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Public-school teacher satisfaction has dropped significantly over the last two years, according to a national survey of hundreds of teachers released today by the insurance giant MetLife.

In 2009, nearly 60 percent of teachers polled said they were very satisfied with their jobs, but only 44 percent reported high satisfaction levels in a similar survey conducted last year.

The survey’s authors link the increased frustration to the downturn in the economy and related budget cuts in many districts. They note that hundreds of teachers reported increased class sizes; cuts to school-based social services or health programs; and schoolchildren who are more likely to come to school hungry than they were a year ago.

In other words, the needs have grown bigger while the resources have shrunk.

On the bright side, the survey found parental engagement levels have increased steadily over the last 25 years. Far fewer teachers think parents show too little interest in their children’s education. Students, too, believe their parents are more involved. Nearly half of all students report that their parents visit their school at least once a month, up from 16 percent in 1988 when that question was first included in the survey.

This is the 28th annual survey on teacher and parent opinion commissioned by MetLife, which uses the results to make decisions about grants and philanthropy. The polling company hired by MetLife interviewed about 1,000 teachers on the phone, and conducted online surveys with some 2,000 parents and schoolchildren in grades three through 12. The survey includes families and teachers from diverse regions, ethnic backgrounds and income levels in an attempt to be representative of the country as a whole.

Other key findings include:

  • Teachers are four times more likely to feel their jobs aren’t secure compared to five years ago.
  • Slightly more than half of all parents say teachers’ salaries are not fair considering how much work they do; sixty-five percent of teachers believe their salaries are unfair.
  • Most respondents believe teacher benefits and retirement plans are adequate. About two-thirds of the teachers and parents surveyed, for instance, said educators’ health insurance plans are fair.
  • Two-thirds of teachers said their schools have laid off staff in the last year, and more than three-quarters work in schools that have experienced budget cuts.
  • Sixty-four percent of teachers say the number of families needing health and social services has increased in the last year. About a third of teachers say more of their students are coming to school hungry than in the past.

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