have uninvolved parents.” More than half are 32 years old or younger and teach in elementary schools, and 36 percent say that, although they intend to stay in education, they plan to leave classroom teaching in the future for other jobs in education. (Speaking of idealists, here is a good NYT story on a death penalty lawyer who is now a middle school teacher in Atlanta.)

“Teaching for a Living: How Teachers See the Profession Today” is based on a representative survey of 890 teachers. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 percent. The work was underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Joyce Foundation.

My only response to this study comes out a conversation I had over the weekend with three people in construction-related fields. Each had lost their jobs and been looking for six months or more without even an interview. They were unsympathetic to employed folks complaining about conditions on their jobs. Their response to the rest of us was, “Be glad you have a job.” I would bet that “disheartened” now describes a good portion of the U.S. workforce.

85 comments Add your comment

V for Vendetta

October 19th, 2009
8:13 pm

I would say those findings are fairly accurate. However, the three categories are quite broad. I wonder how this survey would look with more specific career descriptions (similarly broken down by age, type of school, and level taught).


October 19th, 2009
8:17 pm

At our school it is closer to 90%. Almost everyone says they plan to ask for a transfer. It is much less the children than it is everything else, chief among them mindless paperwork and lack of administrator professionalism at every level.

Everyone is happy to have a job. But the experienced teachers know it can be so much better for all than it is now. I feel for those who have only experienced what we have now. And I feel for the kids. They have very few fun activities. Another fun and highly anticipated activity (one hour per year) was cut out this week.

I wish I could just teach the children, with appropriate backup as needed. I am a very good teacher. Ask me why I do whatever I do, and I can tell you. Get out of the way!


October 19th, 2009
8:18 pm

David S

October 19th, 2009
8:20 pm

I would be too if I realized that my job was just to be an indoctrination mouthpiece for the government. Education is a wonderful thing when provided by the private voluntary sector. As with every government program, government education harms everyone it touches.

If these teachers really cared about teaching, they would work for the end of the government run monopoly and would begin by opening their own schools. At least for them the first step, getting the government teacher certification, is already complete. Further, some of them actually have good reputations with the students they taught and their parents.

But if the teachers I know are any indication, they don’t have either the guts or the true committment to education to every try such a bold move. They couldn’t guarantee the great pensions, the ridiculously early retirement, or the great vacation time if they went out on their own. And after all, for most of the teachers I know, the perks are all the job was really about in the first place. Real work is for other folks.


October 19th, 2009
9:42 pm

Wow David, thank you!!! Thank you for assisting me, as a teacher, in defining “reactionary behavior” and “ignorance” by your example.

By the way, I’m a nationally recognized teacher, plenty of accolades and accomplishments, and want to fix the system and not quit the system. I believe in capitalism and competition, and would love your multi-million dollar endowment to start my own school. After all, having just 10 teachers with corporate-standard salaries and benefits for the 80+ hour weeks is about $1 million to start, then we need the facility, etc.

Sorry if I’m grumpy, I just finished SOME grading at 9:30pm, after getting up at 4:30am to start my day. By they sound of your writing, you really need to meet some other teachers. Like every profession, sure we have our folks that need replacing, and we might be very similar in some ways to the auto unions. But there are some high quality folks doing some great things.

I challenge anyone, especially yourself, to succeed in my profession. If you do, you’ll most likely love it and want to stay forever. If you don’t, you’d be joining the 30-40% that leave within the first few years. Go out and volunteer some time, help someone just because it’s the right thing to do, and then you might have an inkling of what we do.

Wow, can’t wait to show how NOT to publicly write in my Web Development class tomorrow.

Ugh - count me in

October 19th, 2009
9:43 pm

Count me in the 40% – and while I do teach in a school with about 50% FRL population, I also have really supportive administrators and mostly decent co-workers. My frustration comes from the system and the mounds of paper work that roll downhill. The documentation is mind-numbing – I’m sure it’s reminiscent of some modern-day Monty Python skit – as in I work for the Department of Redundant Paperwork Department, you know? We literally have paperwork to prove we met to fill out paperwork! We’re data-collecting, paperwork-completing, to-the-test-teaching, cure du jour buying…ugh.

