Teachers are experiencing levels of job stress similar to those before the pandemic, but are still dealing with significant stress.

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Teachers put in longer hours and face more stress in their profession compared to similar working adults.

In return, they receive lower average salaries than other college degree-holders in different professions, with many feeling their pay falls short.

A fresh study released on Tuesday by RAND Corporation, based on a nationally representative survey of over 1,400 K-12 teachers, delves into the well-being of educators. This comes amidst ongoing challenges in school systems nationwide related to high turnover and understaffing in critical areas.

Despite teachers trailing behind in various well-being aspects, the State of the American Teacher Survey indicates that educators aren’t necessarily in a worse state than in previous years. In fact, job-related stress seems to be decreasing. In 2024, only 59% of teachers reported frequent job-related stress, down from 78% in 2021.

These stress levels are similar to pre-pandemic rates from American Federation of Teachers surveys.

At an Education Writers Association conference, RAND researcher Sy Doan shared initial survey results on job-related stress. Minnesota elementary teacher Audra DeRidder cautioned that reported stress reductions should be viewed with skepticism.

“It’s not that it’s improving. It’s just that we’re acclimating to it,” mentioned DeRidder during the panel discussion. “I think administrators like to call that resilience.”

Sixty percent of teachers admitted feeling burned out, consistent with RAND’s findings from two years ago. Burnout was defined as teachers feeling their work-related stress and disappointments weren’t worth it, or they lacked the same enthusiasm for their jobs as before.

Nearly half of the respondents, and a majority of early career teachers, identified managing student behavior as their primary job-related stressor. Other significant stress sources included inadequate salaries, administrative tasks, and lengthy work hours.

Only 14% cited political interference in teaching as a common stress factor, but this figure increased to 18% for teachers in predominantly white student-serving schools. Conflicts over teaching historical, racial, and gender-related subjects have intensified in predominantly white suburban and rural settings.

A separate RAND survey from the previous year revealed that two-thirds of teachers had independently altered how they approached contentious or politically charged topics due to external political and community pressures.

Over 20% of teachers expressed intentions to leave their jobs this year, with 17% contemplating leaving the profession entirely, aligning with figures for other college-educated working individuals. Research indicates that only about one-third of teachers intending to quit do so within the year, while two-thirds leave within three years.

“Considering the correlation between overall well-being and work conditions and how these are interconnected is crucial,” stated Elizabeth D. Steiner, a RAND policy researcher and co-author of the report. “Other studies suggest that multiple changes are necessary for teachers to find satisfaction in their roles. While increasing salaries is vital, attention must be paid to factors like working hours and relationships with administrators.”

Black educators report reduced stress, lower salaries

However, salary remains a significant factor.

Black teachers, in comparison to white counterparts, reported lower job-related stress levels but were more likely to express plans to exit their positions, primarily due to pay discrepancies. On average, Black educators earn less than white teachers while working longer hours.

A 2023 Education Week survey, utilizing different methods and questions, discovered that Black teachers exhibited higher morale and purpose in their roles than white teachers but faced greater turnover.

RAND’s findings revealed that teachers worked an average of 53 hours per week, compared to 44 hours for other college-educated adults. Their annual earnings were approximately $70,000, notably lower than the almost $88,000 received by other working college graduates.

While Hispanic teachers earned slightly less than white teachers on average, Black teachers made about $65,000 per year. However, they were more likely to report working over 60 hours weekly.

Survey participants unsatisfied with their salaries indicated that a $16,000 raise would make their pay feel adequate – a sum close to the salary gap between teachers and other college-educated professionals.

Conversely, Black respondents pinpointed an ideal pay increase of just $6,700 over their current incomes.

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