US Teachers Happier, Teach More Than Global Colleagues

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A new survey of teachers in 34 countries finds that teachers in the United States work harder than their colleagues around the world, but are also happier than them.

The survey was conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a global economic organization that primarily consists of Western, high-income democracies. The survey looked at over 100,000 teachers at the “lower secondary” level, corresponding approximately to the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades in the U.S.

According to the group’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), lower secondary teachers in the United States spent 27 hours a week directly teaching children. That means American teachers spend more time teaching than those in any other country, and it’s a whopping 8 hours more than the average.

Teachers also worked a total of 45 hours per week, ahead of all but a handful of countries (Japan was an outlier with teachers working 54 hours a week).

Despite working hard, U.S. teachers were also among the most likely to express satisfaction with their jobs and career choice. 84 percent of U.S. teachers said they would still choose to be a teacher if they could make the choice again, well above the TALIS average of 77.6 percent. Only seven of the 34 countries observed had teachers who were more likely to choose teaching once again if given the chance.

Similarly, only a tiny 6 percent of teachers said they regretted their career choice, better than all but eight other countries.

However, U.S. teachers were more in line with global norms in thinking that their work was not highly valued by society. Only 33.7 percent thought that was the case, just slightly above the TALIS average of 30.9 percent. In comparison, countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea had over 60 percent of their teachers believe their work was highly valued.

U.S. teachers are also having to grapple with more challenging school environments than teachers elsewhere. Globally, only 25 percent of teachers are in schools where at least 10 percent of students are defined as special-needs. In the United States, 63.1 percent are in such schools, higher than anywhere except England. Similarly, U.S. teachers are the most likely to teach in schools where at least 30 percent of students are from “socioeconomically disadvantaged” homes. 64.5 percent of teachers are in such schools, compared to just 19.6 percent globally.

American Federation for Teachers President Randi Weingarten said the lack of appreciation felt by teachers was a sign that more resources needed to be given to them.

“Teachers in the top-performing countries are given the support they need, are accorded the respect they deserve, and are valued by their societies for the work they do,” Weingarten said in a statement. “On the other hand, U.S. teachers have to fight for resources, support and respect, and now, in light of the Vergara v. California case, some people will delight in pitting teachers against their students while being silent on the strategies used by the successful OECD countries.”

The Vergara decision mentioned by Weingarten referred to a ruling in California two weeks ago which found that California’s generous tenure rules and seniority protections for teachers violated students’ right to equal educational opportunities.

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