Most days, it’s really not the kids that drive me to drink (figuratively, and don’t get your panties in a bunch now, all you teetotalers) – it’s the adults – particularly those out of the classroom and in the central office bureaucracy. Everyone knows more teacher paperwork and hoop-jumping makes better and smarter students, right?

David S – I never got into this to be an indoctrination mouthpiece for the government – all I wanted to do was to teach science. Like many I work with, we gave up higher paying jobs in the so-called “real world” to do this mostly thankless grunt work. I left long lunches and hours of solitaire-time to do a job where I’m lucky to get a bathroom break, and my 20 minute lunch is spent with the kids. Silly me, I thought I could make a difference – I thought that I could “open up the wonderful wonder of science” to kids – little did I know that by the time they got to me, they would hate school and hate science, and have all the curiosity beaten out of them by the system. I would LOVE to open up my own school, but the fact that I haven’t yet has nothing to do with guts or commitment, and everything to do with needing to pay my mortgage, feed my kids, and pay for my health insurance. It has nothing to with the pension (which isn’t that great – 50% of my final 2 years’ salary – and no social security – early retirement? Sure, if you consider 60 to be ridiculously early – that’s when I can retire – I could’ve retired at 38 from the military).

“Real work is for other folks.” Maybe that lousy attitude from people who don’t know anything might have something to do with folks being disheartened, too. Why haven’t you started a school of your own if it’s that important to you (and I’m not talking about homeschooling your own kids, either).

Food for thought

October 19th, 2009
9:45 pm

Nice, Mike – love it!!


October 19th, 2009
9:49 pm

David, I am gravely offended by the comment that “real work is for other folks”. Most teachers get paid for a 40 hour week and put in closer to 60-70 hours of work. No time and 1/2 in education. Most teachers put in 2-3 weeks of unpaid work during the summer preparing for a new year. Many pay for non-reimbursable professionally development during the summers. I don’t think of any of these as “perks”.This is professionalism, This is pride in accomplishment. More furlough days will be asked of teachers next year, yes, we’re glad we have a job, but wouldn’t it be nice to be paid at least what is promised? If salary is being cut, and the work load increased, don’t you think a little respect and gratitude might be in order? Have you tried teaching for even a quarter David? It’s not for the faint of heart.


October 19th, 2009
9:55 pm

David S, real teachers don’t want to open their own schools, because they don’t want to deal with the business and management end of things, they want to TEACH.


October 19th, 2009
9:58 pm

I’d bet that most of the “disheartened” teachers were once “idealistic”….

Ole Guy

October 20th, 2009
1:54 am

One can readily appreciate that many in the teaching profession express a degree of contentment, in spite of the many difficulties encountered, when in reality, the contentment is masked/veiled acceptance of reality. True, the mere fact of having a job ranks high in the “happy zone” of teaching; many, in early-mid to mid-mid life, with a decade or two on the platform, established homes, schools for the kids, etc, etc, probably wouldn’t/couldn’t consider a complete changeover in occupation. Still many (I am quite certain a lot more than many) hold a moral/psycic obligation to enable young lives, and ultimately future generations, to enjoy a better life through education.

The major fear, the big concern, lies not so much with the current “teacher corps”, but with the young people who might someday consider picking up the torch. When these kids do the research, read the papers and reports, etc, and, despite their collective yearning to teach, consider all the negative issues which have permeated the profession and come to the conclusion “NO WAY”!

If our leaders, at the state and national levels, have the guts to label themselves as such, they had best start learning the meaning of PROACTIVE; start looking at the situation, not now in 2009, but in 2019/2029/etc. Otherwise, the day will soon dawn when the dismal educational “achievements”, way back in 2009, will be viewed, relatively speaking, as the period of enlightenment.


October 20th, 2009
5:58 am

This information, while interesting, really doesn’t tell you much unless you had a benchmark for comparision. For example, this data would be more relevant if you could compare the 40% disheartened teachers to other professions such as accountants, bankers, realtors, lawyers, etc, etc.

