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Kindergarten Teachers’ Instructional Priorities Misalignment and Job Satisfaction: A Mixed Methods Analysis


by Larissa M. Gaias, Manuela Jimenez, Tashia Abry, Kristen L. Granger & Michelle Taylor - 2018

Background: Instructional priority misalignment—the difference between how much time teachers would ideally spend on certain subjects/skills compared with how much time teachers actually spend on certain subjects/skills—is a novel measure addressing aspects of teacher autonomy that could have implications for job satisfaction. This misalignment may be particularly salient for kindergarten teachers, who have experienced recent shifts in instructional priorities as standards-based academic learning has been increasingly integrated into the classrooms of our youngest students. Thus, misalignment in teachers’ instructional priorities regarding Common Core academic topics (math, English) and socio-emotional learning skills may be especially important for kindergarten teachers’ job satisfaction.

Research Questions: (a) To what extent do teachers experience misalignment between their ideal and actualized instructional priorities in Common Core and socio-emotional domains? (b) Is misalignment in Common Core and socio-emotional domains related to teacher job satisfaction? (c) Which perceptions of the teaching profession contribute to job satisfaction for kindergarten teachers who report high misalignment but high job satisfaction? (d) How do their responses compare with the responses of teachers who report high misalignment but low job satisfaction?

Setting and Participants: A total of 911 kindergarten teachers (99% female, 83% Caucasian) from the state of Arizona participated in the study. At the time of data collection, Arizona had adapted the Common Core standards for math and literacy but had not implemented socio-emotional standards for kindergarten.

Research Design: Participants completed a survey in which they reported on their ideal and actual instructional priorities, their job satisfaction, and why they felt satisfied or unsatisfied with the profession.

Data Collection and Analysis: We used mixed methodology with concurrent data collection but sequential data analysis to answer our research questions.

Findings/Results: In the quantitative phase (Phase 1), we found that teachers experienced significant misalignment between their ideal and actual instructional priorities regarding socio-emotional development priorities, but not regarding Common Core academics. Additionally, a logistic regression demonstrated that for both domains of instruction, misalignment negatively predicted job satisfaction. Qualitatively, highly misaligned teachers who reported higher job satisfaction levels more often described psychological well-being, positive student characteristics, and the ability to tend to the needs of their family and friends as reasons for their job satisfaction than highly misaligned teachers with lower job satisfaction.

Conclusions: The present study has implications for teacher training, recruitment, and professional development aimed at supporting job satisfaction in kindergarten teachers.



Attracting and retaining high-quality teachers is key to supporting a successful education system in the United States. Unfortunately, there has been an increase in attrition from the teaching profession in recent years; a quarter of teachers in the United States leave before their third year of teaching, and almost 40% leave within their first five years (Chang, 2009). Moreover, in the past 15 years, the teacher attrition rate has grown by 50% (Barnes, Crowe, & Schaffer, 2007). Given that teacher turnover and attrition have negative implications for school climate and student achievement, this trend is particularly disturbing (Ronfeldt, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2013).


One possible explanation for whether teachers stay or go is their level of job satisfaction. Indeed, there is an inverse relationship between job satisfaction and teacher turnover rates (Bobbitt, Faupel, & Burns, 1991; Perrachione, Rosser, & Petersen, 2008). Not surprisingly, as teacher turnover in the U.S. has increased over the last decade, teachers’ job satisfaction has decreased. In 2013, only 39% of 1,000 teachers reported feeling very satisfied with their jobs, down 23 percentage points from 2008 (Markow, Macia, & Lee, 2013).


The alignment, or lack thereof, between teachers’ ideal and actualized instructional priorities (i.e., the skills or content they prioritize the classroom, and the ones they wish to prioritize) for students may be a contributing factor to the recent decrease in teachers’ job satisfaction. Teachers do not always get to dictate classroom instruction because they have to balance their own priorities, student needs, administrative demands, and standards set by continuously shifting educational policies into limited instructional time. Balancing these different demands may lead teachers to focus their instruction in promoting skills that they do not consider appropriate for kindergarteners, or to divide instructional time within their classroom in a manner inconsistent with their own priorities. This instructional misalignment may be particularly salient for kindergarten teachers, given that kindergarten has been experiencing shifts in expectations regarding Common Core academic and socio-emotional instruction. Therefore, teachers may experience misalignment between their ideal and actualized instructional priorities for students and may perceive a lack of autonomy in their teaching role, which has been linked to decreased job satisfaction (Pearson & Moomow, 2005).


Yet to date, little is known about the extent to which such misalignment exists and if it is related to diminished job satisfaction. The present study is a step toward addressing this gap. Specifically, this study focuses on examining the misalignment between teachers’ ideal time allocation across different content areas (i.e., ideal instructional priorities) and the actual time they devote to each area (i.e., actual instructional priorities). In this two-phase study, we used mixed methodology to quantitatively examine the association between kindergarten teachers’ instructional priority misalignment and job satisfaction (Phase 1) and to qualitatively examine characteristics of the teaching profession that allow instructors to maintain job satisfaction even when experiencing high misalignment (Phase 2). By identifying protective factors that can be fostered in current and future teachers who may experience misalignment, this research has direct implications for teacher selection/recruitment, training, and professional development intended to improve job satisfaction and teacher retention.


JOB SATISFACTION


Job satisfaction has been defined as a positive emotional state resulting from the appraisal of one’s job (Locke, 1976), as measured by the degree of positive evaluations that people make about their own employment (H. M. Weiss, 2002). Teachers’ job satisfaction has been related to both their own well-being and student outcomes. Teachers who are more satisfied with their jobs tend to have a higher degree of motivation, engagement, and commitment to their jobs and to report less stress (Barnabe & Burns, 1994; Collie, Shapka, & Perry, 2012; Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004; Weiqi, 2007; E. M. Weiss, 1999). Additionally, satisfied teachers promote higher levels of self-efficacy and achievement in their students (Caprara, Barbaranelli, Steca, & Malone, 2006).


One factor that may threaten teachers’ job satisfaction is the misalignment between their ideal and actualized instructional priorities for students. Instructional priority misalignment may be detrimental to teachers’ sense of autonomy, defined as the extent to which teachers feel free to make their own decisions about the practices they enact in their classroom to best serve the needs of students (Pearson & Moomow, 2005). Teacher autonomy has been identified as one of the most important determinants of satisfaction (Kreis & Brockopp, 1986; Moore, 2012; Pearson & Moomow, 2005; Quaglia, Marion, & McIntire, 1991; Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2009). Autonomy can be threatened when teachers are not treated as qualified professionals within the field and their specialization and do not have the authority to make decisions in their classrooms (Willner, 1990). On the other hand, when teachers are perceived as experts in the instructional process, have the ability to organize the learning process according to their own choosing, and can formulate personalized rules within the classroom independent from school rules, they are more likely to be motivated and encouraged by teaching, experience high job satisfaction, and persist in the profession (Pearson & Moomow, 2005). Instructional priority misalignment, a novel scale developed by the study team, directly relates to these facets of teacher autonomy by measuring the degree to which teachers perceive that they are able to execute the practices they wish in their classrooms.


