Michael Troeger Explains Why Teacher Job Satisfaction Is So Important

Troeger, M. (2022). Teacher Job Satisfaction Among K-12 Public School Teachers: A Mixed Methods Study (Doctoral dissertation, Long Island University, CW Post Center). https://www.proquest.com/docview/2617232353/

Teaching is a profession of vital import, echoed by the US Department of Education’s description of teachers as the “backbone of our democracy – fostering curiosity and creativity, building skillful individuals, and strengthening informed citizens.” This commitment requires action and intentionality; “recruiting, developing, and retaining highly qualified teachers” in order to place a “great teacher in every classroom” (US DOE, 2023).

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According to the Merrimack College Teacher Survey (2022), a scant “twelve percent of teachers” described being “very satisfied with their jobs, with more than four in ten teachers saying they were very or fairly likely to leave the profession in the next two years.”

Only 26% of the teachers surveyed believed they were paid fairly, less than half felt respected, and most telling-only 45% stated they would enter the teaching profession if they could do it all over.

Experts like Michael Troeger in Shokan, NY, affirm these trends from his recent research on teacher job satisfaction. We begin with a sobering thought, American teachers are overwhelmed by widespread discontent; where weary educators are displaying “waning job satisfaction; placing at risk the well-being of teachers, students, and their collective educational system(s)” (Troeger, 2022, p.1;  see also Phi Delta Kappa, 2019; Toropova et al., 2021).

Implications include student outcomes, school culture, and teacher shortages, affirming the necessity to comprehend teacher job satisfaction in all of its complexities.

According to Troeger (2022), teacher shortages are the most acute metric amid dwindling teacher job satisfaction, where the “pool of highly qualified teachers has been described as a “leaky bucket” (Troeger, 2022, p.6; see also Learning Policy Institute, 2017 p. 1). Moreover, the research indicates a teacher shortage is “real, large and growing, and worse than we thought” (Troeger, 2022, p.6; see also García & Weiss, 2019, p. 1).

Therefore, the study of teacher job satisfaction is of “urgent concern, as a staggering percentage of teachers, 25% of the U.S. teacher workforce, exits the field prior to reaching the third year; averaging 8% annually” (Troeger 2022, p.6; see also Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017, p. 1; see also Madero, 2019; Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2011).

Predictive shortages are a second metric, as teaching pipelines are drying up. To that end, “low teacher job satisfaction correlates with fewer entries into the educational field” (Troeger, 2022, p.8; see also National Center for Education Statistics, 2021), potentially producing a shortage.

Nationwide, the number of students enrolled in “teacher preparation programs has declined by more than 30% (National Center for Education Statistics) amid a simultaneous increase in non-teacher preparation bachelor degree programs” (Troeger, 2022, p.8; see also National Center for Education Statistics, 2021).

What Is Teacher Job Satisfaction?

Michael Troeger says job satisfaction  can be operationally defined as an “affective reaction based on an evaluative judgment that one forms about a job” (Brief & Weiss, 2002; Weiss, 1999). It  is an individual’s overall emotional response to their work environment, including how they feel about their job duties, co-workers, management style, pay rate, etc. Job satisfaction can be measured through surveys or interviews to understand how employees feel about their work environment.

In addition to the emotional response to work, job satisfaction also encompasses a sense of accomplishment, pride, and recognition. It is essential that teachers feel they are successful in their efforts and that their work is valued. Without these components of job satisfaction, it can be difficult for teachers to stay motivated or committed to their duties.

Colloquially, we say that a person is satisfied with their job when mostly positive work thoughts occur, and dissatisfied when the inverse is true. Theoretically this is not the case, as we will see.

Herzberg et al. (1959) presented an explanation of [job] satisfaction and dissatisfaction in their seminal work which closely parallels that of Maslow, withstanding the test of time to remind us of several truths regarding the world of work and vocation, entitled the motivation-hygiene, or two-factor theory (Troeger, 2022, p.53). The primary concept distilled from these studies is that job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction are two separate and distinct “dimensions of an individual’s attitude toward work” (Troeger, 2022, p.54; see also Fiore, 2013, p. 75), as Herzberg et al. (1959) identified two types of factors that impact job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction; motivators and hygiene factors.