That said, 40% does sound high.


October 20th, 2009
8:32 am

Sounds like my husband and his co-workers. All of them say they plan to bail once this economy turns around. It appears that the majority of the complaints stem from the fact that their administration is incompetent and many of the parents could care less if their gets learn anything, pretty much just want them pushed through.

Joy in Teaching

October 20th, 2009
9:03 am

I found myself the other day in a store talking to a teacher candidate while waiting for some service to be completed. I hate to even say it, but I strongly encouraged this young man to change his major and to consider another line of work. I told him that if I knew what I know now about teaching when I was his age, I would have changed majors.

If that isn’t disheartened, I’m not sure what is.


October 20th, 2009
9:14 am

Donna is abolutely right,David.You really don’t have a clue. Teachers don’t get paid for the summer. Their ten month salary is divided into 12 or 24 pay periods.If they opt to teach during the summer they are paid to work during the summer. Teaching can be a rewarding profession, but it is a difficult profession. Those summers are needed. Many schools need volunteers, so why don’t you try it for a while. One parent volunteered one day and she said, “I don’t know how much they pay you for doing this, but whatever they pay you it is not enough.”

Paul A

October 20th, 2009
10:29 am

Wahhhhhhhhh…… Teachers are disheartened.
I’m disheartened with the education system in this country, so take that.

Teachers are parasites that feed on big government like maggots on a corpse.

Abolish the NEA.

#1 – We should hire “real-world, experienced” professionals, pay them well, keep them out of religion and politics, and reward those who are successful. Punish and/or fire those who don’t, won’t or can’t cut the mustard.

#2 – Give teachers authority in their classrooms. If some jackass punk kid wants to shoot his filthy mouth off he’s gone…. PERIOD… Not coming back. It’s ridiculous that teachers can’t even discipline their students anymore and the kids know it.

#3 – Where are standards of excellence for students? When I was a kid you either passed or failed. There was no re-test or second chances. If you failed you paid the price. We didn’t get rewards for good grades… We were punished for bad grades. “Don’t like that subject huh?… TOO BAD… Do it anyway…. I’m not asking you, I’m telling you!”

Follow these guidelines – problem solved.


October 20th, 2009
10:37 am

Only 40%? If I didn’t love my children so much, I’d be gone in a heartbeat.


October 20th, 2009
10:58 am

So teachers work 60 hour weeks, so what.

Name me a single professional, whether they be doctors, lawyers, accountants, software developers, or business owners that don’t work these kind of hours.

I’ll have more sympathy when teachers get off their collective behinds and stop covering for their incompetent union brethren.

You want to work a straight 9 to 5? Then learn the following phrase “you want fries with that?”

what's right for kids???

October 20th, 2009
11:01 am

I don’t think that any teacher is bemoaning the fact that we work longer than 40 hours. But please look at who you are comparing us to as far as pay goes: doctors, lawyers, accountants, software developers, business owners. We work just as hard, yet we get little pay and even less respect. I would settle for simply getting the respect.


October 20th, 2009
11:25 am

Most professional people put in way over 40 hours/week with few perks to show for all of their effort; that also includes teaches and they are not the only ones who are disheartened. Just take a good long look at nurses, dietitians, resp therapist, PT, OT and SLP in the medical field. Talk about being taken for granted and having few promotional opportunities despite most of us having master’s degrees and many in business. No, promotion is for the CEO’s cronies or his friends at the last job site.

As for “W”; I went to a catholic school for eight years then on the a public high school and a public university. There is NOTHING wonderful about private education [which is often done for profit and we know who gets the profit-it certainly not the kids]; my years in public high school prepared me for life as an adult with all of its up and downs. But admittedly, I went to school before the politicians got hold of education [maninly, I think, because the parents abandoned the effort as they had "other" things to do]. When kids are taught subject matter, tested on subject matter and parents are involved in making sure their kids can read, write, composed sentences and speak proper English, then the kids can test well. Get the politicans out of the schools; get the classroom size to a managable level, given the kids proper books, get some uniforms and put athletics in its proper place and test for knowledge of subject matter and the schools will be better and the teachers more enthusiatic.