INSTRUCTIONAL PRIORITIES IN KINDERGARTEN


Teaching is a demanding profession that requires flexibility and adaptability, in terms of both day-to-day changes that occur within classrooms, and broader changes occurring in the education system at large. Teachers are required to accomplish a myriad of tasks and activities throughout the course of a school day, including organizing a smoothly operated classroom that is emotionally supportive, while also teaching specific academic content and completing administrative tasks and duties. To balance these tasks, teachers must constantly make decisions regarding their instructional priorities for the classroom.


Teachers’ instructional priorities are determined not only by their beliefs about what they should be teaching their students; teachers must also consider students’ needs, parents’ requests, administrative demands, and learning standards in accordance with national, state, district, and school policies. Given these realities, the instructional priorities that a teacher would ideally endorse may look vastly different from the priorities she is able to enact on a daily basis.


In recent years, changes in educational policy have led to shifts in classroom instructional priorities (Bassok, Latham, & Rorem, 2016). These shifts have been particularly profound in kindergarten, as standards-based academic learning has been increasingly integrated into the curricula and classrooms of our youngest students. These shifts may have implications for teachers’ sense of autonomy because they feel compelled to act in response to changing educational policies and other external demands (e.g., administrative tasks) regarding enhanced academicization. These shifts may have been particularly likely to impact the degree of misalignment between teachers’ ideal and actual instructional priorities in two specific domains: Common Core academics (i.e., literacy and math) and socio-emotional development.


COMMON CORE ACADEMIC INSTRUCTIONAL PRIORITIES


As evidence indicating the importance of early learning for later academic success has accumulated (e.g., Duncan et al., 2007; La Paro & Pianta, 2000), the emphasis placed on teaching academic content in kindergarten has increased. Additionally, federal policies, such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RTTP), have led to increased accountability for early academic performance given that state- and district-level funding and support are tied to students’ scores on standardized achievement tests. In some states, teachers’ pay and benefits are directly related to their students’ performance on such tests (Rosales, n.d.; US Department of Education, 2016). Even though few federal or state policies mandate standardized, statewide, end-of-year assessments before third grade, the pressure to prepare children for these tests has trickled down to kindergarten classrooms, as evidenced by recent research indicating that literacy and math content has increased in kindergarten, specifically with regard to advanced topics (e.g., sentence composition, place value) previously not covered until later grades (Bassok et al., 2016).


Building on the increased academic pressure initiated by NCLB and RTTP, the recent development of the Common Core standards, which provide detailed academic standards for all grades, including kindergarten, may contribute to increased attention to core academic subjects. The Common Core is a set of K–12 academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy that outline learning goals for what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade (Common Core Standards Initiative, 2015). Although these standards were not developed by the federal government and are not mandatory, they have currently been adopted by 42 states and the District of Columbia, including Arizona, where data collection for this study took place. Because these standards are solely focused on literacy and math skills, their implementation may result in particular emphasis on these subjects above other academic content, such as science or social studies, or above nonacademic (e.g., social and emotional learning) areas. Because of this emphasis, the present study focuses on teachers’ instructional priorities for literacy and math, which from now on will be referred to as Common Core.


SOCIO-EMOTIONAL INSTRUCTIONAL PRIORITIES


Supporting socio-emotional skills (e.g., self- and social awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision making) in early childhood has short- and long-term implications for children’s positive development (Ray & Smith, 2010). Indeed, teachers report that fostering socio-emotional development is an important priority in the kindergarten year (Hains, Fowler, Schwartz, Kottwitz, & Rosenkoetter, 1989; Knudsen-Lindauer & Harris 1989; Lin, Lawrence, & Gorrell, 2003; Sverdlov & Aram, 2015). Teachers’ beliefs regarding the importance of socio-emotional skills have been positively associated with a higher use of teaching practices that support these skills (Stipek & Byler, 1997), and teachers who believe that socio-emotional skills are important spend more time teaching them than teachers whose beliefs are inconsistent with these practices (Charlesworth, Hart, Burts, & Hernandez, 1991). However, even teachers who value socio-emotional skills report spending less time on socio-emotional instruction than they would like (Charlesworth et al., 1991; McCarty, Abbott-Shim, & Lambert, 2001).


The focus on socio-emotional learning in kindergarten classrooms has decreased over time (Dombkowski, 2001). Historically, when kindergarten was incorporated into the public education system, it was envisioned as a precursor to first grade and formal academic content, with a child-centered curriculum that emphasized the development of creativity and social skills (Bryant & Clifford, 1992). However, because the traditional focus on academics in higher grades has recently been pushed down to kindergarten, kindergarten students now spend more time in formal academic instruction than before (Bassok et al., 2016), allowing less time for activities targeting socio-emotional learning. Additionally, statewide policies regarding the implementation of socio-emotional instruction have lagged compared with policies aimed at increasing academic accountability (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2015); thus, teachers are less likely to receive professional development and institutional incentives for adopting socio-emotional programming. At the time of data collection, Arizona had not adopted any standards for socio-emotional development.


BALANCING PRIORITIES


The combination of kindergarten’s historic emphasis on socio-emotional development and the more recent pressures to prepare children academically in core subjects has resulted in today’s kindergarten teachers typically placing great importance on developing both academic and socio-emotional skills in their students. In fact, Bassok et al. (2016) found that teachers in 2010 rated both academic and socio-emotional skills as more important for school readiness and kindergarten learning than teachers in 1998, demonstrating the salience of both of these instructional priorities for today’s classrooms. However, teachers differ in what skills they believe should be the focus of instruction in kindergarten. Some teachers believe that increased academic expectations for students are necessary to raise achievement and prepare students for college and careers in a competitive global economy and society (Kramer-Vida, Levitt, & Kelly, 2012; Markow et al., 2013). Other teachers believe the shift toward academic rigor in the early grades stifles the promotion of socio-emotional skills in the classroom (Miller & Almon, 2009). These latter teachers believe that improving children’s literacy and mathematical reasoning is inappropriately prioritized above developing their sense of play, curiosity, and motivation for learning (Miller & Almon, 2009). This wide range of instructional beliefs may imply that a subset of teachers engage in practices that are not aligned with their preferred priorities, with the implication that these teachers likely experience a diminished sense of autonomy regarding their kindergarten instructional emphases. The number of teachers experiencing misalignment may be especially large in kindergarten because academic accountability pressures resulting from political shifts in educational priorities are relatively new to them. In contrast, teachers in later elementary grades have been dealing with such pressures for a longer period of time and have not traditionally had to focus on socio-emotional development (Brown, 2011).


VARIABILITY IN PRIORITIES AND JOB SATISFACTION


What remains unknown, and central to this study, is the degree to which misalignment exists between kindergarten teachers’ ideal and actualized instructional priorities in the two most prominent domains of kindergarten classrooms today (Common Core academics and socio-emotional development) and whether this misalignment is associated with teachers’ job satisfaction. One study by Collie, Shapka, Perry, and Martin (2015) found that teachers with high misalignment between their level of comfort teaching socio-emotional skills and the amount of school support they receive for implementing these practices reported lower levels of job satisfaction than teachers who were comfortable teaching socio-emotional skills and also received strong school support. The authors suggest that decreased satisfaction in these two groups of teachers may be due to mismatch between teachers’ individual beliefs and the school’s organizational priorities. The Collie et al. (2015) study suggests the important role that misalignment can have for teachers’ job satisfaction. The present study extends the work of Collie et al. (2015) by specifically exploring the difference between what teachers want to do and what they actually do for both socio-emotional and academic domains.


