The State of the American Teacher and the American Principal

Middle school history teachers discuss their lesson plans for teaching about the Great Depression

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

Teachers and principals drive student learning. Yet, their jobs are increasingly stressful and complex. This stress takes a toll and can have implications for student learning, educators’ physical and mental health, engagement, and intentions to stay in their jobs. To better understand the state of educator well-being, RAND has launched two projects—the State of the American Teacher and the State of the American Principal. These projects leverage nationally representative surveys of K–12 public school teachers and principals to gather information on educators’ working conditions and job-related stressors.

Current projects investigate teachers’ and principals’ well-being, working conditions, intentions to leave their jobs, how educators respond to political events, and the diversity of the K–12 public school teacher workforce. This research focuses on the experiences of teachers and principals of color, so school systems can continue to better support a diverse workforce.

Research from the 2022 State of the Teacher Project

Key Findings

  • Teachers of color who were surveyed identified increased pay and loan forgiveness as their top approaches to recruit and retain more teachers of color. The researchers, policymakers, and practitioners who participated in a panel discussion (i.e., panelists) about policies to racially diversify the teacher workforce also endorsed increased pay and loan forgiveness as promising strategies to recruit and retain more teachers of color, in addition to grow-your-own programs.
  • Principals of color often rely on social networks to recruit teachers of color. Leveraging social networks to diversify the teaching workforce could improve recruitment and retention of teachers of color by drawing on and strengthening their professional relationships, but, if not coupled with other approaches, could present a challenge to workforce diversity.
  • Panelists endorsed training—whether for school hiring teams about anti-racist hiring practices or for principals about supporting new teachers of color—as an effective hiring practice at higher rates than teachers of color did. Our principal survey data indicate that recruiting, hiring, and retaining a racially diverse workforce is generally not emphasized in principal preparation and in-service training.
  • Teachers of color indicated that working with other staff of color and nurturing positive collegial relationships could boost retention. Teachers’ experiences of racial discrimination are linked to poor well-being and to intentions to leave their jobs. Teachers of color we interviewed said that their racial or ethnic identity affected their relationships with other teaching staff or with their school principals; a reminder that collegial relationships matter.
  • Andrew Briscoe Elementary School's principal greets and distributes hand sanitizer to students while a teacher takes their temperature before they enter the building, in San Antonio, Texas, January 11, 2022, photo by Kaylee Greenlee Beal/Reuters

    Educators' Views on Politicized Topics in School

    A survey in January 2022 asked educators about policies for COVID-19 safety in schools and classroom conversations about race, racism, or bias. Almost half of principals and 40 percent of teachers reported that the intrusion of political issues and opinions added stress to their jobs.

    Aug 10, 2022

    Ashley Woo, Rebecca L. Wolfe, et al.

Key Findings

  • Teachers and principals experienced job-related stress from politicized issues in their schools. Forty-eight percent of principals and 40 percent of teachers reported that the intrusion of political issues and opinions into their professions was a job-related stressor.
  • Most educators opposed legal limits on classroom conversations about racism and other contentious topics. Fifty-four percent of teachers and principals believed there should not be legal limits on classroom conversations about racism, sexism, and other topics that some people disagree about, while about 20 percent of teachers and principals believed there should be.
  • Harassment about COVID-19 safety policies was more common than harassment about school policies for teaching about race, racism, or bias. Thirty-seven percent of teachers and 61 percent of principals reported being harassed because of their school’s policies on COVID-19 safety measures or for teaching about race, racism, or bias during the first half of the 2021–2022 school year.
  • Educators need more support to address politicized issues in their schools and classrooms. Stronger communication from leadership was linked to teachers’ perceptions of adequate guidance about navigating the pandemic.

Key Findings

  • Educators’ wellbeing is relatively low. Teachers and principals continue to experience poor well-being when compared to the general population of working adults. They were less likely than working adults to report feeling resilient to stressful events and more likely to report symptoms of depression. Seventy-three percent of teachers and 85 percent of principals experienced frequent job-related stress, compared with 35 percent of working adults.
  • Well-being was particularly poor among some educator groups. Teachers of color were more likely than White teachers to report experiencing symptoms of depression. Hispanic or Latinx teachers reported particularly poor well-being. Mid-career teachers—those with six to ten years of teaching experience—were most likely to experience poor well-being, whereas teachers with more than 20 years of experience were least likely to report poor well-being. Female teachers were more likely to report experiencing frequent job-related stress and less likely to report feeling resilient than their male peers. Female principals were more likely to experience frequent job-related stress and burnout than male principals.
  • Teachers and principals of color reported sources of job-related stress that were similar to those of white teachers and principals, but were more likely to experience racial discrimination at school. Supporting students’ academic learning was a top-ranked source of job-related stress for teachers; staffing was a top source of stress for principals. Nearly half of principals of color and one-third of teachers of color experienced harassment at school because of their race or ethnicity.
  • Poor well-being and adverse working conditions were associated with teachers’ and principals’ intentions to leave their jobs. At the same time, supportive school environments were linked to better well-being and a decreased likelihood of intentions to leave, and majorities of teachers and principals are coping well with their job-related stress and intend to stay in their current jobs.

Technical Documentation and Survey Results

Research from the 2021 State of the Teacher Project

Key Findings

  • About one in four teachers said they were likely to leave their teaching jobs by the end of the 2020–2021 school year. This is compared with one in six teachers who were likely to leave, on average, prior to the pandemic. Black or African American teachers were particularly likely to plan to leave.
  • Most teachers reported experiencing frequent job-related stress and burnout; one in four teachers reported symptoms of depression. Twice as many teachers reported frequent job-related stress and three times as many reported symptoms of depression than the general adult population.
  • Teachers experienced multiple sources of stress. Mode of instruction and health were the highest-ranked stressors for teachers in January 2021. One in three teachers were responsible for the care of their own children while teaching. Many pandemic-era teaching conditions, such as technical problems while teaching remotely, were linked to job-related stress, depressive symptoms, and burnout.
  • Teachers who have considered leaving their jobs since the pandemic began were more likely to report experiencing frequent job-related stress and symptoms of depression than their peers. More teachers who were unlikely to leave their jobs before the pandemic but who were likely to leave at the time of the survey experienced working conditions that were linked to higher levels of stress than teachers who were unlikely to leave and those who were considering leaving prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The experiences of likely pandemic leavers were similar in many ways to those of teachers who had already resigned during the pandemic.
View related research

Project Funding

The 2021 State of the American Teacher survey was supported by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

Funding for the 2022 State of the American Teacher survey was provided by the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. Funding for the teacher interviews was provided by the National Education Association and gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. Funding for the State of the American Principal survey was provided by The Wallace Foundation. Funding for the American Life Panel survey was provided by the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.