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National Teacher Day spotlights key issues facing profession

NEA addresses changing portrait of American public school teacher

WASHINGTON, D.C. - May 02, 2011 -

The teaching profession has changed dramatically over the past 50 years.  As part of its annual National Teacher Day celebration, taking place this year on Tuesday, May 3, the National Education Association (NEA) is highlighting key trends in the teaching profession.

“Each year on National Teacher Day we thank the nation’s hardworking public school educators and take time out to reflect on the future of the teaching profession,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “This year, we’re highlighting 50 years of NEA research on the nation’s public school teachers, including survey research from the Status of the Public School Teacher collected and analyzed since 1961.”

The trends identified that have played a critical role in shaping the teaching profession include:

Changes in the workforce and the student population

  • There are 3,232,813 teachers in K-12 public schools. About 16 percent of these positions become vacant each year.
  • Forty-five percent of new teachers abandon the profession in their first five years.
  • There’s a growing demographic divide between America’s predominantly white teaching force and an increasingly diverse student body, and the proportion of women teachers continues to rise.
  • Nearly 40 percent of those entering America’s classrooms today are coming from other careers.

Changes in working conditions and school environments

  • More teachers believe collaborating with colleagues is essential to their work, but many districts still don’t provide time for teachers to learn, share and collaborate.
  • Nearly all classrooms (97 percent) have one or more computers, but half of the nation’s teachers say they need training to better integrate technology into classroom instruction—and such support is unevenly distributed across schools.
  • Newer teachers put a high premium on exploring new roles and taking on new responsibilities in order to expand career options.
  • Teachers’ salaries still lag behind those for other occupations requiring a college degree, and the pay gap is growing larger.

Changes in teacher training, licensure and evaluation

  • Nearly one-quarter of school districts do not require new teachers to have certification for what they are teaching.
  • Teachers themselves are less positive today than in the past about the education and training they have received.
  • The proportion of teachers holding master’s degrees has more than doubled over roughly the last 50 years, from 24 percent in 1955 to 52 percent in 2007.

“In the U.S. there is a common belief that ‘anybody can teach,’” said Van Roekel. “Rather than help dispel this perception, too many colleges of education offer mediocre teacher preparation programs that lack academic rigor and frequently fail to provide real-world, practical experience. Some new teachers are thrust into classrooms with almost no preparation whatsoever.”

About National Teacher Day and Teacher Appreciation Week
National Teacher Day has been celebrated since 1953 when Eleanor Roosevelt first proposed that Congress set aside a day to acknowledge the work of educators. Since 1985, NEA has celebrated National Teacher Day on the Tuesday of the first full week of May.

National Teacher Day is part of Teacher Appreciation Week, when the nation honors our nation’s teachers. For more information on National Teacher Day, including NEA’s Teacher Thank-You Card Project and NEA’s Classroom Superhereos, visit

“Our profession, our teachers, our classrooms and our schools are changing,” said NEA President Van Roekel. “As part of this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week, we need to honor the commitment, enthusiasm and hard work of educators— past, present and future.” 

NEA Research compiled the data provided in this report from NEA original research, along with that from other leading education experts. For more information on any of the information outlined in this news release, or to obtain original source material, contact NEA.

Visit for more information on National Teacher Day.
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The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Celeste Busser  (202) 822-7823,