THE PRESENT RESEARCH


The present research explores the degree to which kindergarten teachers experience misalignment between their ideal and actualized instructional priorities, the influence of this misalignment on job satisfaction, and the perspectives of teachers who maintain job satisfaction despite misalignment. Given shifts in learning expectations for kindergarten students, we expect some teachers to experience misalignment between their ideal and actualized instructional priorities. Because high misalignment may be interpreted by teachers as lower autonomy, we also expect higher misalignment to be associated with lower job satisfaction. In addition, the present research further unpacks this predictor of job satisfaction by qualitatively exploring teachers’ perceptions of the profession that might protect against the expected negative relation between misalignment and job satisfaction.


MIXED METHODS RESEARCH DESIGN


We used a mixed-methods expansion framework to extend the breadth and depth of our inquiry (Greene, Caracelli, & Graham, 1989). We conducted a fully mixed study with identical sampling, which involved the same participants in both the quantitative and qualitative study phases (Leech, Onweugbuzie, & Combs, 2011). We combined aspects of a concurrent nested design and a sequential explanatory design (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011); the quantitative and qualitative data were collected concurrently but analyzed sequentially. Phase 1 used quantitative analyses to estimate misalignment in the two domains (Common Core and socio-emotional) and test the relation between misalignment and job satisfaction. Based on quantitative findings from the first phase, we identified two groups of teachers on whom to concentrate our Phase 2 qualitative analyses: highly misaligned teachers who reported low job satisfaction, and highly misaligned teachers who reported high job satisfaction. We qualitatively explored teachers’ perceptions of the teaching career as possible protective factors that might explain why some teachers were exceptions to the quantitative trend found in Phase 1, in that they maintained higher levels of job satisfaction despite high levels of misalignment. Because the methodology and analyses of Phase 2 directly depended on the results of Phase 1, we present the methods, results, and a small summary of the quantitative analyses before presenting the methods and results of the qualitative phase. We end with an interpretation of the quantitative and qualitative results in conjunction, integrating both sets of findings into coherent, meta-inferences for the entire study.


SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS


All public school kindergarten teachers in Arizona (N = 2,977) were invited to participate through email (n = 2,574) or postal service (n = 402) in a broader study addressing teachers' beliefs, motivations, and perceived needs and resources. Of these kindergarten teachers, 911 (31%) completed the survey. The overwhelming majority of participants were female (99%) and Caucasian (83%), with 12% identifying as Hispanic/Latino/a. Approximately half of the teachers (46%) held a master’s degree, an elementary education certificate, and/or an early education certificate. Teaching experience ranged from 1 to 40 years (M = 6.00, SD = 6.31). The majority of teachers (86%) taught full-day kindergarten, and the average class size was 22.90 (SD = 4.45). These demographics are comparable with the teaching workforce in the state and country (Saluja, Early, & Clifford, 2002; U.S. Department of Education, 2015).


PHASE 1: QUANTITATIVE METHODS


Two research questions guided Phase 1: (1) What is the degree to which teachers experience misalignment between their ideal and actualized instructional priorities in Common Core and socio-emotional domains? (2) Is misalignment in Common Core and socio-emotional domains related to teacher job satisfaction?


MEASURES


Instructional Priorities Misalignment


Participants completed two dimensions of an instructional priorities measure (Duggan, Gaias, & Indorf, 2014). The first referred to the amount of time teachers would devote to certain skill areas in their ideal classroom if there were no restrictions and they could prioritize the skill areas however they liked (hereafter referred to as ideal priorities). The second asked teachers to indicate the actual amount of time they currently devote to each of the skill areas (hereafter referred to as actualized priorities). For both ideal and actualized priorities, subscale scores were created for two domains identified in a previous factor analysis (Duggan et al., 2014): Common Core (four items; e.g., basic math skills, reading comprehension; ideal α = .76, actualized α = .59) and socio-emotional (seven items; e.g., social skills/interpersonal, emotional competence; ideal α = .77, actualized α = .81). Teachers responded to each item on a 4-point Likert scale (1 = none of the time; 2 = some time; 3 = a good deal of time; 4 = a great deal of time). To create an indicator of misalignment, we calculated the absolute value of the difference between the ideal and actualized score for each domain, with higher scores reflecting higher misalignment.


Job Satisfaction


Teachers responded to the single item, “If you could start college over again, would you still choose to become a teacher?” (Perie & Baker, 1997) using a 4-point scale (1 = definitely not; 2 = probably not; 3 = probably; 4 = definitely), with higher scores representing higher job satisfaction. This scale has shown evidence of validity in the prediction of K–12 teachers’ perception of the workplace (Perie & Baker,1997).


Covariates


Teachers reported on the number of students in their current classroom, their total number of years of teaching experience, and level of education (i.e., whether they held a master’s degree in education or related field). Teachers also reported on the amount of professional development they received in the past 12 months related to (a) teaching methods or strategies and (b) child development using a 6-point scale ranging from None to 33 or more hours. The analyses also controlled for school socioeconomic status (SES) using public records of the percentage of students with free or reduced lunch status in each school. These factors were included because they have been associated with job satisfaction (Pearson & Hall, 1993).


DATA ANALYSIS


To answer our first research question, descriptive statistics were used to quantify the degree of misalignment teachers perceive regarding Common Core and socio-emotional priorities. Following, paired t tests examined whether there was a significant difference between teachers’ actualized and ideal priorities for both domains. For our second research question, we conducted an ordinal logistic regression to explore the relation between teachers’ misalignment in the classroom and job satisfaction, controlling for class size, years of teaching experience, teachers’ level of education, professional development, and school SES. The ordinal regression was conducted in Mplus 7 (Muthén & Muthén, 1998–2015). Full information maximum likelihood was used to handle missing data, which minimizes bias in parameter estimates while retaining the original sample size (Enders, 2013). The percentage of missing data on the variables ranged from 6.9% (socio-emotional misalignment) to 24% (school SES), with the majority of variables missing approximately 12% of data.


PHASE 1: QUANTITATIVE RESULTS


DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS AND BIVARIATE CORRELATIONS


Descriptive statistics for all study variables are presented in Table 1. All predictors were within the normal range for skew and kurtosis. However, examination of histograms revealed that the majority of participants reported that they definitely (36%) or probably (35.20%) would become a teacher again. This distribution is not concerning because ordinal regression does not assume a normal distribution and adjusts for uneven cell sizes in the outcome variable (Winship & Mare, 1984).


Zero-order correlations among study variables (see Table 1) showed that misalignment on the Common Core and socio-emotional domains were negatively correlated with job satisfaction. Of the included covariates, only professional development regarding child development was positively related to job satisfaction.



