New poll gets to the heart of the educator’s dilemma

More than 90 percent of teachers love their jobs, but more than half of them have also considered quitting, according to a new poll of educators from USA Today. Many attributed those thoughts of a career change to low pay, not enough resources and a lack of support.

USA Today Teachers Poll

At a time when many educators are rising up in protest against these conditions, the teachers surveyed by USA Today also overwhelmingly agreed that public school educators have the right to strike and that unions improve the quality of education. In Los Angeles, educators spent six days on the picket lines to demand the school district make a commitment to provide the resources and conditions necessary for teachers to teach and kids to learn.

“With the support of parents, students, clergy and the entire union community, L.A.’s teachers helped inspire a reordering of the city’s priorities to finally put public schools first,” AFT President Randi Weingarten says. “And it took a strike to make the establishment see how much the public is really behind public schools and public school teachers.”

Pamela Sanders, a member of the United Teachers Los Angeles and a special education teacher, joined her union family on the picket lines during their recent strike.

USA Today Teachers Poll

“Believe me,” she says, “I’d rather be teaching. But, we have a nurse in my school one day a week. That’s one day a week when my special-needs preschoolers have access to a medical professional in the event of an emergency. One day a week when my student with severe allergies has a chance of an expert administering his EpiPen pen, instead of a panicked teacher. One day a week when I’m not worrying about what to do with the rest of my students if I have to run for help with an unconscious 4-year-old in my arms.”

At its heart, the strike in Los Angeles, “like those last year in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and elsewhere — is about confronting years of disinvestment and scarcity in education, and prioritizing public education as an opportunity agent for all children,” Weingarten explains.

Facing a career where they are asked to do more with less, year after year, more than half of educators surveyed by USA Today said they had considered changing careers. Shannon Brisson, a member of the North Syracuse Education Association and a high school social studies teacher in Syracuse, N.Y., is among those educators who have considered leaving teaching. She remembers when she was laid off from her previous teaching job after five years of teaching and getting tenure.

“It was disheartening,” she says. “I struggled with the decision to stay in education. It felt like fighting a losing battle.”

But she didn’t leave education. And, like 3 out of 4 teachers surveyed, she would still choose teaching if asked to pick a career again. Still, she worries that cuts to education have robbed her students of opportunity.

“I’ve watched supplies dwindle, our clubs disappear, and we don’t go on field trips anymore. There’s just no money. There are fewer teachers on staff now, which means fewer electives. All of that really hurts the students; those clubs and electives prepare them for college and career,” Brisson says.

A recent report from the AFT, “A Decade of Neglect: Public Education Funding in the Aftermath of the Great Recession,” found that there are 25 states that spent less on K-12 education in 2016 than they did prior to the recession. And in 38 states, the average teacher salary in 2018 was lower than it was in 2009. 

USA Today Teachers Poll

These numbers are sobering and only scratch the surface; they don’t tell the stories of the countless communities affected by austerity in public education. But there is hope. In every place where teachers have voiced their concerns, we’ve seen the public stand squarely behind them. Nearly 60 percent of people surveyed said teachers weren’t paid what they’re worth. Americans don’t want teachers to work second jobs or take on insurmountable debt just to remain in public education.

You can help today by sharing the results of the USA Today poll with your followers on Twitter and Facebook. Tell them that well-funded public education is the foundation of vibrant American communities.

[Elizabeth Sell]