By Tarek Mostafa | 07 February 2018

Teachers play a vital role in the lives of their students. They impart knowledge, provide pastoral care, act as role models and, above all, create an environment that’s conducive to learning. But teaching is fraught with numerous challenges that could lead to dissatisfaction and ultimately to drop-out from the profession. Science teachers are particularly vulnerable to quitting their jobs given the opportunities that exist outside the teaching profession.

So what makes a science teacher satisfied enough that he or she would want to keep teaching, despite the challenges they might face?

Data from PISA’s 2015 teacher questionnaire provide interesting evidence.

Science teachers who reported that pursuing a career in the teaching profession was their goal after finishing secondary school are far more satisfied with their jobs and with the profession as a whole. These teachers represent about 58% of all teachers on average across all countries. The relationship between these long-held ambitions and teacher satisfaction is strong across most countries and economies, and particularly in Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Guangdong (China), Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Peru and the United Arab Emirates.

But a lack of school educational and physical resources, and behavioural problems among students in school could undermine teachers’ satisfaction. For instance, teachers who perceive that the lack of teaching staff hinders instruction tend to be less satisfied with their profession and with their current job. The difference in satisfaction between the teachers who reported that these shortfalls hinder instruction to a great extent and those who reported little or no impact are the largest in Australia, Brazil, Chile, Germany, Macao (China) and the United Arab Emirates. The findings also show that in 10 out of 18 countries and economies, teachers’ satisfaction with their current job is positively associated with the disciplinary climate in science classes, as perceived by students. The associations are particularly strong in Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Peru and the United States.

The presence of a collaborative and collegial working environment could boost teacher satisfaction. In fact, teachers who reported frequent collaboration among their colleagues tend to be more satisfied with their job and with the profession as a whole. Collaborative activities are more common in Australia, Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Guangdong (China), Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Korea, Macao (China), Peru, Portugal and the United Arab Emirates, and less common in Brazil, Chile, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and the United States.

PISA 2015 also shows that science teachers who engaged in more than three types of professional-development activities during the preceding 12 months tend to be more satisfied with the teaching profession and with their current job. On average and across all countries, 52% of teachers undertook more than three different types of professional-development activities during the last 12 months. The proportions are particularly large in Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Guangdong China (82%), Brazil (65%), the Dominican Republic (76%), Peru (65%) and the United Arab Emirates (65%).

Last but not least, some factors usually associated with challenging learning environments, such as the presence of large proportions of immigrant students or of students who do not speak the language of the host country, are not linked to teachers’ dissatisfaction with their job or the profession. This finding is particularly interesting because it shows that teachers do not necessarily mind teaching in schools with more demanding student populations as long as the environment is conducive to learning, the school climate is positive, and adequate resources are available.

To sum up, teacher satisfaction is positively associated with factors known to improve students’ performance, such as collegial and positive school environments. In other words, teachers’ satisfaction is both an aspect and a consequence of the school environment. As such, one has to improve the learning experience for all students in order to boost teachers’ professional satisfaction.