Motivators (job satisfiers) are the “higher-order needs that can influence an employee to work harder, seeking such intrinsic motivators (internal) as achievement, the work itself, responsibility, and opportunity for advancement, which also lead to recognition and growth” (Troeger, 2022, p. 53; see also Dinham & Scott, 1998; Herzberg, 1964).

Hygiene factors (dissatisfiers), according to Herzberg, did not describe “man’s [humankind’s] relationship with what he does”; his work, but rather dissatisfiers described man’s [humankind’s] “relationship to the context or environment [external motivation] in which he does his job” (Troeger, 2022, p. 53; see also Herzberg, 1964, p. 4). Hygiene issues constitute “deleterious factors in the context of the job” which only serve “to bring about poor job attitudes”; the improvement of such “will serve to remove the impediments to positive job attitudes” (Troeger, 2022, p.55; see also Herzberg et al., 2017, p. 113).

In sum, teachers are typically more satisfied with factors (job satisfiers) such as the work itself, professional growth, and self-efficacy, compared with hygiene factors such as working conditions, salary, relationships with colleagues, and leadership styles (Troeger, 2022, p.109; see also Buonomo et al., 2020; Butt et al., 2005).

Workers seek to eliminate negative factors from the workplace (avoid pain), which is a process of hygiene, a term used intentionally for its medical sanitizing reference. The elimination of such [hygiene] decreases job dissatisfaction, but does not increase job satisfaction, a separate measure.

To illustrate, workers often seek to resolve deleterious [external] factors, including “supervision, interpersonal relations, physical working conditions, salary, company policies and administrative practices, benefits, and job security,” as when “these factors deteriorate to a level below that which the employee considers acceptable, then job dissatisfaction ensues” (Troeger, 2022, p. 55; see also Herzberg et al., 2017, p. 113).

Why Is Teacher Job Satisfaction Important?

Teacher job satisfaction is critical as it manifests in numerous ways, including student outcomes and school culture, whereas Troeger (2022) asserts it is:

Inversely correlated with general absenteeism (Hanebuth, 2008; Pepe et al., 2017), injury-related employee absence (Drakopoulos & Grimani, 2013), resolve to depart one’s workplace (MacIntosh & Doherty, 2010; Tschopp et al., 2014), deleterious behavior(s) of both interpersonal and organizational type (Mount et al., 2006), work-related stressors (Boudreaux et al., 1997; Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2015), psychological anguish (Moen et al., 2013) and physiological indicators of poor health or malady such as “higher levels of inflammatory cytokines and other lymphocytes (Pepe et al., 2017, p. 397; see also Amati et al., 2010). (p.2)

Additionally, dissatisfaction and a subsequent exodus of teachers from the workforce could create teacher shortages, negatively impacting our educational system(s), although this could be an impetus for positive change as well. Research indicates that:

The pool of highly qualified teachers, which has been described as a “leaky bucket” (Troeger, 2022, p. 6; see also Learning Policy Institute, 2017 p. 1), manifesting researchers’ warning that the teacher shortage is “real, large and growing, and worse than we thought” (Troeger, 2022, p.6; see also García & Weiss, 2019, p. 1). Moreover, fully “half of teachers also say they’ve seriously considered leaving the profession in recent years (Troeger, 2022, p. 4; see also PDK, 2019, p. k3).

Unfortunately, an effective teacher’s “untimely departure” from employment has “unintended consequences”, as educational stakeholders are impacted by such, adversely impacting “student academic achievement” (Troeger, 2022, p.13; see also García Torres, 2018, p. 127; Ronfeldt et al., 2013).