October 20th, 2009
11:26 am

We work just as hard, yet we get little pay and even less respect. I would settle for simply getting the respect

And I would support increased pay for teachers if they would accept competency testing and the weeding out of incompetents within their profession.

Also, If I have to hear one more teacher expound that it is more important to know how to teach (pedagogy) that to have actual in-depth knowledge of the subject matter being taught….

Gwinnett HS Teacher

October 20th, 2009
11:32 am

Litt – I agree with you on a couple of things- I believe that pedagogy will come from your passion and competency of your subject area. I don’t have to be taught how to teach. I love my subject area so much (and I’m good at it too!), that I can differentiate my instruction at the drop of a hat! I would also LOVE to have a competency test put in place to get rid of those “teachers” who are giving us a bad name.

But, as far as the other stuff goes – you’re way off base, my friend! First of all, Georgia does not, repeat, does not have a teachers’ union! Why don’t people understand that? And, there wasn’t one teacher on this blog today who was complaining about all of the extra, non-paid time put into our day. Furthermore, those other professions that you mentioned (doctors, lawyers, etc.) don’t have EVERYONE trying to tell them how to do their jobs.


October 20th, 2009
11:57 am

Three pages of comments regarding “Best Coffee in Atlanta” and 20 comments with this topic…another indication of the degree of care and/or concern with education in this country….very telling, in my opinion.

Fulton Teacher

October 20th, 2009
12:03 pm

Litt-Just as I was about to go on a tirade based on your first posting, you posted again. I (and any other teacher worth his/her salt) have no problem with weeding out bad teachers, but don’t count on it. Do you know how hard that is to do? During my first year teaching, there was a teacher who did not show up for days at a time and did not bother to call in or get a sub. That teacher was not re-hired by my county but was simply allowed to transfer to another county.

We are disheartened because these are the kind of teachers we are being compared to. To paraphrase Pat Conroy, I love my job with all my heart, but I hate sometimes, too. Especially when I have to defend what I do to people who haven’t set foot in a school since they were enrolled.

what's right for kids???

October 20th, 2009
12:45 pm

Paul A for State Superintendent!!!!!!
If all of those were true, there would be no disheartened teachers.


October 20th, 2009
12:49 pm

this is the first survey i have ever seen that did not have an “undecided” choice


October 20th, 2009
12:57 pm

democrat+liberal+union=disheartened human


October 20th, 2009
12:59 pm


But, as far as the other stuff goes – you’re way off base, my friend! First of all, Georgia does not, repeat, does not have a teachers’ union! Why don’t people understand that?

Perhaps, because in the AJC the GAE is referred to as a “Teacher’s Union” as are several other associations.

Fulton Teacher

… when I have to defend what I do to people who haven’t set foot in a school since they were enrolled.

As a licensed engineer I have to defend the ability to do my work constantly. Why shouldn’t you?

As an asides, take in the following information -

Boston Globe

May 19, 2009

According to state education officials, nearly three-quarters of the people who took the state elementary school teacher’s licensing exam this year failed the new math section.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released the results Tuesday. They say that only 27 percent of the more than 600 candidates who took the test passed. The test was administered in March of this year.


October 20th, 2009
1:00 pm

If teachers had students that were taught the basics of civil behavior at home, we’d have more dedicated & satisfied educators.


October 20th, 2009
1:04 pm

Boo hoo, I work more than 40 hours a week. Boo hoo, I’m burnt out. Boo hoo, paperwork is hard. Boo hoo, administrators don’t blindly support me at every turn. Crybabies, all of you.

Just another reason I’m glad we will be home schooling our kids. My wife = a better teacher than 90% of what’s in our public school system. A 2 to 1 ratio at home > 20-1 in school. And my kids won’t have their curriculum dumbed down to satisfy the lowest common denominator either.

what's right for kids???

