We entrust our children – and our countries’ future – to teachers; but do we really know how they feel about teaching, or what teaching practices they consider effective, or what makes them successful in their work? Today we reveal the results from our Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), which asked more than 100,000 teachers in 34 participating countries about how their daily work is recognised, appraised and rewarded, about their attitudes towards teaching, and about their own experiences as lifelong learners. The results are important.
For example, if a teacher is convinced that students learn better when they are encouraged to think through and solve problems on their own, then they are likely to use more active, student-centred approaches to teaching and learning, such as having students work in small groups or doing project work. Indeed, TALIS shows that over 90% of teachers believe that students should be allowed to think of solutions to a problem themselves before teachers show them the solution. But in Italy, Norway and Sweden, only between 45% and 59% of teachers agree that students learn best by trying to solve problems on their own.
No matter how good teachers’ initial teacher education was, it won’t have prepared them for all the challenges they face in the classroom. TALIS shows that induction and mentoring programmes can provide teachers new to a school or new to teaching with invaluable assistance; and participating in professional development activities throughout a career hones teachers’ skills even further. These activities do not have to be costly or involve external experts. For example, TALIS shows that mentoring systems can be based on collaboration with other teachers in school. Teachers can also form, or join already established, collaborative research groups and teacher networks, and/or simply observe their colleagues as they teach.
TALIS also shows that constructive and fair teacher appraisals and feedback have a positive effect on teachers’ job satisfaction and on their confidence in their abilities as teachers. Some 88% of teachers, on average, said that they receive feedback in their school. But in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Italy, Spain and Sweden between 22% and 45% of teachers said that they have never received feedback in their current school. That’s very disappointing, because feedback makes such a difference. On average across countries, 62% of teachers said that the feedback they receive in their school led to moderate or large positive changes in their teaching practices: more than one in two teachers said moderate to large improvements in their use of student assessments (59%) and in classroom management practices (56%), and 45% of teachers said that feedback led to moderate or large improvements in the methods they use for teaching students with special needs. What this tells us is that teachers can use appraisals and feedback as tools to improve teaching practices that will, in turn, improve student learning. They should also work with other teachers to develop a system of peer feedback on all aspects of teaching, from lesson planning and classroom practice to student evaluation.
While in many countries there is a lot of debate about the ideal class size, TALIS finds that class size has no measurable impact on teaching efficacy. But teachers who reported that they teach classes where more than one in ten students are low academic achievers or have behavioural problems also reported significantly lower levels of confidence in their abilities to teach, or what is known as self-efficacy. Yet TALIS also finds that having good relations with students and with other teachers in school can at least partly offset the negative impact of teaching these kinds of classes.
Most encouragingly, nine out of ten teachers across countries said that, overall, they are satisfied with their jobs, and nearly eight in ten said they would still choose to become teachers if they had to make the decision all over again…even though fewer than one in three teachers believes that teaching is a valued profession in society.
So what can teachers learn from these findings? Since TALIS finds that teachers who participate more in decision making in their school are also more likely to believe that society values teachers, they should be open to work together with colleagues and school leaders. If formal collaborative activities aren’t already established, they should take the initiative to create them. They should also take advantage of professional development opportunities, especially if they are provided in the school and involve colleagues.
And what can the rest of us learn? That we need to value our teachers more and treat them like the professionals they are.