Moreover, an educator dearth “harms students, teachers, and the public education system as a whole, threatening students’ ability to learn, impeding teacher efficacy, and creating an imprudent economic redistribution of educational resources” (Troeger, 2022, p. 13; see also García & Weiss, 2019, p. 1).

Conversely, when teachers are happy in their careers, retention is more likely, allowing stronger relationships over time. This can lead to improved student outcomes as they benefit from having dedicated educators who are invested in their success long-term. According to Troeger (2022), anemic teacher job satisfaction reflects an educator’s “proclivity to exit the profession” (p.12; see also Malinen & Savolainen, 2016; Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2011) and reflects burnout (Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2009) as correlated with job stress ( Klassen et al., 2010).

Teacher job satisfaction also plays a massive role in school culture.

Employers who generally ignore employee morale, or worse, intentionally refuse to mitigate specific violations to law, often suffer legal and financial consequences, including decreased worker “productivity, increases in absenteeism, conflict, and turnover,” as well as added expenditures (Troeger, 2022, p. 35; see also Muskita & Kazimoto, 2017, p. 110).

Moreover, if teachers perceive a leadership style as abusive, such a view diminishes the employees’ “perception of justice,” thereby demoralizing teachers and violating “expectations of fair treatment” in the educational workplace (Troeger, 2022, p. 35; see also Burton et al., 2014, p. 11; Burton & Hoobler, 2011; Tepper, 2000). Behaviors are toxic, or destructive “if they violate the legitimate . . . rightful and lawful, interests of the organization” (Troeger, 2022; see also Einarsen et al., 2007, p. 210).

Conversely, ethical leaders establish and nurture supportive work environments; providing the necessary supports for teacher-leaders, including “positive climate and culture, shared or participatory decision making models in lieu of authoritarian rule, and supportive relationships between teacher leaders, their colleagues, and district administrators” (Troeger, 2022, p. 35; see also Fisk-Natale et al., 2016; York-Barr & Duke, 2004). In my affiliated research I found teachers report administrative support as a key “impetus to remain in the classroom, including receipt of emotional and instructional support and outweighing factors such as workload” (Troeger, 2022, p.35; see also Learning Policy Institute, 2017, p. 2).

How Can We Improve Teacher Job Satisfaction?

Teacher job satisfaction starts with acknowledging that teaching is one of the essential jobs in any society. Teachers facilitate children’s academic progress, social development, and emotional well-being. Therefore, creating an environment where teachers thrive and feel appreciated is necessary.

This can be accomplished by providing meaningful incentives such as competitive salaries, professional development workshops, positive recognition, and especially from positive relationships with supervisors and school administrators.

These initiatives will help to empower educators, reduce their stress levels and thus enhance their job satisfaction. Additionally, we should implement support networks for teachers at all stages of their careers; this includes recognizing colleagues’ workloads and offering guidance when necessary.

It is also vital to acknowledge the interplay between job satisfaction and well-being: that is, to ensure that teacher wellness – mental and physical – is a priority within schools.

Finally, investing in technology can help lessen teachers’ workloads while creating more opportunities to maintain stimulating learning environments. Accurate approaches like these will make sure that teachers experience job satisfaction which will benefit their pupils as well as the broader educational collective.

My recent research disclosed the adverse impact of low teacher job satisfaction, amplifying the need to (a) identify the contributing factors of teacher job satisfaction and (b) implement efficacious remedies, as the “absence of such prophetically foretells our educational destiny(ies) as a society” (Troeger, 2022).

As this researcher affirmed the relational component of teacher job satisfaction, it would seem “prudent to include best practices, such as (a) hiring, (b) training (professional development), and (c) supporting teachers” (Troeger, 2022, p.110) in any school improvement plan.

Research concludes that a critical first step to ensure teacher job satisfaction, and a positive school culture, is “hiring well-qualified leaders and providing continued targeted professional development for existing leaders.”