October 20th, 2009
1:14 pm

Litt, GAE stands for Georgia Association of Educators. AJC is WRONG.
As an aside (not asides, Litt), Hearing you all complain about teachers who can’t pass a test is really silly. If they can’t pass the test, they don’t get a certificate. If they don’t get a certificate, they don’t teach in public school.


October 20th, 2009
1:23 pm

I just talked to the lady at the supermarket that decorates cakes for a living.She complained to her boss that she was putting in 52 hours every week.The solution?They hired another lady and now they both work 26 hours a week.That solved her overwork problem.To survive,she now has to find another job.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find that 40% dissatisfied figure in any profession.Half the people where I worked didn’t like what they were doing and that increased to almost 100 % when I and many of us left.Working conditions became intolerable.If you haven’t already left,then you have a fairly decent place to work.


October 20th, 2009
2:17 pm

I do not understand. I always thought if you get a college degree life would be great. There would be plenty of incomes, vacations, nice homes, good credits, and the neighborhoods would envy you. I did not know having the degree and the teaching credentials put such a burden on people.
Please, calm down, take a deep breath, and say,”OMAMA! OBAMA! OBAMA! Its change I can blieve in! Yes that is it!”
Now, teaching will not be such a burden, life will have joy, children will learn, and you will be called an “educator”. ta da!

what's right for kids???

October 20th, 2009
2:32 pm

Sure, William, just like we all transformed education under Bush.


October 20th, 2009
2:35 pm

what’s right for kids???

October 20th, 2009
2:32 pm

Hey, I am just a product of public education! Bush did a good job with education. What happened? You did not get that promotion?


October 20th, 2009
2:43 pm

Hearing you all complain about teachers who can’t pass a test is really silly. If they can’t pass the test, they don’t get a certificate.

Yes, but they did graduate from their respective Teachers Colleges. Which should tell you something about the quality of teaching education they received and also about the pool of applicants themselves.

From Education Working Paper Archive.

Arthur Levine’s report, Educating School Teachers, issued in September 2006, concluded that the vast bulk of the 1200 education schools in this country have incoherent curricula as well as excessively low admission standards.

what's right for kids???

October 20th, 2009
2:52 pm

William, I am confused by your post. However, I think that I need to elaborate for you:
Bush Senior didn’t really affect education.
Bush Junior and No Child Left Behind ruined education for the students and the schools. The only people accountable for student learning is teachers. Nowhere in the thousand page document are parents mentioned…nor are students really held accountable for their education. Only when schools and a four pronged apporach where teachers, students, parents and the community are responsible for the education of children will children actually succeed.
Teachers don’t get promotions, by the way.

high school teacher

October 20th, 2009
3:02 pm

Litt, thank you for citing the article from the Boston Globe re: Massachusetts teaching exams. After Maureen’s blog the other day, I was beginning to believe that stupid people only lived in the South. I am relived to find that stupid people also live in Massachusetts :)

high school teacher

October 20th, 2009
3:02 pm

Make that “relieved”


October 20th, 2009
3:11 pm

@ Lift—-Can you name any other profession that has to buy necessary or supplemental supplies? Does my doctor purchase needles out of his own pocket? My mother doesn’t take ink to work with her. I wish people would quit comparing teaching to other jobs. The circumstances are totally different.


October 20th, 2009
3:27 pm

I’m sure a lot of the parents who are tired of their kids being sent to a “school” (where they do little teaching and a lot of babysitting, thanks to the politicians) would be happy to send their kids to private schools if the costs were kept reasonable.

Somebody posted it before…teachers, administrators, and the PARENTS have to be involved (and the politically motivated fecal matter removed) before a school can be considered a success and actually teach kids what they need to know. This is why most private and “magnet” schools are far more successful than public schools.

Fulton Teacher

October 20th, 2009
3:42 pm

To those who think they are held accountable in their jobs the same way teachers are, where’s the blog to complain about you?

Someone mentioned the poor quality of teacher education at the universtiy level. Take a poll of teachers. None of them will defend the teacher education programs. We learned how to do our jobs once we actually got in a class room.