   

Table 1. Descriptive Statistics and Bivariate Correlations for Study Variables

  
 

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

1. Master’s

--

--

--

--

--

--

--

--

--

2. Teaching experience

 .194**

--

--

--

--

--

--

--

--

3. Class size

 -.008

.027

--

--

--

--

--

--

--

4. Instructional PD

 .047

.000

 -.019

--

--

--

--

--

--

5. Developmental PD

 .013

-.043

 .010

.261**

--

--

--

--

--

6. SES

 -.122**

-.059

 .041

-.012

-.088*

--

--

--

--

7. CC misalignment

 -.022

-.032

 .013

-.010

.057

-.057

--

--

--

8. SE misalignment

 -.010

-.117**

 .038**

-.033

-.094**

.149**

.223**

--

--

9. Job satisfaction

 .034

-.032

 -.027

.058

.123**

-.048

-.133**

-.171**

--

N

793

787

795

911

898

692

845

848

799

Mean(SD)

.53(.50)

12.86(8.62)

23.90(6.16)

3.37(1.53)

.91(1.20)

54.52(27.72)

.24(.31)

.63(.44)

3.02(.90)

Mix

0

1

0

0

0

3.69

0

0

1

Max

1

43

52.00

5

5

98.12

1.5

2.43

4

Note. PD: professional development; SES: socioeconomic status; CC: Common Core; SE: socio-emotional.



Research Question 1: What is the degree to which teachers experience misalignment between their ideal and actualized instructional priorities regarding academic content and socio-emotional development?


Paired t tests revealed that for the socio-emotional domain, teachers’ ideal (M = 3.32, SD = .42) and actualized (M = 2.77, SD = .54) priorities were significantly different, t(847) = 29.81, p < .001. However, for the Common Core domain, the difference between teachers’ ideal (M = 3.72, SD = .54) and actualized (M = 3.75, SD = .42) priorities only approached significance, t(844) = 1.93, p = .054. Accordingly, teachers reported significantly less misalignment in the Common Core domain (M = .24, SD = .31) as compared with the socio-emotional domain (M = .63, SD = .44); t(844) = 23.383, p < .001. Finally, teachers reported significantly higher Common Core ideal and actualized priorities compared with socio-emotional ideal and actualized priorities: t(860) = 21.825, p < .001; t(849) = 45.107, p < .001, respectively.


Research Question 2: Are these two domains of misalignment related to job satisfaction?


The ordinal logistic regression revealed that misalignment between teachers’ ideal and actualized instructional priorities in both domains significantly and negatively predicted job satisfaction (Common Core: B = -.588, p < .001; Socio-emotional: B = -.580, p = .01). Specifically, a one-SD decrease in misalignment in the Common Core domain increased the odds of being 1 point more satisfied with teaching (e.g., moving from definitely not choosing the profession again to probably not choosing the profession again) by 119%. Similarly, a one-SD decrease in misalignment in the socio-emotional domain increased the odds of increasing 1 point in job satisfaction by 129%. Of the included covariates, only the number of hours of professional development regarding child development was significantly related to job satisfaction (B = .150, p = .01).


PHASE 1: QUANTITATIVE SUMMARY


Findings from Study 1 revealed that teachers experienced significant misalignment between their actualized and ideal instructional priorities regarding socio-emotional skills but only marginally significant misalignment between their actualized and ideal instructional priorities for Common Core academics. This indicates that teachers’ beliefs regarding the degree to which mathematics and literacy skills should be addressed in the classroom are aligned with their classroom practices. Kindergarten teachers have high academic goals and expectations for their students, and their practices tend to match these goals. Teachers, however, also reported they are not realizing their ideal expectations for time spent on socio-emotional skills, perhaps reflecting consequences of policy shifts and administrative demands that limit time teachers can devote to socio-emotional instruction. These results indicate that teachers might prefer to dedicate time to both academic and socio-emotional skills, but by placing an increased emphasis on math and literacy, the current educational policy climate may be creating an “either/or” dichotomy between the two domains.


Despite differences in the degree to which teachers experience misalignment on these two domains, results indicated that misalignment in either domain negatively related to job satisfaction. This is particularly noteworthy for the Common Core domain given the smaller degree of misalignment relative to the socio-emotional domain. Thus, even relatively low levels of perceived misalignment appeared to have negative implications for teachers’ job satisfaction.


Previous studies have found favorable associations between teachers’ sense of autonomy regarding their teaching practices, and outcomes including student morale, school climate, and teachers’ own burnout (Moore, 2012; Ostroff, 1992). In the current study, a teachers’ sense of autonomy is captured by the degree to which they are able to enact their ideal instructional priorities for their students. Our findings extend extant work, demonstrating that misalignment (as an indicator of a lack of autonomy) has negative implications for job satisfaction.


Given that Common Core and socio-emotional misalignment were both significant predictors of job satisfaction, we chose to further examine these constructs in Phase 2. Notably, a number of teachers maintained job satisfaction despite reporting high misalignment (n = 112). These teachers may provide particular insight into perceptions of teaching that help buffer against job dissatisfaction even when teachers do not adhere to their ideal instructional priorities. Understanding their perspectives can help identify levers for interventions to promote job satisfaction among teachers experiencing instructional misalignment.


PHASE 2: QUALITATIVE METHODOLOGY


The goal of Phase 2 was to identify particular perceptions of teachers regarding the teaching profession that may foster job satisfaction, even under conditions of high misalignment between ideal and actualized instructional priorities. Specifically, we used qualitative methods to examine differences between satisfied and dissatisfied teachers experiencing misalignment on Common Core and socio-emotional misalignment domains. Based on findings from Phase 1 indicating a negative relation between misalignment and job satisfaction, we considered teachers with high misalignment but reporting job satisfaction to be in an unexpected-buffered category. We qualitatively examined their perceptions of the teaching profession, especially in contrast to teachers with high levels of misalignment but who reported the expected low levels of job satisfaction (expected-unbuffered).


Two research questions guided Phase 2: First, what perceptions of the teaching profession do kindergarten teachers who report high misalignment but high job satisfaction identify as contributing to job satisfaction? Second, how do their responses compare with the responses of teachers who report high misalignment but low job satisfaction? For both research questions, we examined whether responses differed depending on the domain (Common Core vs. socio-emotional) or direction of misalignment (spending more vs. less time actually than ideally).


MEASURE


Rationale for Job Satisfaction or Dissatisfaction


All survey participants were asked to explain why they would or would not choose to become a teacher again using an open-ended question format. This question directly followed the question measuring job satisfaction described in Phase 1. Most (n = 757; 83%) of the 911 participants responded to this question. Nonparametric tests and t tests revealed no significant differences between teachers who did and did not respond to the qualitative question on any of the study variables, including covariates.


Qualitative coding. Teachers’ responses to the open-ended question were qualitatively analyzed to investigate protective factors that could facilitate job satisfaction. The first author and a second trained researcher developed a codebook for coding teachers’ responses using both theory- and data-driven codes (Table 2; DeCuir-Gunby, Marshall, & McCulloch, 2011). To establish initial interrater reliability, the two coders double-coded 10% of the data set and adapted the codebook until an adequate pooled kappa was reached (κ = .76; Cicchetti, 1994). Once the codebook was finalized, the coders were randomly assigned half of the data set to code. As an additional test of interrater reliability, each coder coded 10% of the other coder’s responses after that coder completed a quarter of his or her data set. Dedoose 6.2.8 (2015) software was used to manage and code data and to test reliability.


