- According to a new survey by the RAND Corporation, teachers work an estimated 53 hours a week—seven more hours than the average working adult.
- Teachers also report much less satisfaction with their base pay than other working adults—and 25% of their work is uncompensated.
Improving pay, everyone agrees, is critical to recruit and retain educators. But is higher pay the only key to curbing staff shortages? A new survey of public school teachers by the RAND Corporation suggests that unless attention is also paid to improving the number of hours worked and overall working conditions, many teachers may continue to head toward the exits.
In the new national survey released this week, K-12 public school teachers report feeling overworked and underpaid. On average, they estimate working 53 hours a week—seven more hours than the typical working adult (RAND conducted a separate survey of all working adults). Only 24 percent of teachers are satisfied with their total weekly hours worked, compared with 55 percent of working adults.
The survey also found that about a quarter of teachers’ time is uncompensated, and 66 percent say their base salary is inadequate, compared with 39 percent of working adults. According to the 2023 NEA Rankings and Estimates report, the national average public school teacher salary in 2021-22 was $66,745. When adjusted for inflation, that represents a decline of 6.4 percent, or $3,644, over the past decade.
While raising pay is necessary to keep educators in the profession, other factors are driving staff shortages.
“The survey shows that pay, hours worked and working conditions are interrelated, suggesting that pay increases alone—without improvements in working hours or conditions—are unlikely to bring about large shifts in teachers' well-being or intentions to leave the profession,” Ashley Woo, coauthor of the report and an assistant policy researcher at RAND, said in a statement.
The toxic combination of inadequate pay and long hours are commonly reported job stressors that can drain the joy out of teaching. According to the survey, the top reason for leaving the profession is that teachers feel like the “stress and disappointments of teaching” are not worth it.
The RAND survey also points to a strong connection between dissatisfaction with hours worked and dissatisfaction with base pay. Sixty percent of teachers who are "not at all or only somewhat satisfied" with their weekly hours worked cite their compensation as inadequate.
The Impact on Teachers of Color
The results also point to a disproportionate impact on teachers of color, potentially undermining recent efforts to diversify the teaching workforce. For example, Black and Hispanic teachers, on average, report working more hours per week than their White counterparts, and they are more likely to report working more than 60 hours per week.
Black teachers report being less satisfied with their base salary and more likely to consider leaving their jobs. Only 24 percent consider their base salary to be adequate, compared with 35 percent of White teachers.
“Raising pay alone may not improve teacher well-being or retention. Improvements in working conditions are also required, and our research confirms that improving administrator support appears to be an important lever.”
The difference in hours worked by Black and Hispanic teachers remain even after controlling for school poverty. The report’s authors suggest that these differences may instead be rooted in an increased focus on culturally responsive practices, such as differentiating instruction and developing relationships with students and families. Additional disciplinary responsibilities placed on teachers of color and Black male teachers in particular also may be a factor.
A low salary and working too many hours are also top job-related stressors, according to the survey, and are the top-ranked reasons why teachers said they were considering leaving the profession at the end of this school year. The top reason is the feeling that the "stress and disappointments" of teaching are not worth it. But, as the authors point out, dissatisfaction with their compensation, hours worked, or other working conditions could, for some teachers, be driving their disappointment.
Well-Being and Working Conditions
Working conditions is a rather loosely defined term, but usually includes factors such as level of administrative support, relationships with colleagues, mental health supports, class size, workload, feelings of safety, etc. Working conditions are strongly correlated to educator well-being and are strong predictors of teacher turnover. As with other drivers behind the educator shortage, unfavorable working conditions did not originate with the pandemic, but the demands on educators over the past two years have increased exponentially.
In June, RAND released survey data that examined educator well-being, including its role in the decision to leave the profession. That report found that, although teachers reported that their job-related stress had returned to pre-pandemic levels, their well-being was still worse than other working adults. Managing student behavior, supporting student academic learning, and administrative work were top sources of job-related stress for teachers.
While three-quarters of teachers reported access to at least one type of well-being or mental health support, only a slight majority said these programs were adequate. These educators are more likely to leave the profession than those who were more satisfied with the support.
In the report released this week, the authors say administrator support specifically could be a major factor in how satisfied teachers are in other workplace aspects of their job. “Administrator support may be a key lever for improving job satisfaction and retention,” they conclude. “This interpretation is broadly consistent with other research that finds that poor administrator support is a key driver of teacher turnover.”
The RAND report recommends that policymakers pull every lever available to increase pay while looking for ways to help educators reduce the number of hours worked. In October 2022, NEA released a blueprint outlining long-term strategies and solutions that are most effective at recruiting and retaining educators. It may start with higher pay (educators and their unions have already notched critical victories on this front over the past two years) but a comprehensive strategy must include, among other measures, raising educator voice and professional autonomy, and increasing staff to reduce workload.