Finally, if you don’t want to hear honest comments about why teachers are disheartened, don’t read the blog titled “Forty percent of teachers say they are ‘disheartened.’”

Fulton Teacher

October 20th, 2009
3:46 pm

Paul-Don’t resort to name calling (teachers=maggots?). You detract from an otherwise brilliant post. I agree with all 3 or your points.

Fulton Teacher

October 20th, 2009
3:47 pm

“of” your points (I should proofread my own writing)


October 20th, 2009
4:00 pm

This is to David S: I’ve met people like you before. You mouth off about something you evidently know absolutely nothing about. People like you make me sick! What you said isn’t really worth my time to address point-by-point, because I know the truth!


October 20th, 2009
4:18 pm


No, but that doesn’t make the comparisons invalid as regards to minimum competency requirements either.

I would like to see teachers have all the tools they need made available to them, but there has to be some concessions made on the part of teachers as well, primarily in the area of tenure and retention of underperforming teachers as well as the acceptance of competency testing on a recurring basis.

People are also fed up with the fads that sweep through the teaching profession, need I mention “whole language”?

I strongly support additional salary increases for teachers with advanced degrees in science and maths. But every teacher I’ve ever met who teach outside of those areas disagree.


October 20th, 2009
4:46 pm

Everyone has a plan to fix education…so why does it always seem to get worse?


October 20th, 2009
5:34 pm

I feel the same way. At one time, I enjoyed this profession. Now, it is just a way to pay the bills if I can (furlough). Teaching has become too demanding with little rewards for the teachers. We are overworked and underpaid. Teachers have only seven months (with all of the break) to teach a curriculum to students(which is a grade level higher) who may be one or two grades below. Then the teachers become more and more frustrated because they are really trying hard to make AYP. I think that teaching is the most demanded profession there is with all of the paperwork, dealing disruptive behaviors,meetings after meetings,no true lunch break, and the list goes on and on. Hopefully, it would get better because they are some great teachers who really love the profession and seeking a career change in the future.

elementary georgia teacher

October 20th, 2009
5:36 pm

When are teachers actually going to have a voice when making decisions regarding education. As a teacher in Georgia, at an affluent school, I realize how lucky I am. With that said I am frustated with more and more time taking away from teaching. If test scores continue to go down but paperwork and demands going up, you would think someone would see a correlation. Private schools succeed more not due to better teachers or smarter students. They succeed because teachers are allowed to teach, parents are involved and students are held accountable. When I taught in private school I put in many many hours as well, but my lessons were better developed because I had more time to do the planning. We are now given assessments to chart student’s progress. The assessments were developed without any regard to children’s age ability activities. Do first graders really need to learn how to divide fractions into sets. This is a concept that was taught in 3rd and 4th grade just five years ago. We are given assessments but not given child friendly materials that are needed to instruct.
Everyone knows there are teachers who should no longer be in the classroom, but I am a teacher that still loves teaching. I am so FRUSTRATED with others telling me how to do my job, but they have never actually been in a classroom as a teacher. All adults have experienced bad teachers during their education experience. Teachers are educated professionals. There are “bad seeds” in all professions, however others don’t feel the need to tell them how to do their jobs.
I think education will improve when there are educated discussions with our views of what works in the classroom. Please do not post negative views because it is obvious you are making assumptions. Because we are a country of free speech, please let us know your qualifications to base your view.

Teach This!!

October 20th, 2009
6:00 pm

Until anyone has worked at ground level of any public school, the have no right to say anything about how teacher may or may not feel. To say that you don’t have a job so anyone else should keep their mouth closed and not complain is very narrow minded. Just remember that teachers will be around after you get your jobs back. All I hear is how much time teacher get off during the year, They need it after putting up with the dumb A$$ students AND parents that they have to deal with on a daily basis.
If people believe that they can do a better job. Go back college for six years…get your Masters degree…and go get those “high paying” teaching positions.

Teachers are not the problem, the over paid politicians running the school systems are the problem. Let the teachers do what they are trained to do, teach!!