Prise white Paper No. 2007-6 February 2007 Working Conditions

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PRISE White Paper No. 2007-6

February 2007

Working Conditions

Jane M. Metty

Department of Teaching, Learning, & Culture
Toni A. Ivey

Department of Teaching, Learning & Culture

Policy Research Initiative in Science Education Research Group

Texas A&M University – College Station

Policy Research Initiative in Science Education

College of Education and Human Development – Texas A&M University

College Station, TX 

Copyright  by Jane M. Metty & Toni A. Ivey

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The research reported in this white paper was supported in part by the National Science Foundation, Grant ESI-0455679, and the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Culture at Texas A&M University. Any opinions, findings, or conclusions expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding agencies or Texas A&M University.

Working Conditions
Jane M. Metty and Toni A. Ivey

PRISE Research Group

Texas A&M University
Teaching high school science is only one of many occupations available to individuals who are qualified to work in science-related fields. Empirical studies show that individuals become or remain teachers when teaching represents the most attractive option available (Guarino, Santibanez, & Daley, 2006; Kardos, 2002). High schools are therefore in competition with business and government for qualified college graduates. Too often other occupations offer more opportunities for advancement, better working conditions, more prestige, better hours, and higher salaries than teaching high school science (Hanushek, Kain, & Rivkin, 2004; Kelley & Finnigan, 2000; Murnane, Singer, Willett, Kemple, & Olsen, 1991). Furthermore, the literature provides many examples of poor working conditions for teachers, including lack of school funds for science supplies and professional development, inadequate facilities and equipment, overcrowded classrooms, and lack of administrative support (Buckley, Schneider, & Shang, 2004, 2005; Darling-Hammond, & Luczak, 2005; Firestone & Pennell, 1993; Ingersoll & Smith, 2003; Loeb & Darling-Hammond 2003; Hirsch, 2004; MacMillian, 1999; National Science Teachers Association, 2004; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004; Tye & O’Brien, 2002). Teachers often use their own resources to buy needed supplies and pay for their own professional development (Fuller, Picucci, Collins, & Swann, 2001; Singer, Hilton, & Schweingruber, 2005). Strained working conditions directly impact recruitment, job satisfaction, and retention of science teachers. In this light, successful administrators who recruit and retain highly qualified science teachers assume roles as science teacher advocates and strive to provide competitive working conditions. Research suggests that the working conditions that most directly impact recruitment, job satisfaction, and retention of teachers are (1) compensation, (2) teacher assignments, (3) teacher autonomy, and (4) safety in the workplace.

  • Equitable monetary compensation assures schools a more competitive stance in recruiting and retaining highly qualified science teachers.

  • Reasonable teacher assignments reduce feelings of isolation and improve collegiality among science teachers.

  • Autonomy and choice enhance professionalism.

  • Safety in the workplace increases effectiveness and job satisfaction.

Equitable monetary compensation assures schools a more competitive stance in

recruiting and retaining highly qualified science teachers. Schools needing high school science teachers compete directly with business and industry for individuals prepared to enter the workforce in science-related fields. The problem of recruiting and retaining high school teachers in hard-to-fill content areas, such as science, is multi-faceted. Research findings indicate that one solution to this problem is compensation in the form of competitive salaries, additional stipends, and other monetary rewards. Compensation is often the deciding factor in whether a science teacher accepts a position to teach science, and compensation is often the deciding factor in whether a science teacher decides to remain in the profession (Hanushek, Kain, & Rivkin, 2004; Kelley & Finnigan, 2004). As compensation increases, teacher retention increases (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1996). Teachers with lower salaries are more likely to leave teaching than their higher paid counterparts (Texas Education Agency, 1995). The size of the school district often plays a large role in both the recruitment and retention of teachers. Smaller schools often offer the state’s base pay schedule, while larger school districts offer more attractive recruitment and retention packages (Murnane et al., 1991). Competition exists between small and large districts for science teachers, and competition exists between schools and business for individuals prepared to enter the science-related work force (Darling-Hammond, 2003; Patterson, 2005). Schools can increase their effectiveness in high school science teacher recruitment by providing attractive packages that consider compensation and other specific incentives targeted toward science teachers. In a similar fashion, schools can increase their effectiveness in retaining high school science teachers by providing attractive monetary incentives for remaining in the profession. Incentives could include tuition for advanced education, registration for professional growth activities, travel money to attend science teacher conferences, and reimbursements for money spent out of pocket for expendable science materials. There is no doubt that compensation is a major factor in the teachers’ decision to remain in the high school science teacher professional continuum (Allen, 2005).
Reasonable teacher assignments reduce feelings of isolation and improve