Among the myriads of potential variables contributing to teacher retention, “leadership quality emerged as the most salient factor for teacher retention” (Troeger, 2022, p. 110; see also García Torres, 2018, pp. 129- 130; Boyd et al., 2011; Ladd, 2011) while “leadership quality was even more significant for retention in disadvantaged schools” (García Torres, 2018, pp. 129-130).

Professional organizations of educators like the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) “enumerates building school culture as the most prevalent topic among its administrative members (NASSP, 2021), while the American Association of School Superintendents (AASS) recognizes the necessity of social emotional  learning (SEL), and therefore now includes school superintendents in SEL skills training (Troeger, 2022, p. 113; see also AASS, 2019).

Leadership remains a rudimentary and foundational prerequisite supporting teacher job satisfaction, and “hiring ethical, empathetic supervisors is key, as teachers are more likely to stay in the field if they benefit from the support of their leadership” (Troeger, 2002, p. 111; see also Learning Policy Institute, 2017).

According to this researcher, teachers clearly prioritize support from leadership; “emotional and instructional” support (Learning Policy Institute, 2017, p. 2) ,as “more important to retention than workload” (Troeger, 2002, p. 111).

In addition to the positive impacts of supportive leaders upon teacher job satisfaction, schools also mitigate the teacher shortage by committing to and establishing policies and procedures that ensure positive school culture by “providing supportive work environments, hiring and retaining empathetic, effective, and integrous leaders, and mentoring teachers through the first five years of their career; where an appropriate, “competitive wage is also positively associated with teacher retention” (Troeger, 2022, p. 111; see also European Union, 2013; Geiger & Pivovarova, 2018, p. 606; Hanushek et al., 2004; Podgursky et al., 2004).

In sum, Troeger (2022) concluded the following necessary components of teacher job satisfaction; a) a positive workplace or school culture, and b) ethical, empathetic, supportive supervisors.

In short, teachers value positive relationships and environments, reiterated by the research asserting “teacher autonomy, administrative support and leadership, and staff collegiality were the most reported, strongest predictors of satisfaction (Troeger, 2022, p.111; see also García Torres, 2018, p. 130; Johnson et al., 2012; Ma & MacMillan, 1999; Shen et al., 2012; Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2009; Stockard & Lehman, 2004; Tickle et al., 2011). Therefore, in practice, school districts should focus resources on “continual improvement of school culture to maintain a positive work environment for teachers and all employees of the school district as satisfied employees positively impact our students’ future” (Troeger, 2022, p. 111).

Final Thoughts

Teacher job satisfaction is positively correlated with student achievement and wellness, positive school culture, physical and mental health of teachers, increased teacher attendance, teacher retention, and more. Teacher job satisfaction is bolstered by efficacious, integrous, and supportive leadership, who establish and continually nurture a positive work culture. Effective leaders establish a culture of trust within their schools, described as:

The lubricant of organizational functioning, freeing teachers from preoccupation with physical or emotional safety to focus on the work itself. By establishing trust, leaders create educational opportunities to collaborate toward common goals ensured by genuine goodwill and positive intentions betwixt leader and teacher (Troeger, 2022, p.41; see also Brezicha & Fuller, 2019; Tschannen-Moran, 2004, p. 16)

Leadership style remains important for teachers, as teachers seek supportive work environments including “positive climate and culture, shared or participatory decision-making models in lieu of authoritarian rule, and supportive relationships between teacher-leaders and their district administrators” (Troeger, 2022, p.35, 42; see also Fisk-Natale et al., 2016; York-Barr & Duke, 2004).

Leadership style impacts schools, as supportive, collaborative principals; “principals who allowed for collective, shared decision making and established a school culture of trust were inversely correlated with teacher attrition” (Troeger, 2022, p.37; see also Brown & Wynn, 2009; García Torres, 2018, p. 130). Positive work cultures are built upon integrous leaders, and…

If workers are unconvinced that their respective leaders are honest and of high integrity, systemic efforts to improve school climate and morale are in vain, plunging employee morale and catapulting the worker into a state of self protectionism (Muskita & Kazimoto, 2017, p. 110).

