The past five years have seen a tremendous amount of change to the educational landscape in Tennessee: new academic standards, a new teacher evaluation system, new interventions for struggling learners, and, most recently, new assessments. One might think that these numerous changes would be too much for teachers to handle and may even prompt them to leave the profession. However, the results of the Tennessee Department of Education’s 2015 Educator Survey tell a different story. The survey was open to all teachers and administrators in Tennessee from April 16 until May 26. Compared to previous years, this year’s survey had an especially high response rate, with more than 36,000 teachers (57 percent of all teachers) and nearly 2,000 administrators (59 percent) administrators participating. Here are some of the survey’s key findings on teacher satisfaction:
• Nearly 80 percent of teachers who responded to the survey say that teachers at their school are satisfied and like being there.
• Seventy-seven percent of teachers say they feel appreciated for the job they do, up from 72 percent last year.
• The percentage of teachers who agree that “the stress and disappointments involved in teaching at this school aren’t worth it” has dropped from 29 percent in 2012 to 20 percent in 2015.
Since 2011, teacher retention has remained stable, with just over 90 percent of teachers retained in Tennessee schools each year. Retention is even higher among high-performing teachers, while the lowest-performing teachers are the least likely to remain in the classroom.
Other bright spots in the survey results are teacher evaluation and use of data to inform instruction. In 2012, just 30 percent of teachers felt that teacher evaluations were conducted fairly. In 2015, that number is up to 68 percent. Additionally, 68 percent of teachers believe the teacher evaluation process has led to improvements in teaching, and 63 percent believe it has improved student learning. Since last year, the number of teachers who understand how to use assessment data to improve their teaching has increased from 69 percent to 77 percent.
The Tennessee Educator Survey also identified a few areas where there is still a lot of room for improvement. Nearly 70 percent of teachers feel that students spend too much time taking statewide standardized exams, while 62 percent think they spend too much time preparing for exams. Compared to last year, teachers this year feel less comfortable raising concerns with school leaders and fewer teachers feel that their school’s leadership consistently supports the school staff. Finally, teacher perceptions of the Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI2) framework are mixed: 65 percent of elementary teachers believe students will benefit from RTI2, compared to 59 percent of middle school teachers and 44 percent of high school teachers.
Change is never easy, but Tennessee educators have shown that they are up to the challenge. The Tennessee Department of Education has played an important role by offering numerous professional learning opportunities and continuing to refine Tennessee’s educator evaluation system. Going forward, it is critical for the state to continue providing this support as new policies and programs are implemented. Organizations like SCORE can also play a part by allowing the needs of students and educators to inform everything that we do.