U.S. teachers in grades 7-9 spend more hours teaching and have longer work weeks than most of their counterparts in 48 other education systems, according to an international study comparing the backgrounds, attitudes and experiences of educators throughout the world.
Released Wednesday, the 2018 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) — a project of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) — shows that out of a total 46-hour work week, U.S. teachers in these “lower-secondary” grades spend 28 hours in the classroom with students. That compares to an average of 20 out of a 38-hour week for the other TALIS countries. Only teachers in Chile spend slightly more time teaching than U.S. teachers, but their work weeks are shorter.
The results confirm other international studies of the teaching profession, which have shown educators in Asian countries, for example, spend less direct time with students and more time collaborating with colleagues, observing other teachers and conducting research.
Despite the images of protesting and striking teachers that began in 2018 and continued throughout this school year, the results also show that a high majority of U.S. teachers — 90% — agree or strongly agree that they are satisfied with their jobs. This is a greater proportion than teachers in Japan (82%), England and the United Kingdom (77%) and France (85%), but less than in Estonia (94%), Norway (93%) and Mexico (98%).
Also interesting is that the percentage of U.S. teachers agreeing or strongly agreeing that society values the teaching profession — 36% — is higher than it is in the OECD countries (26%) and somewhat higher than the TALIS average of 32%.
“It’s possible that teachers might say they’re happy with their jobs even if they simultaneously think that they are not paid sufficiently or if they have concerns about benefits or working conditions,” suggested Laura Hamilton, a distinguished chair in learning and assessment for the RAND Corp. She also leads the organization’s ongoing surveys of teachers and principals. “I’d also expect U.S. teachers’ responses to this question to vary across states and districts, depending on factors like pay, benefits and working conditions.”
While many teachers have walked out over salaries and benefits, other strikes have focused on issues such as class size, the demand for support staff, such as nurses and counselors, and the impact of charters on traditional public schools.
Peggy Carr, the associate commissioner of assessment at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which administers the survey in the U.S., noted during a media call that while teachers’ answers regarding job satisfaction were generally high, ranging from 77% to 98%, the responses related to respect for the work they do covered a much broader range, with a low of 5% in the Slovak Republic to 92% in Vietnam.
The OECD, which also conducts the Program for International Student Assessment and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, launched the TALIS program in 2008. Thirty-one OECD countries and 18 non-OECD countries participated in the 2018 survey. The 2018 U.S. results are based on responses from 2,560 teachers and 165 principals.
The U.S. participated for the first time in 2013, but the response rates that year were too low to be comparable to this year’s results, said Mary Coleman, an NCES project officer. Still, she noted that because of similarities in responses between 2013 and 2018, NCES feels the results are reliable.
Low demand for PD
U.S. teachers report that their work schedules are the greatest barrier to participating in professional development (PD). But the percentage of teachers listing scheduling conflicts as the greatest obstacle to professional learning — 49% — was lower than the TALIS average of 53%.
Teachers in the U.S., however, are less likely than those in other TALIS countries to express a “high need” for PD. When they do want to learn more, however, they are most interested in focusing on information and communication technology and gaining skills to work with students who have special needs.
It’s possible that the different approaches to PD in the U.S. and some other countries are showing up in the results, Hamilton suggested. Compared to counterparts in what have been identified as high-performing educational systems, U.S. teachers spend more time in workshops, and they report that they are often not involved in decisions related to PD. “U.S. teachers may be less likely to view PD as valuable, and therefore less likely to express a need for more of it,” Hamilton said.
U.S. teachers in grades 7-9 are slightly more educated than their counterparts in the full TALIS sample. Ninety-eight percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to the 93% TALIS average. That could be another reason for why they don’t feel as if they need more training.
“U.S. teachers are highly educated, and, therefore, prepared for their jobs,” Coleman said. Another explanation could be that they just completed a PD activity when they took the survey, she said.
Teachers in the U.S. who have taught in racially or ethnically diverse classrooms were also less likely than those in other TALIS systems to express confidence in their ability to adapt their teaching to students from different backgrounds. Hamilton suggested that teachers’ years of experience might come into play regarding this issue since teacher preparation programs have increased attention to working with different groups of students.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if much of the discomfort is coming from more experienced teachers who weren’t exposed to these approaches to the same degree,” she said, adding that the focus on equity and cultural responsiveness in schools has also increased. “There are probably a lot of teachers who are aware of the need to do this but who don’t yet feel that they have the training or supports to do it well.”
The demands on principals
Principals in the U.S. also identify scheduling conflicts as the greatest barrier to focusing on their own learning — 52% compared to the TALIS average of 46%. Other barriers for both teachers and principals include a lack of incentives, the demands of family responsibilities, and the cost of participating in PD.
U.S. administrators who lead schools that include grades 7, 8 or 9 spend the largest chunk of their time — 27% — handling administrative tasks and attending meetings. But that’s about the same as their counterparts in other countries. U.S. principals spend about 17% of their time on curriculum and teaching-related issues, but in recent years, there has been a general push toward principals focusing more on instruction and less on tasks related to school operations.
A National Association of Elementary School Principals survey released last year shows the number of hours principals are working per week has significantly increased over time, from a typical 40-hour work week in 1928 to over 60 hours now. Principals responding to that survey also reported the amount of time they are spending on students' social and emotional issues has increased.
NCES will release a second TALIS report next March with a more thorough look at the results.