Teacher Appreciation Week is a great opportunity to show gratitude and respect for educators committed to serving all students and helping them reach their full potential. During the pandemic, there was an increased appreciation for the teaching profession as educators adapted to new modes of instruction and caregivers took a more active role in their students’ education. This positive sentiment has slipped of late, and I believe we’ve reached the point where a show of gratitude is not enough. We must demonstrate true appreciation for educators (and other key school-based roles) through better school culture and working conditions, more opportunities for educators to connect and grow in meaningful ways personally and professionally and increased pay.
Throughout my career as a teacher and administrator, I observed first-hand the correlation between job satisfaction and school culture. Research suggests that perceived school culture can significantly influence a teacher’s attitude toward their job. Furthermore, studies show that positive school culture is associated with higher levels of teacher engagement and commitment with lower levels of burnout. In addition, creating opportunities for teacher voice and input in school decision-making processes has been linked to increased job satisfaction and retention. These are the same strategies many top companies use to attract and retain talent. It’s no surprise that these efforts are a driver for both satisfaction and performance in the school setting. Cultivating a positive school culture that prioritizes collaboration, respect and support can lead to greater teacher satisfaction and, ultimately, better student outcomes.
Professional development (PD) is one of the top benefits organizations provide to their employees. When PD is effectively created and delivered, it prepares teachers to transform classrooms. Professional learning and development are critical to the satisfaction of teachers as they improve their teaching skills and help them stay current with new developments in education. A study by the Learning Policy Institute found that high-quality professional development for teachers can improve student achievement, teacher retention and job satisfaction. Additionally, the study found that teachers who engage in ongoing PD tend to stay in the teaching profession longer than those who do not. When teachers feel supported and have opportunities to learn and grow professionally, they are more likely to feel satisfied in their jobs.
At Project Lead The Way (PLTW), we believe one of the most important aspects of our work is supporting preK-12 teachers through a range of practical high-quality PD experiences that positively impact their teaching practice and job satisfaction. We’ve trained over 100,000 teachers across the country through PLTW Core Training and also offer a variety of immersive and collaborative PD courses so any teacher can feel confident in creating greater connections to course content with their students. Schools and districts that invest in high-quality PD opportunities for their teachers will likely have more satisfied and effective teachers. Not only should we ensure high-quality professional learning is available but also that it is incentivized through increased compensation and expanded licensure opportunities.
In recent years, job satisfaction among teachers has reached an all-time low, with reports of high levels of stress and burnout common among educators. One of the most pressing concerns for teachers is higher salaries. Research shows that pay is a major predictor of organizational satisfaction and that willingness to work increasingly depends on salary when relative pay is known. Candidates for open teacher roles report feeling that the salary and benefits for teaching positions are insufficient, contributing to understaffed schools. Several years ago, while I was teaching, the salary increases my colleagues and I received were outpaced by increases in insurance and other costs of living. If schools want to compete for talent and both attract and retain great educators, an increase in real pay must be achieved. Teacher turnover can be costly for schools, so investing in teacher salaries while controlling other costs to educators should be a priority.
Yes, teaching is a challenging profession. Yet our communities continue to benefit from outstanding educators who want the best for their students—our children. As we think about showing appreciation for educators in our hometowns and across the nation this year, let’s also help advance conversations and commitments to increased pay, better school culture and expanded access to high-quality professional learning.