An examination of the working conditions, challenges, and tensions experienced by mathematics teachers

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2007-08-29

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To make the professional work of teachers more effective and personally satisfying, it is important to better understand the nature and effects of the evident stresses in their work. The purpose of this study was to describe the quality of work life of mathematics teachers in Maryland, with an eye on ultimately helping the mathematics teaching profession and the broader education community to improve both the effectiveness and satisfaction of K-12 teachers of mathematics.

Since school systems share many features with large organizations, the design of the present study utilized prior research from industry on stress in the workplace to help in understanding the strains of mathematics teaching. A review of literature suggested five potential stressors which formed the basis of the study. The five stressors were: the congruence of individual and organizational goals, teachers' sense of agency, teachers' sense of efficacy and respect, the level of professional interactions between teachers, and the appropriateness of teachers' work load. From these stressors, Likert-type survey statements were generated and organized into a 77-item, online survey instrument.

Participants were solicited through flyers and e-mails. The survey data was analyzed in two ways. First, teacher working conditions were evaluated in terms of the five potential stressors. Then, a factor analysis of the survey data identified six underlying components of stress in the work lives of mathematics teachers. Teacher working conditions were then re-evaluated with respect to these six components. Finally, a few of the survey participants were selected for follow-up interviews to provide additional insights into their responses.

Statistical analysis using ANOVA and multiple comparison procedures resulted in several findings. Mathematics teachers expressed having a lack of agency, particularly with respect to decisions impacting instruction and assessment. Participants reported feeling overloaded by their job responsibilities and many even cited interruptions to both planning time and instructional time as serious obstacles to teaching. On the other hand, mathematics teachers felt a strong sense of accomplishment. Comments provided by participants indicate that they thrive on seeing students learn, grow, and succeed in mathematics.

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