K-12 education is dominated by female teachers with about 76% of the workforce being filled by women. While teaching has been a favored career for women for many years, the numbers have increased more and more over time. In fact, the female teaching force has increased by more than 60% since the early 1980s. About 90% of elementary teachers are female and about 60% of high school teachers are female. This contrasts with administrative positions where about 75% of superintendents are male and about ½ of principals are male (75% for high school).
In addition to men being under-represented in teaching, there are a disproportionate number of White teachers (about 79%) with 9.3% Hispanic, 7% Black, and 2% Asian. This contrasts with the fact that many of the students in public education are minorities (more than 50%). While there is still disproportionality, charter schools tend to have more diversity in their teaching staff with about 68% White, 10.4% Black, and 15.6% Hispanic. However, the gender breakdown is similar in charter schools compared with public schools. Private schools tend to have even less diversity with 85% of teachers being White and only 3% being Black and 7% being Hispanic.
Teachers tend to be paid lower salaries than other careers and, in most states, their income falls below the state living wage. The younger the students, the lower the pay, and the more likely to be female. About 18% of teachers work second jobs to supplement their income. The idea that teachers have shorter workdays and summers off is basically a myth.
Teachers work long days and most work in the summers. Most teachers feel that they are underpaid and over-worked. Because they often must work in the evenings, weekends, and on days off to keep up with the demands of their job, teachers often struggle to find a good work-life balance.
More than half of teachers consider leaving the field because of stress and burn-out. Over time, this can lead to exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficiency. Many teachers experience high stress, anxiety, depression, and physical health problems. These symptoms stem from poor funding, lack of resources, insufficient training, high teacher-student ratios, and growing challenges with student behavior, trauma, and mental health issues (particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic).
Providing teachers with training and resources to help them understand, cope, and manage high emotional demands can improve teacher well-being and decrease burnout. Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) has been shown to be a highly effective tool for improving student wellness, behavior, and academic outcomes. In addition, SEL can improve teacher wellness, attitude, and resilience. Teachers must learn not only how to teach SEL to their students, but how to incorporate SEL into their own lives and apply it to their own well-being. For instance, learning better self-awareness, stress management, mindfulness, optimism, and self-care strategies can help them cope better.
Having a better understanding of emotions, culture, values, and social differences can help them feel more comfortable interacting with students (and often decrease student behavioral challenges). Other ways to improve morale for teachers are to increase their autonomy and give them the opportunity to make decisions related to curriculum, materials, and teaching practices that they feel will best help their students. Research indicates that there is a strong correlation between teacher autonomy and retention. It is also imperative that teachers be included in discussions about policy and school climate. Their input on what would make work better, what challenges they have, what resources they need, and what training they feel would be valuable, can all help guide the culture and work climate that will keep teachers motivated, engaged, and productive (and reduce attrition).
Wednesday, October 5, is World Teacher’s Day. In addition to the traditional ways of showing appreciation to teachers such as giving small gifts or letters, or offering a breakfast or lunch party, etc., it is important to make the effort to give them a voice. This year, ask them:
- What would help them do their job better?
- What would improve their stress?
- What skills would they like to learn to better help themselves and their students?
Empower educators by giving them more autonomy, more support, and more resources.
Christina Whalen, Ph.D., BCBA
Director of Research, psychologist and behavior analyst for RethinkEd
Dr. Christina Whalen, Director of Research, is a psychologist and behavior analyst and lives in La Jolla, CA. At Rethink Ed, she is the primary author of Tier 3 curriculum for Social Emotional Learning and assists with the development of professional development videos for educators. She has over 20 years of experience working with children, teens, and adults with special needs. She is the author of the book Real Life, Real Progress for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Strategies for Successful Generalization in Natural Environments and has presented at numerous education, behavior analysis, and psychology conferences. Dr. Whalen was the initial founder and creator of TeachTown, a computer-assisted behavior analysis intervention for children with developmental disorders. She also worked for various clinics, schools, and research programs. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego, and did post-doctoral training at UCLA and the University of Washington.