We Surveyed the 2015 State Teachers of the Year

How would teachers prioritize education funding? What aspects of their jobs give them the most satisfaction? What qualities do they believe great teachers have? Do teachers believe higher standards like the Common Core will have a positive impact on students?

As we near the end of the 2014-15 school year, Scholastic had the opportunity to survey this year’s group of State Teachers of the Year. The group of inspirational educators were invited to Washington, D.C., by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), which runs the National Teacher of the Year program. A yearly tradition, this group of teachers gathers for several days every April in Washington for a series of events including a White House ceremony hosted by President Obama to honor and announce the National Teacher of the Year. This year, that award went to an incredible high school English teacher from Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, TX, named Shanna Peeples.

We knew we could learn so much from this group of teachers and that their opinions represent those of so many others across the country, so with CCSSO’s help, the teachers were emailed an online survey. Forty-six of them responded.

Some clear themes emerged: Teachers see issues like poverty, family stress and other out-of-school barriers to learning greatly affecting student academic success, and they prioritize things like anti-poverty initiatives, early learning and other community supports and services for funding.

Here are highlights of what we learned from these master teachers. (Click on the images for larger versions.)

1) If these teachers could choose where to focus education funding in order to have the highest impact on student learning, their top priorities would be: Anti-poverty initiatives, early learning, reducing barriers to learning (access to wrap-around services, healthcare, etc.), and professional development/learning.

2) When asked in an open-ended question, “What do you feel is your biggest challenge as teacher?” educators most often cited the need for more time to accomplish everything involved in the day-to-day activities of being a teacher.

3) The teachers said they get the highest job satisfaction from time spent working with students in the classroom – whether one-on-one or teaching whole group lessons. They get the least satisfaction from required paperwork, grading student work and preparing student report cards.

4) Asked what barriers to learning most affect their students’ academic success, 76 percent of teachers cited “Family stress,” 63 percent cited “Poverty,” and 52 percent cited “Learning and psychological problems.”

5) What top qualities do they feel make a good teacher?

6) Ninety-six percent (all but two of the teachers who responded) agreed that higher standards being implemented – Common Core or other high standards – will have a positive impact on student learning.

How would you respond to these questions?

Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook over the course of the next week, and check out our sister blog (On Our Minds), for more quotes, stats and findings from our survey of the 2015 State Teachers of the Year.


There's something inherently illogical here: if poverty and family stress are the greatest barriers to students, and if paperwork is the least rewarding and productive aspect of teachers' jobs, then how will "higher standards" have a positive impact on student learning? Higher standards before people are allowed to become parents? Higher standards for the amount of paperwork that gets dumped on teachers? Why will a speeded up curriculum and endless standardized testing have an impact on poverty, stress, and inadequate time for professional development?
I teach remedial reading and writing in a rural community college.

I totally agree. It must be pointed out that higher standards do not show up in the questions about funding, biggest challenges, job satisfaction, and perhaps most significantly, barriers to learning. What the nature and size of the positive impact might be is also not discussed.

Without agreeing or disagreeing with the soundness of the argument, I think it actually is logically valid. Though the teachers listed poverty and stress as the highest barriers to student learning, that does not mean they are the only barriers. Low standards could simultaneously be a barrier, if it is a less significant one. If so, then higher standards could indeed be beneficial even without being the most beneficial (which appears to match the phrasing used in the question). I'm not sure I understand how the paperwork aspect is relevant, but remember that these teachers did not say that paperwork was unproductive, as you imply, but instead that it was merely the least satisfying aspect. For a teacher who loves his or her job, this could still be satisfying, as it is merely a relative and not an objective comparison. Alternatively, paperwork could fail to be satisfying but still remain useful and productive (this is my personal experience). Again, I am not saying this is the case and I'm neither agreeing or disagreeing with their answers; I'm merely saying that there isn't anything "inherently illogical" going on between these answers. Obviously, higher standards do not attack the issues these teachers identified as the biggest problems preventing student success, but that does not make them incapable of having a positive effect.
If relevant, I'm a high-school English teacher in California.

I think those are points well worth considering. My concern is that the poverty and stress don't get considered at all when judging "success" of programs and schools. I was talking to a h.s. teacher on LI a couple of years ago who pointed out that her school is judged on the standardized test scores, "but those things don't take Sandy into account. I have students who saw people die, who haven't had a home since Sandy. They aren't going to do well on those tests." The same thing is true where I teach. Our program is a "failure" because we don't graduate students who can't pay their rent, can't afford food and gas, and try to work 30-40 hours a week and go to school full-time because of various funding mandates. It isn't the program that's a failure. So, while what you say is certainly worthwhile, too much weight is put on what is happening in the classroom, and very little on what is happening outside it.

Poverty trumps every barrier thrown at my children (students). Too many students come to school hungry, homeless, dirty and fearful. They fear the one remaining parent at home will become sick and not go to work. Some fear a parent won't come home at all or come home intoxicated. Until there are adequate safety nets in place for our children all the money spent on standardized testing will be for naught. The playing field needs to be standardized first. Kids need wrap around services to be successful - child support, health care, a warm bed, a full stomach and clean clothes. Once the United States has accomplished this goal, everything else is attainable. Not before.

Teachers can be regarded as an important role in social development. So it is clear that more efforts should be done to help their work. But I was wondering (about the last point in the article) whether higher standards will have a positive effect on students.

You are right. Some higher standards might play a positive effect on students, I mean from the social awareness.