Coding categories. Seven primary codes that represent categories of responses were identified: compensation, external support, family relationships, politics, psychological well-being, students, and workload. Each response was assigned at least one of these primary codes (e.g., external support; workload). In addition, each response also received a secondary code that reflected either a negative (e.g., no support from students’ parents; burdened by meetings/long hours) or positive (e.g., having aides in the classroom; informative professional development experiences) valence for the primary code. In the case that a teacher listed multiple reasons, the response was coded with as many primary codes as were appropriate, and each was assigned a positive or negative secondary code. It was possible for a teacher to receive both a negative and positive secondary code for a primary category if she expressed feelings of both frustration and satisfaction regarding a particular category. For example, if a teacher indicated that she received a lot of support from parents but was frustrated by the lack of support from administrators, her response would have been coded with both external support-negative and external support-positive.


The compensation category referred to salary and financial rewards for teaching; a negative code in this category indicated that the teacher perceived that her salary was insufficient to meet basic needs, whereas a positive code indicated that a teacher referred specifically to not being negatively affected by salary. External support referred to the support (positive), or lack thereof (negative), received from a host of people related to the classroom, including administrators, aides, parents, or colleagues. The family category referred to how a teacher’s families and social relationships were affected by teaching; the positive code indicated that the teacher believed that she was able to spend additional time with her family and friends or could better support her own children academically and socially because of the profession, whereas the negative code indicated that she felt too burdened or busy to maintain other relationships and was unable to support her own children. The policy category referred to the impact of legislature on schools or the teaching profession in general, including budget cuts/increases, testing, or standardized curriculum. A positive code indicated that a teacher discussed the benefits of these policies for her profession, students, or classroom; a negative code indicated perceptions of policies as harmful to her work. The psychological well-being category referred to the internal feelings, emotions, and motivations that teachers associated with their profession; a positive code referred to a teacher’s internal love for teaching and perceived emotional rewards, whereas a negative code referred to stress, disengagement, disillusionment, and depression related to the profession. The student category referred to a teacher’s interactions with or perceptions of the children in her classroom. A negative code indicated feelings of frustration with students or discussed negative characteristics of her class, whereas a positive code referenced student success, growth, or engagement. Finally, the workload category referred to the type and amount of work that teachers conduct. A negative code indicated feelings of being burdened by paperwork or administrative duties, whereas a positive code indicated a reference to opportunities for professional growth and development. Primary codes and examples of positive and negative responses are presented in Table 2.



 

Table 2. Qualitative Coding Manual

Category

Direction

Quotes

1.

Compensation

Negative

“The pay is not good. I could be making a lot more as a nurse, the profession I should have pursued.”

Positive

“I can't imagine doing anything else . . . sure the pay is crummy and the kids/parents/staff sometimes don't do what you want, but I didn't go into teaching for money: I went into teaching to make a difference and to help children become great, productive members of society.”

    

2.

Politics

Negative

“I don't like all the emphasis put on testing. When I decided to become a teacher, it wasn't because I wanted to assess students. It was because I wanted to teach. I don't like all the politics that go into teaching, and I don't like all the emphasis now going into evaluations.”

Positive

“I have been doing this for 36 years and I have seen many changes. I get excited every day to work with kids using the core standards. There is nothing better than seeing the light bulbs come on and seeing the excitement in their learning!”

    

3.

Workload

Negative

“In addition to teaching, I spend a lot of time planning, in meetings such as PLC, looking at data, staff development, staff meetings, school committees, there are required community events, etc. I am quickly getting burned out because I spend too many hours working.”

Positive

“Because I am a lifelong learner. . . . The experiences and knowledge I have gained from teaching has been priceless. Teaching kinder has definitely has been rewarding for me.”

    

4.

Students

Negative

“We are grossly underpaid and expected to solve all of the problems (academic, social/emotional, etc.) of every child that walks through our doors. We are expected to mother, doctor, and educate the children in our classrooms. Our classrooms are increasingly overcrowded with the number of high-needs students, including those with serious special education needs being mainstreamed, without giving us the aide support we need.”

Positive

“I still enjoy teaching very much. I love watching my students learn. If it weren't for the students I would have gotten out of teaching a long time ago.”

    

5.

Psychological well-being

Negative

“I did not realize teaching would be as challenging as it is. It is emotionally, mentally, and physically demanding.”

Positive

“I absolutely feel that I have the best position in the world! This is my 17th year of teaching and I am constantly learning. I will never feel like I have arrived. Each year is a new adventure with a new group of individuals that I learn from as well. I am truly blessed!”

    

6.

External support

Negative

“Society does not respect teachers like they once did. We now have more responsibilities, more students, more standards, and less support from parents and administrators than ever before.”

Positive

“As the teaching profession has changed, especially for kindergarten, I have been very fortunate that my beliefs and knowledge of what a 5-year-old needs to learn to become a lifelong learner has been accepted at my school. The administration that I have worked with over many years has always been supportive and believe in what I do as a kindergarten teacher.”

    

7.

Family/ relationships

Negative

“I love teaching, I love almost everything about it, but it is not the best career to have if you are the sole breadwinner of a family. As a single mom, there is no way I can support a family with what I am paid, and I work far more hours than I did in my previous career making more money.”

Positive

“I think it's a good profession for mothers. It is very demanding and hard work, but it's nice to be on the same schedule as your child and be there with them at the school.”



DATA ANALYSIS


The goal of Phase 2 was to improve our understanding of why some teachers who experience high levels of misalignment report high job satisfaction. To answer our research questions, we first needed to identify teachers in our sample with high misalignment and differentiate between teachers with low and high job satisfaction. Therefore, we created two groups of teachers based on their level of misalignment and job satisfaction: (a) high misalignment, high satisfaction teachers (hereafter referred to as buffered) and (b) high misalignment, low satisfaction teachers (hereafter referred to as unbuffered). We operationalized high misalignment teachers as those who scored at least 1 SD above the group misalignment mean. This allowed us to concentrate our qualitative analysis on teachers who were clearly, as opposed to nominally, misaligned. We operationalized high satisfaction teachers as those who indicated they probably or definitely would become a teacher again. We created buffered and unbuffered typologies separately for both the Common Core and socio-emotional domains.


By creating buffered and unbuffered groups independently for the Common Core and socio-emotional domains, we were able to compare primary and secondary codes for buffered and unbuffered groups separately for each domain. We were also interested in understanding whether teachers’ reasons for remaining in the profession differed by the direction of their misalignment. Thus, we examined teachers’ raw scores on the ideal and actualized instructional priority scales to determine whether teachers were spending more or less time on each domain than they would ideally. For the Common Core domain, the direction of misalignment was mixed. Specifically, 49 teachers reported higher ideal Common Core instructional priorities than actualized, and 35 reported higher actualized Common Core instructional priorities than ideal. Thus, we retained both groups for the qualitative analyses. However, for the socio-emotional domain, only three teachers reported that they spent more time on this domain than they would ideally. The other 139 teachers reported that they spent less time devoted to socio-emotional skills than they would ideally. For parsimony, those three teachers were dropped from the analyses, and all teachers who remained for the qualitative analysis of the socio-emotional domain had higher ideal priorities than actualized priorities. Finally, if teachers were in more than one group (i.e., scored at least 1 SD above the mean in both academic and socio-emotional misalignment; n = 22), they were randomly assigned to one of the groups to eliminate the possibility of any one teacher’s response being counted twice.