collegiality among science teachers. Science teacher assignments significantly impact job satisfaction. As such, teacher assignments are important aspects of recruitment and retention of high school science teachers (Buckley et al., 2005). The responsibilities and teaching workload of science teachers include not only the time they spend doing their jobs (both instructional and non-instructional duties), but the number of class preparations and numbers of students per class per day for which they are responsible. To ease science teachers’ workloads, and to help them be more effective, science teachers should have no more than two subject preparations per day (Darling-Hammond, 2003; Firestone & Pennell, 1993; Patterson, 2005). Unique to science teachers is the added responsibility of providing laboratory experiences that challenge without overwhelming students, which balance open-ended inquiry with highly scaffolded inquiry experiences (Singer, Hilton, & Schweingruber, 2005). These practices require additional time to organize supplies, prepare for labs, and clean up after labs have been completed. In that regard, science teachers need additional planning time (David, 2003; Firestone & Pennell, 1993; Singer, Hilton, & Schweingruber, 2005). Science teachers’ workloads are typically so great that they spend significant amounts of time beyond the usual teacher’s duties of grading, lesson preparation, and test construction. Allocation of adequate time for science teachers to do their jobs well is perceived by teachers as a major challenge in improving their working conditions (Darling-Hammond, 2003; Firestone & Pennell, 1993; Patterson, 2005). Non-instructional duties also impinge on science teachers’ time. Science teachers have frequently expressed frustration with non-instructional duties and clerical responsibilities (Firestone & Pennell, 1993), in addition to their time-intensive preparations needed to teach science well. Schools interested in recruiting and retaining highly qualified science teachers limit the number of non-instructional duties their teachers are assigned.
Class size is yet another important factor affecting science teacher job satisfaction. Science classrooms should be limited to no more than 24 students per class to insure safety and to provide high quality experiences for students (Charles A. Dana Center, 2006). A common practice in Texas is to have larger class sizes, especially in urban schools. Unfortunately, common practices are also to assign new teachers to the largest classes, excessive duties, and to give them classrooms with students who are difficult to manage (Britton & Raizen, 2003; Darling-Hammond, 2003; Hanushek, Kain, & Rivkin, 2004; Ingersoll & Smith, 2003).
Finally, classrooms assignments affect job satisfaction in a number of ways. Science teachers are often required to share their classrooms and laboratory spaces with other teachers. They may even be assigned to rooms inadequate for their needs. In some cases, science teachers are required to travel between classrooms and transport their supplies on carts (Patterson, 2005). Traveling, versus having their own classroom, adds to science teachers’ stress by requiring excessive efforts to include, organize, distribute, and reassemble materials for consecutive classes. These tasks result in teachers’ limiting what their students experience because of the excessive demands associated with not having their own classroom. Classroom assignments can also add to feelings of isolation. These feelings of isolation are one of the main reasons science teachers leave the profession (Ingersoll, 2003a). Science teachers who are assigned classrooms away from other science teachers also experience difficulty in collaboration (Barlow, 2005; Shank, 2005). A culture of collegiality and collaboration is difficult to create and sustain when science teacher classrooms are scattered throughout the school. Collegiality and collaboration are effective in promoting job satisfaction and professional involvement among teachers (MacMillian, 1999). A common planning period allows collaboration among the science teachers thus reducing feelings of isolation. In addition to reducing feelings of isolation, teacher collaboration provides time for reflection and feedback regarding teaching practice and student learning (Gamoran, 2004; Singer, Hilton, & Schweingruber, 2005). The role of administrators is significant in reducing teacher isolation. Teachers assigned their own classrooms in close proximity to other science teachers, provided common planning times, and given access to meeting spaces can significantly affect teachers overall sense of community and therefore reduce the adverse effects associated with feelings of isolation.
Autonomy and choice enhance professionalism. Autonomy and choice are among

the most important factors in retaining science teachers (Ingersoll, 2003b; Weiss, 1999). While trusted to educate students, teachers are often not trusted to make key decisions affecting their abilities to do their jobs (Ingersoll, 2003b). There is a strong correlation between teachers’ perceived autonomy and their choice to remain in teaching (Southeast Center for Teacher Quality, 2004). When administrators interfere with instructional practices and instructional time they leave teachers feeling powerless to effectively teach; as a result some teachers choose to leave the profession (Harcombe, Knight, & Bellamy 2003; Hong, 2001). Increasingly, science teachers cite the scripting of curriculum by the administration as one reason they no longer teach science. These teachers believe that they increasingly have less control over classroom practices yet are held accountable for their students’ outcomes (Pearson & Moomaw, 2006). Further, teachers in large districts with high numbers of economically disadvantaged students believe they had little influence in setting district policy (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1996). Administrators who are advocates for teachers’ autonomy and choice encourage teachers to be active in school decision making. Schools that give teachers more autonomy, especially on school social issues, can reduce teacher turnover. Successful administrators who recruit and retain high school science teachers recognize them as educational professionals and trust them to make sound professional decisions.

Safety in the workplace increases effectiveness and job satisfaction. Personal

safety concerns and student misbehavior are also important reasons teachers leave the profession (Harcombe, Knight, & Bellamy 2003; Hidalgo, 2004; National Education Association, 2003). The lack of a safe school environment influences teacher performance and the quality of teaching (Mikkelsen, 2004). Safety concerns are greatest in urban schools. The numbers of teachers reporting physical violence and weapon possession on school grounds increased over 14 percent from 1987 to 1995 (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1996), a trend that continues to increase (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2003). Also of concern is the increased use and sale of drugs on school grounds; on average one in six students report that they have been offered drugs in school (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1996; 2003). Teachers also report increases in student disrespect and lack of parental support compounding this is the lack of administrative support for teachers’ decisions about student misbehavior. Lack of respect from students and support from parents and administrators have been reported by teachers as major reasons for leaving the profession (Hidalgo, 2004). Successful administrations put policies in place to provide consistent student behavior expectations, creating an environment in which teachers and students are able to work safely. An atmosphere that fosters a feeling of safety is a primary characteristic of schools that have high teacher retention rates. Lack of such an atmosphere is cited as a primary reason for teachers leaving the profession (Hidalgo, 2004).


Improved working conditions are crucial to attract and retain high quality science teachers. Retention relies heavily on job satisfaction. Science teacher performance is strongly influenced by the working conditions established through administrative policies. Schools successful in recruiting and retaining science teachers award competitive salaries to compete with private and public industries, schedule assignments that allow adequate time for teachers to do their jobs, and promote collaboration and collegiality among their science teachers while reducing feelings of isolation. At a time when competition is high for individuals able to teach science, school administrations must provide working conditions that are safe, supportive, and reasonable in order to recruit and retain highly qualified science teachers.


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