Teachers’ job stress has improved to pre-pandemic levels. They’re still pretty stressed out.

Colorado teachers protest school funding. (Erica Meltzer/Chalkbeat)
Teachers in Colorado protest for better pay and more school funding in 2018 as part of the national Red for Ed movement. Teachers work longer hours for lower pay than other workers, a new survey finds. (Erica Meltzer / Chalkbeat)

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Teachers work more hours and experience more stress on the job than similar working adults.

For their trouble, they earn less money on average than other workers whose jobs also require a college degree — and they are more likely to say their pay feels inadequate.

A new report out Tuesday from the research corporation RAND draws on a nationally representative survey of more than 1,400 K-12 teachers to take stock of educator well-being. It comes as school districts around the country continue to grapple with high turnover and staffing shortages in key areas.

Although teachers lag behind other workers on many measures of well-being, the State of the American Teacher Survey finds that teachers aren’t necessarily worse off than in recent years. Job-related stress may even be improving. In 2024, only 59% of teachers said they experienced frequent job-related stress, down from 78% in 2021.

That’s similar to rates of job-related stress in American Federation of Teachers surveys from before the pandemic.

When RAND researcher Sy Doan shared preliminary survey findings about job-related stress at an Education Writers Association conference last month, Minnesota elementary teacher Audra DeRidder said reported reductions in stress should be taken with a grain of salt.

“It’s not that it’s getting better. It’s just that we’re getting used to it,” said DeRidder, who appeared on a panel with Doan. “I think admins like to call that resiliency.”

Sixty percent of teachers said they feel burned out — that’s similar to what RAND found two years ago. Burnout was defined as the percentage of teachers who felt that the stress and disappointment they experienced at work “aren’t really worth it,” or who didn’t feel as much enthusiasm for their jobs as they did in the past.

Nearly half of respondents — and two-thirds of early career teachers — said managing student behavior was the most common source of job-related stress. Other major sources of stress were low salaries, administrative work, and long hours on the job.

Just 14% named political intrusions into teaching as a frequent source of stress, but that rose to 18% for teachers working in schools that served mostly white students. Fights over how to teach about history, race, and gender have become increasingly intense in majority-white suburban and rural communities.

A different RAND survey from last year found that two-thirds of teachers reported that they had decided “on their own” to change how they talk about controversial or politically charged topics in response to political and community pressures.

More than 20% of teachers said they intend to leave their job this year and 17% said they intend to leave the profession. That’s similar to other working adults with a college degree. Other research has found that only about a third of teachers who say they intend to leave their job actually do so that year — but two-thirds of those who say they intend to leave do so within three years.

“It’s important to think about the connection between well-being and working conditions and how those two things are interrelated,” said Elizabeth D. Steiner, a RAND policy researcher and report co-author. “Other research suggests that multiple things need to happen before teachers feel satisfied with their jobs. Raising pay is important, but it is important to pay attention to other aspects of the job, like hours worked or their relationship with their administrators.”

Black teachers report less stress, less pay

But pay does matter.

Compared with white teachers, Black educators reported less job-related stress but were more likely to say they intended to leave their jobs. A major reason was pay. Black educators earn less on average than their white peers while working more hours.

A 2023 survey by Education Week using different methodology and questions found that Black teachers reported higher morale and sense of purpose in their jobs than their white counterparts but also experienced higher turnover.

Teachers on average worked 53 hours a week, RAND found, compared with 44 hours a week for other adults with at least a bachelor’s degree. And they earned about $70,000 a year, compared with nearly $88,000 for other college-educated working adults.

While Hispanic teachers earned just a little less than white teachers on average, Black teachers averaged just $65,000 a year, yet were more likely to report working more than 60 hours a week.

Survey respondents who were dissatisfied with their pay said on average that an increase of $16,000 would make them feel their pay was adequate — an amount nearly equal to the pay penalty teachers experience compared with other college-educated professionals.

Black survey respondents, meanwhile, gave their desired pay as just $6,700 more than their current salaries.

Erica Meltzer is Chalkbeat’s national editor based in Colorado. Contact Erica at emeltzer@chalkbeat.org.

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