To answer our research questions, we examined and compared the primary and secondary codes of teachers in the buffered and unbuffered groups for three scenarios—Common Core: Ideal > Actualized (buffered n = 20; unbuffered n = 11); Common Core: Actualized > Ideal (buffered n = 22; unbuffered n = 15); and Socio-Emotional: Ideal > Actualized (buffered n = 63; unbuffered n = 43)—who endorsed each of the negative and positive codes for each category.


PHASE 2: QUALITATIVE RESULTS


PRELIMINARY ANALYSES


Consistent with their satisfaction scores, teachers in the buffered (i.e., high misalignment, high satisfaction) groups endorsed positive valences within most primary code categories to a greater extent than participants in the unbuffered (i.e., high misalignment, low satisfaction) groups. Conversely, in most cases, primary codes of teachers in the unbuffered groups more often received a negative secondary code than did teachers in the buffered groups.1 These patterns suggest that teachers with high levels of job satisfaction generally expressed more positive sentiments regarding their profession than did teachers with low levels of job satisfaction, and teachers with low levels of job satisfaction expressed more negative sentiments regarding their profession than did teachers with high levels of job satisfaction.


MAIN ANALYSES


Our main analyses focused on the percentages of teachers who endorsed positive codes for each category as compared with the percentage of teachers who endorsed negative codes within each of the buffered and unbuffered groups. Figures 1–3 show the percentage of teachers in each group who endorsed positive and negative codes for each of the primary code categories.



Figure 1. Percentage of teachers in buffered and unbuffered groups for CC I > A domain who endorsed each qualitative code

[39_22501.htm_g/00002.jpg]

Note. Comp: compensation; Ext: external support; Psych: psychological well-being; Neg: negative; Pos: positive; A: actualized priorities; I: ideal priorities


Figure 2. Percentage of teachers in buffered and unbuffered groups for CC A > I domain who endorsed each qualitative code

[39_22501.htm_g/00004.jpg]

Note. Comp: compensation; Ext: external support; Psych: psychological well-being; Neg: negative; Pos: positive; A: actualized priorities; I: ideal priorities


Figure 3. Percentage of teachers in buffered and unbuffered groups for socio-emotional domain who endorsed each qualitative code.

[39_22501.htm_g/00006.jpg]

Note. Comp: compensation; Ext: external support; Psych: psychological well-being; Neg: negative; Pos: positive; A: actualized priorities; I: ideal priorities




1. What factors do kindergarten teachers who report high misalignment but high job satisfaction identify as contributing to job satisfaction? To answer this research question, we determined the percentage of buffered teachers across all three scenarios who endorsed positive and negative codes in each category. Regardless of the domain or direction of misalignment, a higher percentage of teachers in all three buffered groups endorsed positive over negative codes for the students, psychological well-being, and family categories. In contrast, teachers in all three buffered groups endorsed more negative than positive codes for the compensation, policy, and external support categories.


Results were not consistent across the three scenarios for the workload category. More buffered participants endorsed the workload positive code within the Common Core (Actualized > Ideal) dimension. However, within the Common Core (Ideal > Actualized) dimension, an equal number of participants in the buffered group endorsed the positive and negative workload code. Finally, for teachers who experienced misalignment within the socio-emotional dimension, more buffered participants endorsed the workload negative code.


2. How do the responses of teachers who report high misalignment and high job satisfaction compare with the responses of teachers who report high misalignment and low job satisfaction? To further explore this finding and confirm that these responses were not characteristic of all highly misaligned teachers regardless of level of job satisfaction, we also explored the percentage of teachers endorsing positive and negative codes of each category within the unbuffered groups. In contrast to the buffered groups, more teachers in the unbuffered groups endorsed negative than positive codes for all categories across all scenarios, except in one case in which no teachers endorsed either the positive or negative code for the family category within the Common Core (Actualized > Ideal) dimension.


To summarize, the pattern of results between the buffered and unbuffered groups in all three scenarios was similar for the compensation, policy, and external support categories, with more teachers in both groups endorsing negative codes for these categories than positive codes. Such findings indicate that these factors most likely undermine job satisfaction when teachers perceive high misalignment between their ideal and actualized priorities, as more buffered and unbuffered teachers discussed these aspects of the teaching profession negatively than they did positively. However, the pattern of results differed for the workload category for the two Common Core scenarios and for the psychological well-being, students, and family categories for all three scenarios, with more responses from teachers in the buffered group reflecting positive codes and more teachers in the unbuffered group reflecting negative codes for these categories (see Figures 1–3).


In sum, these findings indicate that a buffered teacher is a person who, despite high misalignment (and despite expressing negativity toward other aspects of the profession), continues to find satisfaction in teaching because she is more likely to (a) value the intrinsic and personal rewards of teaching; (b) have positive feelings about her students; and (c) value how teaching’s flexibility allows her to share positive experiences with her family. Typical responses from this type of teacher include:


Teaching is a very hard job. We are undervalued and overworked. There are many inequities and challenges that cause me stress, anxiety and frustration, but when I am in the moment learning with my students, planning lessons or learning new things I LOVE what I do. I am a teacher because it is my passion and our children need great learning experiences.


I have a child in college and another in high school. Looking back, my ability to play a significant part in their lives as a mother/teacher is invaluable.


I do complain about the benefits teachers get, but in the end, it [sic] gives me satisfaction. The kids are wonderful, and learn so much in kindergarten. They are sponges, if you have the patience to work with them and encourage them along the way. I have said I might go into something else, but I don't know if I would be as happy.


These responses are compared with those from a teacher with similar misalignment but lower job satisfaction, who might not be able to see these rewards among the daily burden and stress of the profession and the lack of external rewards:


I feel that teachers are not respected. Our workload is too high and there is no time. There are no incentives or rarely praise for all that we do. Our wages are too low, I have been teaching for 12 years and have been making the same salary for 5+ years which is close to what a beginning teacher here would make! My health insurance, that I also have my son on, is very expensive. My husband and I are both teachers and we struggle to make ends meet. We discuss moving out of the state where teachers are paid better.


The demands over my past 7 years of teaching have become SO great and the pay has DECREASED and it is NOT worth the stress. The joy is gone. I'm in debt for something that will take SEVERAL years to pay off. Our new evaluations [sic] are extremely demanding and time consuming. Again, not worth the stress. The thanklessness of this job is endless. . .


DISCUSSION


The mixed-methods design of the current study allowed us to combine the strengths of quantitative and qualitative analyses by quantitatively establishing the relation of instructional priority misalignment to teachers’ job dissatisfaction and qualitatively unpacking the perceptions of teachers who do not match the average teacher experience established through regression analyses. Phase 1 quantified the degree to which teachers reported misalignment between their ideal and actualized instructional priorities in the Common Core and socio-emotional domains, and found that misalignment in both domains negatively predicted job satisfaction. However, some of the participating teachers were able to remain highly satisfied within the profession, despite experiencing high misalignment. To develop strategies for teachers who experience decreased job satisfaction based on perceptions of instructional priority misalignment, it is essential to look to these teachers who maintained high job satisfaction in light of similar constraints. Thus, our qualitative analyses in Phase 2 focused on these teachers who defied the trend found in the quantitative analyses. Our study illuminates the importance of (a) minimizing misalignment to prevent kindergarten teachers’ job dissatisfaction and (b) buffering the negative ramifications of misalignment for kindergarten teachers by leveraging psychological well-being, student characteristics, and family support.


