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Education & Issues

What Teachers Would Change About Education

A new survey finds that teachers are looking for more opportunities to lead, influence policy, and end educational inequity?

By Jessica Fregni

September 15, 2018

Teachers know the importance of empowering children to use their voices: Students who feel they have agency to shape their schools today are empowered to become active members of their communities tomorrow. Yet, too often, teachers feel that their own voices go unheard when it comes to the educational policies that shape their curriculum and classroom, according to a new survey by the nonprofit Educators for Excellence.

Founded by TFA alums Sydney Morris and Evan Stone (both New York ‘07), Educators for Excellence’s mission is to ensure that teachers have a leading voice in the policies that impact their students and profession. Since the organization’s launch in 2010, it has grown into a national movement of over 30,000 teacher members. In its latest effort to amplify educators’ voices, Educators for Excellence developed a questionnaire in consultation with teachers from across the country, in order to create a major nationally representative survey crafted exclusively by teachers, for teachers.

The resulting 2018 survey, Voices from the Classroom, unveils what 1,000 full-time public school teachers would change about schools and the educational system at large if they were put in charge.

It turns out, they would change quite a bit.

What Would Teachers Change About Our Schools?

To start, teachers would create more opportunities to influence education policies that impact their students and their profession. One teacher surveyed summed up this perspective by explaining: “Teachers are the ones who see needs in the classroom, but they are probably the least consulted when it comes to policy decisions.”

Teachers would also address educational inequity. The teachers surveyed pointed to inequitable school funding, lack of access to classroom supplies and resources, and poorly maintained school facilities as serious problems. One possible method of tackling educational inequity that many of the teachers supported is the use of financial incentives to bring more talented teachers to underserved schools and students.

“Teachers are the ones who see needs in the classroom, but they are probably the least consulted when it comes to policy decisions.”

With regards to professional development, many of the teachers reported feeling pressure to become administrators in order to advance their careers in education and to increase their compensation. They expressed interest in making it easier for teachers to further their careers and assume additional leadership roles beyond their teaching duties without leaving the classroom.

These are just a handful of the education issues discussed by teachers in Voices from the Classroom, but it’s clear from the survey findings that teachers want to remain in the classroom. Economic insecurity and a lack of opportunities to lead and influence education policy are making it harder for teachers to stay, according to the survey.

What Teachers Are Thinking in 2018

In an email interview, we asked Sydney and Evan, the co-founders and co-CEOs of Educators for Excellence, about the survey and what it says about teachers’ collective state of mind in 2018. (Their responses are edited and condensed.)

Something that stood out to me from the survey was the overwhelming number of teachers who saw inequity in school funding and students’ access to high-quality schools, classroom supplies, and resources. What do you think this says about the prospects for long-term systems change and improvements?

Teachers are very aware of the inequities that exist in our education system--they see them firsthand in their schools and classrooms every day. We think this is why as a school’s proportion of underserved students increases, the general sense of inequity increases among their teachers. For example, teachers who teach in schools that predominantly serve students of color are more likely to say that school funding is inequitable, that they lack access to basic supplies, and that students don’t have access to high-quality schools or equal access to high-quality teachers. 

This awareness of inequity is contributing to a growing percentage of teachers who see their job as more than just the dissemination of knowledge. Teachers understand that to truly serve their students they need to be an advocate both inside and outside of the classroom. As a result we are optimistic that teachers will be able to help drive systemic change in their schools, districts, unions, and states.

2018 saw some of the largest teacher demonstrations in years, as well as outpourings on social media about stagnant wages, underfunded schools, and other serious issues for educators. Why now?

It is a difficult time for teachers. We have seen dramatic change beginning with the new federal administration and a new federal education law (the Every Student Succeeds Act) that pushes autonomy down to states and districts. While local decision making in education is critical, these shifts have created a lot of uncertainty for teachers. As a result, many districts are asking teachers to do more with even less--school funding and teacher salaries have not returned to pre-recession levels in many states.

We have also seen a growth in advocacy from teachers as they feel the need to stand up for their students’ rights. Teachers are fighting for their undocumented or LGBTQ students to feel safe in their schools; for low-income and minority students to have access to the same opportunities and the same resources as their more affluent peers; and to increase the social-emotional supports for students who have experienced trauma. Teachers have seen firsthand that their voices are powerful and that through collective action they can advocate for the needs of their students and elevate their profession.

The answers provided by the teachers surveyed are very consistent across different demographic groups and regions, as well as between union and nonunion teachers. Why do you think that is?

No matter who they are or where they’re from, everyone who is a teacher is doing it for the same reasons: a love for their students and a deep desire to see their students succeed. This common purpose transcends demographics like geography or school setting, and teachers recognize the shared challenges that jeopardize their students’ success and their profession.  Teachers want and need more support to ensure they are meeting the needs of their diverse students. We were not surprised to hear teachers raise the same challenges across the country, but it was encouraging to see teachers also pointing to very similar solutions.

“We need to do more to create hybrid roles that give our educators the option to broaden their impact, earn more compensation, and build a meaningful career pathway, without having to leave the classroom or their students.”

Sydney Morris & Evan Stone

Co-founders and Co-CEOs, Educators for Excellence

New York Corps Member 2007

Of the results in the survey, the most unanimous response was the 96 percent of teachers who agreed that they wish there were more opportunities for teachers to influence education policy. Clearly, teachers want a say. How do you think policymakers can work more effectively with educators in the future?

The further teachers are from a decision-making body, the less represented they feel. Only one-third of teachers feel like their perspective is well represented at their school; 28 percent feel well represented by their union; 16 percent by their district or charter network; only 9 percent by their state; and that number decreases even further to only 6 percent of teachers who feel well represented at the federal level. It is clear that the farther away from the classroom policy makers get, the more important it is that they seek out and listen to the perspectives of those who are working with students every day.

Of the teachers surveyed, 92 percent said they wish there were more opportunities to further their career and professional skills while staying in the classroom. What do you think these findings say about teachers’ collective feelings about leadership?

Everyone wants to progress in their careers, and teachers are no different. For teachers, who have historically had fewer career pathways, this often means moving into administrative roles. But this data shows that teachers would rather grow in the classroom, not the office. We need to do more to create hybrid roles that give our educators the option to broaden their impact, earn more compensation, and build a meaningful career pathway, without having to leave the classroom or their students. And if teachers are continuously learning, growing, and expanding their reach, then they are more likely to stay in the profession.

Read Educator for Excellence’s Voices from the Classroom: A Survey of America’s Educators survey.