Shutterstock
According to a new survey released on Wednesday, teachers have their lowest job satisfaction in more than 20 years.
Teachers in schools with high parent engagement are more than twice as likely as those in schools with low parent engagement to say they are very satisfied with their job. —MetLife Survey of the American Teacher

The last time it was this tough to be a teacher in the United States, President Clinton had yet to take office, the Berlin Wall had barely fallen and the creator of Facebook was still in elementary school.

According to a new survey released on Wednesday, teachers have their lowest job satisfaction in more than 20 years. Results of the 2011 "MetLife Survey of the American Teacher" showed a steep decline — 15 percentage points, from 59 to 44 percent — in teacher's contentment with their profession just over the last two years.

At the same time, the number of teachers who told MetLife they were fairly or very likely to leave the profession entirely rose, from 17 percent of those surveyed in 2009 to 29 percent of the 1,000 asked in 2011.

The results arrive at a time when teachers have come under ever-sharper scrutiny in the public eye. The tide of education reform opinion has focused increasingly on teacher reform — ideas like eliminating teacher tenure, hiring or firing based on student test scores and instituting a merit pay structure have all gained traction.

“It’s easy to see why teachers feel put upon, when you consider the rhetoric around the need to measure their effectiveness — just as it’s easy to see why they would internalize it as a perception that teachers are generally ineffective, even if it’s not what the debate is about at all,” Sandi Jacobs told the New York Times on Thursday. Jacobs is vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan advocacy organization.

Over one third of teachers, according to the survey, do not feel their job is secure. The figure has grown 8 percent since 2006. More widely, the survey demonstrated the ill effects of the economic downturn on the state of education.

More than three quarters of teachers reported a cut to their school's budget during the past year. Two thirds said their school had seen layoffs of staff and faculty, and more than one third reported reduced or eliminated funding to arts or music programs. An increase in class at their school was indicated by 63 percent.

Those who reported these situations at their schools were also more likely to display lower job satisfaction.

The other major focus of the MetLife survey was parental involvement in schools. Results showed 83 percent of students said teachers and parent cooperated to help them succeed. The percentages of parents and teachers who reported concern over the level of parental involvement in their children's learning has fallen significantly since 1987.

Teacher satisfaction was linked to this factor too: "Teachers in schools with high parent engagement are more than twice as likely as those in schools with low parent engagement to say they are very satisfied with their job," MetLife concluded.

The 2011 data joins a growing body of teacher-related studies to arrive in recent months. Late last year, a different study from the Center for American Progress found that making teacher performance evaluations public could hinder education reform. In January, two Harvard and one Columbia economist released a longitudinal study demonstrating the long-term effects of teachers who raised student test scores, igniting a renewed call for including test score data in teacher evaluation.

EMAIL: [email protected]