MINIMIZING MISALIGNMENT


The quantitative results indicating that misalignment between kindergarten teachers’ ideal and actualized instructional priorities in both Common Core and socio-emotional domains negatively impacts job satisfaction were consistent with our conceptualization of misalignment as a facet of autonomy, based on previous research (Pearson & Hall, 1993; Pearson & Moomow, 2005). However, the current study extended previous research by focusing on curricular autonomy regarding two specific domains of teaching that are receiving attention in current discourse of early schooling. Thus, results can be interpreted through a policy lens, with an understanding of the current context in which kindergarten teachers are making decisions in their classrooms.


It is important to note that nearly all the highly misaligned teachers within the socio-emotional domain were misaligned in the same direction: Teachers wished they had more time to spend on socio-emotional skills than they were able to allot in a given day. This suggests that misaligned teachers are feeling pulled away from socio-emotional instruction in the kindergarten classroom and overwhelmingly prefer to dedicate more time to these skills. In contrast, sentiments were more mixed regarding Common Core priorities, with some misaligned teachers preferring to spend more time on these skills and some preferring to spend less time on these skills. Even though recent policy shifts have prescribed an increase of academic-related standards, as opposed to explicitly a decrease of socio-emotional instruction, teachers appear to recognize that time is fixed. Thus, an increase in academic-related standards can effectively be a decrease of socio-emotional instruction. Perhaps to retain an emphasis on both domains, it could be useful to train teachers to integrate the development of socio-emotional skills into academic lessons and vice versa through changes to pedagogy, teaching quality, and a focus on children’s curiosity (Bassok et al., 2016; Jones, Brown, & Aber, 2010).


Regardless of the differences in the degree to which teachers report misalignment regarding Common Core and socio-emotional priorities, our results primarily speak to the importance of misalignment itself. Misalignment in both Common Core and socio-emotional domains of teaching were negatively related to job satisfaction. Teachers who spent more or less time than they would like on a given instructional topic in their classroom were less satisfied with their jobs than those who spent as much time as they would like on those topics. The case for the importance of overall (as opposed to direction-specific) misalignment is supported by the findings of Collie et al. (2015), who found that teachers whose school-level support did not match their level of comfort with socio-emotional development, regardless of direction, had lower levels job satisfaction than teachers comfortable with teaching socio-emotional skills in a school that supported these priorities. In our sample, this was particularly profound within the Common Core domain. Even though teachers, on average, did not demonstrate a significant difference between their ideal and actualized academic instructional priorities, the qualitative analyses clearly revealed two distinct groups of misaligned teachers: those who spent more time on literacy and math than they would like, and those who spent less time on these subjects than they would like. For both groups of teachers, misalignment mattered and had negative implications for job satisfaction.


The implications of these results extend beyond advocating for an emphasis on a particular aspect of kindergarten teaching. Rather, the present findings highlight the importance of allowing for more teacher-driven instructional decisions, particularly regarding how time is spent in the classroom. Including more teacher participation in policy decisions, promoting buy-in, and fostering teachers’ sense of control over changes that will affect their classroom may prevent policies from backfiring through decreased satisfaction and increased attrition.


BUFFERING THE EFFECT OF MISALIGNMENT


Minimizing misalignment is only one pathway toward improving teacher satisfaction. Through qualitative analyses, Phase 2 focused on identifying factors that could be leveraged to help teachers manage misalignment between their instructional expectations and their actual instruction, and potentially improve job satisfaction. We revealed consistent factors that contribute to job satisfaction regardless of the domain or direction of misalignment. Whether teachers experience misalignment in Common Core or socio-emotional domains, and regardless of the direction of their misalignment, recognizing benefits to oneself, to students, and to families may foster job satisfaction in highly misaligned teachers. These factors may help buffer the detrimental effect of misalignment, even when teachers have negative assessments of other aspects of the profession (e.g., compensation, external support).


Generally, these findings are supported by previous research. Teachers have reported that working with children and seeing students make progress positively impact job satisfaction (Cockburn & Haydn, 2004). Similarly, many teachers report that their passion for teaching and desire to work with others, especially children or adolescents, drew them to the profession in the first place (Perie & Baker, 1997; Richardson & Watt, 2006), despite recognizing that teaching is a highly demanding career that provides low return in terms of salary and social status. A recent study found that teachers ranked “having a student thank you for assisting in the understanding of a difficult concept,” and “observing vast improvements in your students’ performance since the beginning of the school year” as the two highest incentives in the teaching profession (Mertler, 2016). Similarly, sense of achievement and interpersonal relationships with students were the two highest rated job factors for teachers’ motivation (Mertler, 2016). Interestingly, in contrast to the findings of the present study, prior research has not found family/relational benefits to be particularly important for teacher motivation or job satisfaction. In Mertler’s (2016) study, only 49.8% of teachers rated “factors in personal life” as somewhat or highly motivating, as compared with the 91.3% of teachers who rated “sense of achievement” as somewhat or highly motivating; perhaps the importance of personal life benefits become more salient when teachers experience misalignment in the classroom.


To summarize, the present study suggests that those who are able to recognize intrinsic rewards of the profession—for themselves psychologically, for their students’ growth, and for their family—are able to maintain job satisfaction. Although, to our knowledge, no work has been done on intervention or professional development strategies to foster teachers’ intrinsic motivation in the classroom, recent studies point to mindfulness-related intervention as possible tools. Mindfulness practice, a strategy for individuals to attend “to the experiences occurring in the present moment, in a non-judgmental or accepting way” (Baer, Hopkins, Krietemeyer, Smith, & Toney, 2006, p. 27), has become a popular method to foster job satisfaction in employees both within and outside of education. Mindfulness has been shown to positively impact self-determined behavior (behavior that is consistent with an individual’s needs and values), goal accomplishment, and persistence, which in turn can have positive implications for job satisfaction and organizational commitment (Glomb, Duffy, Bono, & Yang, 2011; Hülsheger, Alberts, Feinholdt, & Lang, 2013). Additionally, mindfulness allows for more adaptive coping strategies when employees are faced with particularly challenging situations at work (Gold et al., 2010; Meiklejohn et al., 2012; Weinstein, Brown, & Ryan, 2009), perhaps including the experience of misalignment in the kindergarten classroom. These strategies may help teachers maintain intrinsic motivation and internal rewards when facing a lack of extrinsic incentives, like financial compensation or external support. Future research, however, should investigate strategies specifically designed to improve teachers’ ability to attend to this intrinsic motivation.


Interventions could also focus on specific strategies related to the teachers’ perceptions of their students. Working with teachers to build stronger relationships with their students (e.g., Pianta, Hamre, & Allen, 2012) may allow teachers to view them more positively, notice their accomplishments, and gain more satisfaction from their shared interactions. Although most previous research focuses on the benefits of positive student–teacher relationships for students, theoretical work has begun to examine how these relationships impact the professional and personal lives of teachers (Spilt, Koomen, & Thijs, 2011).


