15 Realities of Being a Teacher in America Today

In the past few years, education has taken center stage, and not in a good way. As states battle over curriculum requirements, schools deal with teacher shortages, and everyone tries to regain their post-pandemic footing, teachers are facing unparalleled challenges. 

Given the tumultuous educational landscape, it’s not surprising that teachers don’t seem to be thriving. According to a 2024 Pew Research Center study, teachers are less likely to be satisfied with their jobs than U.S. workers overall. 

The study analyzed the realities of teaching in America today and shed light on what it’s like to be an educator in the modern world. The results were both understandable and concerning for society as a whole. 


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To create their detailed study, Pew Research conducted an online survey of K-12 teachers. Over 2,500 teachers responded to survey questions between October 17 and November 14, 2023. 

All of the teachers who responded are members of RAND’s American Teacher Panel, which is a nationally representative group of teachers recruited through MDR Education. Researchers weighted the survey data to account for sampling differences and better reflect the teaching population. 

1: It’s Stressful 

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Working with America’s youngest and brightest minds can be rewarding, but no one said it was a stroll through the playground. Seventy-seven percent of American teachers say their job is frequently stressful. 

Another 68% of survey respondents said teaching felt overwhelming. According to the National Education Association (NEA), teachers are facing increasingly complicated academic and behavioral needs alongside growing class sizes, which can lead to feelings of overwhelm. 

2: Schools Are Understaffed

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Pew researchers found the majority of teachers (70%) feel their school is understaffed. Additional research backs this up. 

According to the Annandale Institute at Brown University, there are 55,000 teacher vacancies in the U.S. Shortages vary greatly among states and are highest in Florida, but there’s no doubt the country needs more teachers in general. 

3: Student Performance Is Down

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A significant number of teachers (48%) report that academic performance is down in their schools. Only 17% said student performance was very good or excellent. 

Data from NWEA, a school assessment provider, shows that students in grades 3 – 8 aren’t making progress at the same rate their peers were before the COVID-19 pandemic. They suggest that interrupted learning during the pandemic’s peak created an educational debt that’s making it hard for students to progress, regardless of their teacher’s skill.  

4: There Are More Behavioral Issues

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Almost half (49%) of American teachers say they’re dealing with more behavioral issues among students than they have in the past. Many believe the behavioral problems they’re witnessing have to do with a lack of emotional well-being among children that started during the pandemic. 

Unfortunately, teachers also feel ill-equipped to handle the rise in behavioral problems. Reports indicate that some educators are pushing for a revival of harsher punishments like expulsions and suspensions that many districts moved away from pre-pandemic. 

5: Parent Involvement Is Insufficient

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Pew researchers found the majority of teachers feel that parent involvement is insufficient. They said parents aren’t holding their children accountable for misbehaviors, helping kids with schoolwork, or ensuring their attendance is good. 

Teachers in higher poverty areas were more likely to report poor parental involvement. Work conflicts, time constraints, and language barriers can make it more challenging for parents to support their children’s education. 

6: Kids Are Having a Tough Time

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Over half of the teachers surveyed said one of the biggest problems their students faced was poverty. Many teachers also noted that students were dealing with chronic absenteeism, anxiety, and depression. 

Poverty was the biggest issue for kids in urban and rural areas, while children in suburban areas were less likely to deal with poverty. Older students in middle school and high school were most likely to deal with anxiety, depression, and chronic absenteeism. 

7: Technology Creates Distractions

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Technology is a problem for high school teachers in particular. While 33% of teachers said that cell phones create distractions in the classroom, over 70% of high school teachers noted that cell phones were a problem. 

Though most districts have policies regarding cell phone use on campus or in classrooms, these policies aren’t always easy to enforce. Sixty percent of high school teachers said enforcing school policies about cell phone use was very hard to do. 

8: Disrespect Is Common

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Though only one in five teachers said disrespect from students was a major problem, 68% reported dealing with verbal abuse. This could include being yelled at or threatened by a student. 

Pew researchers also found that 40% of teachers experienced physical abuse from a student, and 9% said it happened at least once a month. These numbers stand in stark contrast to prior government studies performed in 2021, which showed only 6% of teachers had been threatened or physically attacked. 

9: The Pay Isn’t Great 

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Only 15% of teachers are happy with their pay. According to the NEA, teachers have received record increases in pay in many districts. However, even in areas where they’re being paid more than average, the rate isn’t keeping up with inflation. 

The NEA notes that low pay rates are likely contributing to the national teacher shortage. When adjusted for inflation, starting teacher salaries are now below what they were in 2008-2009. 

10: Other Teachers Are Cool

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Though teaching is difficult and often undervalued, there are some perks to the job. Most teachers told Pew researchers that they were very satisfied with their relationships with other teachers at their school. 

A great community at work can be a major benefit, but remember, teachers aren’t working in an office. They don’t get to hang out with other teachers for the majority of the day. Instead, they spend most of their hours with students alone. 

11: Many Want to Leave the Profession

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Among teachers who aren’t planning an imminent retirement, almost a third (29%) said they would probably look for a new job at the end of the 2023-2024 school year. Within that group, 40% said they wanted to leave the profession entirely. 

Another 29% of teachers said they wanted to continue using their education degree but didn’t want to teach K-12 anymore. Instead, they planned to look for other non-teaching roles. 

12: It’s Still Fulfilling for a Slight Majority

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Most teachers still want to be teachers despite the challenges they face. Fifty-six percent of respondents said they find their jobs fulfilling most of the time. 

Newer teachers were more likely to report this than seasoned veterans. Those who had been teaching for six to ten years were more likely to say their work was no longer frequently enjoyable. 

13: There Aren’t Enough Hours in the Day

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The vast majority of teachers (84%) say they don’t have enough time to complete tasks. During regular work hours, teachers are expected to grade papers, plan lessons, fill out paperwork, and answer emails in addition to teaching students. 

In addition, many teachers spend time working with their students after class. Districts may also expect them to handle lunch duty or cover other teachers’ classrooms when necessary.

14: It’s Hard to Be Optimistic

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Most teachers don’t feel good about the future of K-12 education. Eighty-two percent said the state of education in the U.S. has declined in the past five years. 

Only 20% of teachers think things will improve in the next five years, and a slight majority (53%) think it will get worse. Many believe the current political climate and the lasting effects of the pandemic are to blame. 

15: Government Support Feels Minimal

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Most teachers (58%) identify as or lean towards the Democratic party. However, regardless of political affiliation, many teachers feel neither Democrats nor Republicans are able to handle the issues facing the education system.  

More than a third of teachers say neither party can effectively shape school curriculums, make schools safe, or ensure adequate school funding. They also said the government would be ineffective at securing adequate pay or benefits for teachers. 

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