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Retaining Teacher Talent

Report 2. Teaching for a Living


Two out of five of America’s 4 million K-12 teachers appear disheartened and disappointed about their jobs, while others express a variety of reasons for contentment with teaching and their current school environments, new research by Public Agenda and Learning Point Associates shows.

The nationwide study, “Teaching for a Living: How Teachers See the Profession Today,” whose results are being reported here for the first time, offers a comprehensive and nuanced look at how teachers differ in their perspectives on their profession, why they entered teaching, the atmosphere and leadership in their schools, the problems they face, their students and student outcomes, and ideas for reform. Taking a closer look at the nation’s teacher corps based on educators’ attitudes and motivations for teaching provides some notable implications for how to identify, retain, and support the most effective teachers, according to the researchers.

This portrait of American teachers, completed in time for the beginning of the 2009-10 school year, presents a new means for appraising the state of the profession at a time when school reform, approaches to teaching, and student achievement remain high on the nation’s agenda. It also comes as billions of economic-stimulus dollars pour into America’s schools focused on ensuring that effective teachers are distributed among all schools, and Congress will have to consider reauthorization or modification of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act., the nearly 8-year-old latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The study was based on a nationwide survey, with more than 100 questions, of nearly 900 teachers. It was jointly conducted by Public Agenda, a New York City-based nonprofit, nonpartisan research and public-engagement organization, and Learning Point Associates, a nonprofit education research and consulting organization based in Naperville, Ill., that provides direct professional services at the federal, state, and local levels. The work was underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Joyce Foundation. (Both foundations also provide funding to Editorial Projects in Education and Education Week.)

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