Poll shows rising teacher dissatisfaction, AFT Local 420 is finding solutions

When asked, most people can remember a teacher who had an extraordinary impact on them in school.

Teachers are a special breed.

However, a poll conducted by Hart Research Associates for the American Federation of Teachers shows a 34-point rise in job dissatisfaction among Pre K-12 members since the start of the pandemic.

That is a 180-degree flip from eight years ago when 72 percent of educators were satisfied with their profession. Now, just 20 percent are, and members across higher education, healthcare, and public employees share that view.

The report, titled “Under Siege: The Outlook of AFT Members,” was conducted June 17-21, 2022, and includes interviews with 2,379 AFT members, including 1,341 Pre-K-12 members.

“Teachers and other education employees have been under tremendous pressure,” said Byron Clemens, spokesperson for American Federal of Teachers (AFT) Local 420, which represents St. Louis Public Schools teachers and staff. “Before the pandemic, half of the teachers left within three years. More were leaving charter schools.”

That resulted in closing schools, moving to virtual teaching, then slowly reopening schools.

A recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch article citing AFT’s survey results and local district educator retention stated that St. Louis Public Schools had not suffered the same retention issues as some other districts. 

“The elected school board and our union have worked together on these issues, and one of these is support,” Clemens said. “We have developed the St. Louis Plan where experienced teachers who have mastered their craft (called Consultant Teachers) mentor all new teachers and offer support to other teachers who might need additional assistance.

“We also extended new financial incentives in our Collective Bargaining Agreement by raising everyone’s salary, upping starting salaries, and raising all non-certificated staff hourly wages to at least $15 an hour,” he said.

Also, an unprecedented agreement will offer substitute teachers health benefits (one of only six districts in the nation).

“We have another innovation – Interim Leadership Associates,” Clemens added, “‘a grow-your-own program’ that provides a path for district employees to become certified teachers.”

Partnerships between Local 420 and the district also led to a recent election victory with a safe schools proposition (Prop S) which 87 percent of St. Louis voters approved.

In St. Louis Public Schools, district management and Local 420 working together appears to be helping to address employee retention issues. Solid support and salary incentives are an important part of the answer.

“We also have language in our agreement that class sizes match the state minimum standards, which reduces overcrowding in classes,” he said.

The Hart Research poll, presented at the 87th American Federation of Teachers Convention July 14-17 in Boston, MS, noted most educators find fluctuating workload, compensation, conditions, disruptions, and support as changing educators’ work lives for the worse. Nine out of 10 Pre-K-12 members say that schools have become too politicized, following a year of political attacks on teachers waged by politicians stoking culture wars and banning books.

Seventy-one percent of the teachers polled ranked the 2021-22 school year as one of the worst they had experienced.

Other findings include:

  • 77 percent say salaries do not keep pace with the cost of living.
  • 69 percent believe there is a shortage of teachers and staff.
  • 70 percent cited poor student discipline and lack of support in dealing with disruptive students.
  • 57 percent say their job is stressful.

While not a majority, 40 percent say they either “will or probably will” leave their job within two years.

AFT’s national Teacher and School Staff Shortage Task Force released a report at the convention, “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?” which offers practical, research-proven solutions to reverse the shortages and revitalize the education profession, including:

  • Increasing salaries and benefits.
  • Shrinking the “teacher pay penalty,” or 20 percent disparity between teacher pay and that of college-educated non-teaching peers.
  • Diversifying the educator workforce through promising practices such as Grow-Your-Own programs and sustained mentoring.
  • Lowering class sizes.
  • Curbing the nation’s “test-and-punish” obsession with standardized tests.
  • Reducing the endless paperwork collected for administrative purposes and districtwide reports.

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