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Kristin | December 31, 2012

Secrets of Teacher Satisfaction


Pie-chartBy Kristin    

Goodbye, 2012.  I don't have much luck keeping challenging resolutions, particularly if they involve physical activity. Instead, I've settled into the routine of simply attempting to master the art of seeing the positive.

Last March, my fellow bloggers wrote a series of posts in response to a MetLife Survey that found teacher job satisfaction is down 15% since 2009.  The survey hit me at a funny time, because in my new school - the biggest middle school in Washington State, a place where buckets are in the hallway to catch leaks and my overhead projector was held together with duct tape - I was surrounded by teachers who were positive, who made choices that put kids first, and who were willing to quickly adapt their schedule and their approaches to try new things instead of saying, "What's the point?  We've been here before."  

What was their secret?  How were they so resilient?

I mulled over job satisfaction and found a survey titled "Secrets of Physician Satisfaction."  Meant to be tool to help medical executives create working environments that increase physician satisfaction, it first surveyed physicians to find what increased or decreased their job satisfaction. Then, the survey conducted more in-depth interviews with the 26 most highly satisfied physicians to find out what their secrets were.  I thought that was brilliant, and sent out an all-staff to ask my colleagues if they would share their secrets with me.  I asked, "How do you stay so positive about teaching?"

Love What I Teach

Teachers love seeing students make progress in a content they themselves take pleasure in. They love connecting the classroom-content to the real world.  One colleague wrote, "If I get tired or frustrated, I turn to what we're doing and try to make it exciting for kids."  

Love Who I Teach With

Smiles in the hall, positive responses to "How are you?", going next door during a break to check in with a colleague, eating lunch with other teachers seem to be constants in my building.  A number of teachers responded that they loved how kind and respectful their colleagues were to kids. When we're feeling frustrated or beat up, we can remember that simply smiling in the hall or having a positive interaction with a student helps make our whole building environment more positive.

Love Who I Teach

Almost every response included the kids.  "LOVE the kids." "My students are brilliant and inspire me every day." "Grateful for the opportunity to invest all my energy and passion into the lives of incredible kids. Even on my worst day, I leave with more than I put in."  One teacher responded to my question with one word, "Kids."  Creating a building climate where kids are the purpose and the payoff can increase teacher satisfaction.


Resting fully during time off.  Putting in extra time before the work day instead of after.  Making lots of dates with friends and family.  Committing to a hobby, like a soccer team or a band. Biking or walking to work.  Limiting weekend grading to an hour (followed with, "I am not kidding,"), and even eating lunch alone every day while responding to personal emails are all strategies that help my colleagues recharge themselves for what is an emotionally, intellectually, and physically demanding profession.  When you're in a building where almost everyone has a balance, you're less likely to martyr yourself grading or working late.

Humility, Reflection and Growth

Most responses included something about teaching better, working with a mentor to improve, working collaboratively to learn from others, or even just processing the day's successes and failures on the commute home.  One teacher wrote, "This is an important job.  If it's not hard, you're not doing it right. Instead of spending time feeling sorry about myself, I just think, 'How can I do this better?'"  The responses in this category made me think of high level athletes.  You can lose a race and make excuses and quit, or you can lose a race, analyze your training and your race strategy, and hit it again.  

Most teachers I meet are kid-centered, reflective, and positive, but you seem to need a critical mass of them to make a whole building that way.  Sometimes it's simply a matter of what we choose to focus on; do we play a looping track of complaints when we think of our profession, its compensation and its place in society, or do we turn inward to the craft and the child, and step back up to that starting line?

This year, I resolve to do the latter.  I know my colleagues will.


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A great way to get myself in the right mindset for going back to school in 2013--thank you!

Your last big paragraph, about the critical mass, made me think of something too: I feel like sometimes that SOME teachers "act" more stressed, upset, frustrated, etc., than they really are when you actually probe a little bit. I wonder if some of that show isn't perpetuated because sometimes we feel like that is the face we're supposed to put up...?

This is a great post that gives us all reasons to invest in what matters most: the people and the traits that will keep us all focused on the best. It reminds me about what Atul Gawande writes about in Better: involve those affected in crafting solutions...the related actions are most likely to be implemented by people who are invested in and closest to any situation. This is good news for teacher leaders... You are making a positive impact!.

Perfect post for the New Year. Some advice you noted that I will take to heart: "If I get tired or frustrated, I turn to what we're doing and try to make it exciting for kids."

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