Teaching in 2023 was not without its challenges—but there were also bright spots.
Teachers generally reported feeling happier and more satisfied at work after the turmoil of the last few years. But stress levels remained high, as teachers worked hard to catch students up academically while also attending to their social-emotional needs.
Expanded access to artificial intelligence posed new challenges—and opportunities—or educators this year. Also, political tensions and debates about race, sexual orientation, and gender identity have continued to infiltrate school communities, with community members and provocateurs challenging more books than ever in classroom and school libraries.
To make sense of the state of the profession, Education Week compiled some of the most significant findings related to teachers that were published this year.
Much of this research comes from the EdWeek Research Center’s own surveys, which went out regularly to nationally representative samples of teachers, principals, and district leaders to gauge their opinions on topical issues.
Chart #1: Teacher job satisfaction improves from last year
Two-thirds of teachers say they’re satisfied with their jobs, up from 56 percent last year. Twenty percent say they’re “very satisfied,” up from last year’s apparent low of 12 percent.
The results are from the second annual Merrimack College Teacher Survey, a nationally representative poll of nearly 1,200 teachers conducted by the EdWeek Research Center and commissioned by the Winston School of Education and Social Policy at Merrimack College in Massachusetts. The survey was fielded in January.
Teachers said in follow-up interviews that even though they’re still grappling with some of the fallout of the pandemic, teaching has gotten easier—and more normal—this year.
“The three things that we as teachers thrive on are structure, consistency, and community, and looking at [the last couple of years], we really didn’t have any of those things,” Amber Nichols, a kindergarten teacher at Eastwood Elementary School in Morgantown, W.Va., told Education Week.
Having a more normal school year “renewed my sense of just loving my classroom,” she added.
Chart #2: Teachers are still more stressed than other working adults
While teachers’ stress levels have improved since the start of the pandemic, they are still nearly twice as likely as other working adults to experience frequent job-related stress.
That’s according to the RAND Corp., which surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,439 teachers and 527 working adults in January. While teacher well-being has improved from previous years, it is still worse than that of the general population of employed adults on some indicators.
Teachers are much more likely to report than other workers that they don’t feel resilient, meaning they don’t bounce back quickly after stressful or hard times, and that they have trouble coping with job-related stress.
Chart #3: Student mental health issues are affecting what’s happening in the classroom
Student mental health needs have increased sharply in recent years, in what the U.S. surgeon general has called “the defining public health crisis of our time.” Teens report feeling more anxious, depressed, and suicidal.
The effects are trickling down into the classroom, teachers say. The Merrimack College Teacher Survey found that more than half of teachers say that the current state of students’ mental health is hurting their ability to learn and socialize, as well as behave in class.
“It absolutely affects the academics,” Angela Burley, a 6th grade teacher at Dr. Frederick Douglass Todd Senior Middle School in Dallas, told Education Week. “I am a 23-year veteran. I am familiar with the kids and I love them, too. I understand a lot of the acting out and the behavior problems are products of the experiences of their life.”
Chart #4: Educators started the school year confident that students will soon catch up from the pandemic
Many studies have highlighted declines in students’ academic progress since the onset of the pandemic. But educators had high expectations for the 2023-24 school year.
The EdWeek Research Center surveyed teachers, school leaders, and district administrators in July and found that 70 percent said they were confident their students will end the current school year on grade level.
Teachers had estimated that just about half of their students were on grade level in the subjects they teach by the end of the 2022-23 school year, so this would require some major momentum.
Educators are working hard to close learning gaps, including through strategies such as learning acceleration, extended learning time, and tutoring. Still, some experts called educators’ outlook overly optimistic.
Chart #5: Teachers want more training about how to use AI
Perhaps the biggest change in education this year was the sudden ubiquity of artificial intelligence. Teachers had to learn how to spot the use of ChatGPT or other AI on students’ homework assignments, as well as think about how they could incorporate it into their own practice.
Yet nearly half of educators said they’re uncomfortable with AI technology that they’ve encountered or expect to encounter in the next year in their classrooms, according to an EdWeek Research Center survey of district leaders, principals, and teachers conducted this summer.
Educators expressed the need for more professional development on the subject—with teaching students how to use AI responsibly and effectively in the classroom topping the list.
Chart #6: Educators are split on how they define the ‘science of reading’
An EdWeek analysis found that 32 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws or implemented policies over the past decade to bring teacher training, materials, interventions, or teacher preparation in line with evidence-based approaches to reading instruction. Five states passed such laws this year.
The “science of reading” has been used as a shorthand for many of these instructional changes, but educators are divided on what exactly that phrase means.
The results come from an EdWeek Research Center survey of teachers, principals, and district leaders that was conducted over the summer. They also indicate a potential challenge to better aligning research and classroom practice.
“If we’re five years in, and we’re still in a place where educators are giving 30,000-foot definitions of what it is, it means that implementation might not happen the way we want,” Sarah Woulfin, an associate professor of educational leadership and policy at the University of Texas at Austin, told Education Week. “If you don’t have a crystal clear understanding [of] ‘this is what it looks like in a science-of-reading classroom,’ change and improvement isn’t going to happen.”
Chart #7: In math education, there’s a disconnect between theory and practice
It’s critical that teachers provide students with a strong foundation in math, especially given the massive declines in math performance as measured by last year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress.
But math teachers and math education professors don’t necessarily see eye to eye on best practices. The EdWeek Research Center conducted two nationally representative surveys in spring and summer 2023: one of 301 K-12 teachers who taught math some or all of the time and the other of 373 postsecondary math and math education instructors.
The surveys revealed that teachers tend to rely more heavily on materials that they’ve found, either for free or for purchase, than is recommended by professors. That’s often because they feel the resources their district has provided don’t engage students or differentiate for different needs.
Chart #8: Districts are boosting salaries to recruit and retain more teachers
Many districts have had trouble filling teacher vacancies over the past couple years. When the EdWeek Research Center asked principals and district leaders in October what, if any, changes their district or school had made to teacher compensation and benefits in response, 79 percent said they increased salaries.
Mentorship programs, retention bonuses, and increased pay for working in hard-to-fill positions were other popular options. Strategies like introducing subsidized housing for teachers were much less common.
Chart #9: There were more than three dozen school shootings this year
There have been 37 school shootings this year that resulted in injuries or deaths, according to an Education Week analysis. Twenty people were killed—14 children and six school employees or other adults—and 42 people were injured.
The number of school shootings decreased from last year’s highest annual total since Education Week began tracking these incidents in 2018. There were 51 school shootings with injuries or deaths in 2022, including the massacre at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas.
While school shootings are still statistically rare, the threat of gun violence continues to shake educators’ sense of safety at work, alongside student behavior like bullying.
Sixty-six percent of teachers said they feel safe at work, compared to 83 percent of principals and 88 percent of district leaders, according to an EdWeek Research Center survey conducted in May.
Chart #10: Parents are expressing concerns about curriculum
This year and last, conservative parents’ rights groups, such as Moms for Liberty, have influenced school board elections and mobilized parents to push back against school curriculum. The uptick in rhetoric about schools purportedly indoctrinating students has sowed division and mistrust between some teachers and parents.
The biggest lightning rod has been LGBTQ+ issues or discussions about sexual orientation, educators said in a July EdWeek Research Center survey.
In some cases, advocacy from parents and other community members have resulted in books with LGBTQ+ characters and characters of color being removed from classrooms and school libraries.