The concept of integrity is defined as “honesty and consistency between a person’s espoused values and behaviour” (Yukl, 2013, p. 331) and either creates or denigrates a workplace of trust between teachers and leaders (Troeger, 2022, p. 37; see also Engelbrecht et al., 2017, p. 4).

Systemic integrity requires intentionality, and employers who are generally apathetic, detached, or those who refuse mitigation, may position themselves for legal consequences, as well as creating a negative workplace plagued by “decreased worker productivity” and “increases in absenteeism, conflict, and turnover” (Troeger, 2022, p. 35; see also Muskita & Kazimoto, 2017, p. 110).

The absence of an integrous leader can sadly create “certain followers” who are “unable or unwilling to resist domineering and abusive leaders” (p. 183) and endure such in trade for safety, security, group membership, and predictability in an uncertain world, namely (a) conformers and (b) colluders (Troeger, 2022, p. 38; see also Padilla et al., 2007, p. 183; see also Kellerman, 2004; LipmanBlumen, 2005a, 2005b).

Amiel (n.d.) illustrates this workplace conflict, asserting “Truth is not only violated by falsehood, it may be equally outraged by silence” (Troeger (2022, p. 42; Amiel, n.d., p.1).

Effective leaders support teachers, establishing a positive organizational workplace culture that “impacts teacher job satisfaction by ensuring proper supports, particularly appropriate leadership and collegial supports, as well as funding for both targeted professional development and efficacious mentoring” (Troeger, 2022, p. 38; see also Geiger & Pivovarova, 2018; Ingersoll, 2001; Kirby et al., 1999; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004). To that end, teachers are more likely to “remain in the field, or their particular school, when they feel supported by their leadership (Learning Policy Institute, 2017).

In fact, research suggests that support from leaders such as a principal is “more important than workload when deciding to stay at or leave a school, and support is multifaceted, including a leader’s provision of emotional and instructional support” (Learning Policy Institute, 2017, p. 2; Figure 4).

Moreover, teachers prioritize leadership highly, often identifying “the quality of administrative support as more important to their decision than salaries,” in their decision to stay or leave a district (Troeger, 2022, p.39; see also Learning Policy Institute, 2017, p. 1).

It is well established that teachers need a “ healthy, positive school atmosphere and culture, inclusive of healthy relationships. Although teachers and administrators both have a part to play in promoting a positive culture, most would attribute the onus to the school and district leadership” (Troeger, 2022, p.113).

These implications suggest that “hiring, training, and fostering an infinite mindset (Sinek, 2019) among leaders” will  continually nurture a positive school culture, as we are cautious in that  “today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions” (Troeger, 2022, p. 113; see also Senge, 2006, p. 57).

Positive leadership styles and relationships have both emerged as critical components of teacher job satisfaction; attributes confirmed as critical staff culture and climate indicators by the National School Climate Center (Troeger, 2022, pp. 114-15; see also National School Climate Center, 2021). School improvement and professional development efforts now target operationalizing climate concepts, prompting a shift from climate (“short term behaviors”) to culture (“long-term expectations”) (Gruenert & Whitaker, p. 16).

Climate is sometimes “described behaviorally; that is what we do, whereas values are described as “why we do it” (p. 16), defining long-term expectations of “normalcy and morality” (Troeger, 2022, p. 114; see also Gruenert & Whitaker, 2015, p. 19).

Professional development for administrators requires honesty, congruence, and a smattering of humility from leaders, as well as a commitment to oppose an omnipotent, authoritarian leadership style, which is associated with high attrition rates. (Troeger, 2022, p. 114; see also LPI, 2017, p. 1).

Finally, the workplace cannot be compartmentalized into silos, where educators are depersonalized. Instead, leaders must be “cognizant of the nature of work”, that we were “created for meaningful work, and one of life’s greatest pleasures is the satisfaction of a job well done” (Troeger, 2022, p. 113; see also Maxwell, 2014, p. 1).

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