The only domain-specific qualitative result was within the workload response category. Our results indicated that workload may only be contributing to high job satisfaction for teachers who spend more time on Common Core than they would ideally. This is a surprising finding because we might expect that these teachers would feel overburdened by the focus on these academic subjects and would endorse more negative aspects of their workload (e.g., long hours, high demands, lack of autonomy), as opposed to positive aspects (e.g., personal growth from teaching, opportunities for professional development). It might be the case, however, that increasing the opportunities these teachers have to engage in academic instruction also provides them with increased opportunities to assess the effectiveness of their instruction in these areas. Specifically, through additional exposure, practice, and feedback, teachers who spend more time on academics in their classroom, despite not wanting to, can increase their proficiency and efficacy in academic areas where they feel less competent or motivated, and begin to perceive personal benefits from their work (Tschannen-Moran & McMaster, 2009).


It could also be the case that these teachers receive more professional development and training in this area to support their increased effort on academic areas. More professional development has been previously linked to higher job satisfaction (Guskey, 2002). However, it is important to note that hours spent in academic-related professional development did not predict job satisfaction in the present study. It could be the case that only a subset of teachers, those more likely to be in our buffered condition, will appreciate the benefits of increased professional development. Therefore, the correlation might not appear in the full sample, but future research could probe for interaction effects. In general, these counterintuitive results regarding workload warrant future exploration of the professional development experiences of highly satisfied teachers, particularly those who also experience misalignment.


IMPLICATIONS


Results from this study highlight important areas for improving teachers’ job satisfaction, which can lead to less teacher turnover and a more satisfied early childhood education workforce, which may translate to positive influences on student development. The quantitative results speak to the negative consequences of misalignment between teachers’ ideal and actualized priorities in the classroom. Finding ways to reduce misalignment is a challenge that teachers, schools, districts, and policy makers should explore as kindergarten education continues to experience critical shifts in priorities. However, for some teachers, misalignment may be inevitable, given the wide range of teachers’ instructional beliefs and the classroom pressures beyond their control (e.g., student behavior, parent requests, administrator demands, policy shifts). Our study shows that reorienting teachers toward the personal, psychological, professional, and societal benefits of teaching can be an important tool to help them cope with misalignment.


Teachers who (a) feel psychologically rewarded by teaching, (b) are able to focus on student growth and positive interactions with their students, and (c) recognize the benefits of the teaching profession for their own families may be able to buffer feelings of dissatisfaction despite reporting high misalignment and despite expressing negativity toward other factors of teaching such as compensation, policies, and external support. These results may have implications for teacher selection. Throughout the process of recruitment and selection of kindergarten teachers, it may be important for teacher training programs and schools to identify preservice teachers whose motivations for entering the profession are aligned with the opportunities that teaching provides in terms of fulfilling personal and social values (Mertler, 2016). Perhaps a more intentional examination on the initial goals of teachers may yield a workforce that is more highly satisfied with their profession, even in a standards-heavy kindergarten climate.


LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS


It is important to note some limitations of the present study. First, the cross-sectional nature of this study limits any causal interpretation and hinders our ability to explore the long-term implications of misalignment on job satisfaction. Future research should establish whether long-term misalignment leads to increased job dissatisfaction over time and eventual departure from the profession, or whether teachers are able to adapt to extended experiences of misalignment. Alternatively, misalignment may decrease as teachers become more experienced with new standards and expectations.


Second, all data were self-reported, so results could be subject to common method bias. Additionally, our measure for job satisfaction was only a single self-reported item and may not capture the nuances in teachers’ perceptions of their profession. A more thorough measure of job satisfaction can improve future analyses of this construct. Furthermore, although job satisfaction may have implications for retention and turnover, we were unable to measure teachers’ concrete plans to remain in or leave the profession. Future studies might also aim to capture the impact of misalignment on teachers’ retention and career transitions or other aspects of teachers’ lives and the classroom. These may include teachers’ emotional/mental health, quality of teaching practices, and student outcomes. It is important to know whether consequences of misalignment extend beyond teacher satisfaction. Similarly, a specific teacher’s “resistance” to misalignment and high job satisfaction may be the result of certain teacher characteristics, such as personality, self-regulation, coping skills, and self-efficacy. Future studies can examine whether individual characteristics also relate to, or moderate the relation between, teachers’ perceptions of misalignment and job satisfaction.


Finally, it is important to consider the setting in which data were collected. Although data collection in just one state can provide very specific and important recommendations for the local context or other systems that have similar conditions and constraints, it also decreases the generalizability of our findings. The sample in this study was reflective of the national teaching workforce, but our data are limited to teachers experiencing a particular political context. At the time of data collection, Arizona had adapted the Common Core standards but had not implemented any socio-emotional standards for kindergartners. Therefore, these results are likely to look different in a state with a heavier emphasis on socio-emotional development, where the pressures affecting teachers’ actualized instructional practices might differ. Additionally, Arizona faces other issues related to educational policy and practice, such as relatively low funding for public education, low teacher salaries, and poorer quality of working environments compared with other states (Suerth, 2015); therefore, it will be important to replicate these findings in multiple contexts across the nation, as well as in international contexts, where the motivation and compensation for teaching may vary.


At the same time, this study focused on identifying teachers’ perceptions about their teaching career that could protect teachers from the negative effects of instructional misalignment on job satisfaction. However, previous research has documented the role that school and classroom characteristics, not included in this study, can play in supporting teachers’ job satisfaction. Thus, it is possible for the factors identified in the qualitative phase of this study to operate differently depending on the context in which teachers teach. Future research examining the role of classroom and school characteristics in the association between teachers’ perceptions and their job satisfaction could provide important information to further identify teachers within schools who may have a special need for support against instructional misalignment and job satisfaction, as well as highlight factors that could be more useful levers for interventions to promote job satisfaction in specific schools.


CONCLUSION


Despite the mentioned limitations, the current study presents important and novel research regarding kindergarten teacher job satisfaction. In addition to introducing a novel construct that provides an in-depth examination of misalignment regarding specific teaching domains, this study explicitly links threats to job satisfaction (i.e., misalignment–Phase 1) with potential solutions (i.e., psychological well-being, student-centered focus, family benefit–Phase 2). The use of qualitative data from teachers’ perspectives allowed us to explore the realities of a shifting education system and work within the confines of those realities to provide kindergarten teachers and school systems with advice and support, particularly regarding the power of teachers’ perceptions of various aspects of their career to affect their satisfaction with the profession. The results from this study provide promising insight into how teachers, administrators, or preservice training programs could help prevent dissatisfaction with the profession by focusing on autonomy regarding instructional priorities and by bolstering teachers’ intrinsic rewards toward teaching. Such efforts could potentially decrease teacher dropout rates and contribute to the quality of early formal schooling.


Note


1. Exceptions included more buffered than unbuffered teachers endorsing negative Compensation and Family codes within the Common Core Ideal > Actual domain; more unbuffered than buffered teachers endorsing positive Compensation codes within the Common Core Actual > Ideal domain; and more unbuffered than buffered teachers endorsing positive External Support codes within the Socio-Emotional Learning domain.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 12, 2018, p. 1-38
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22501, Date Accessed: 6/13/2021 7:14:25 PM

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About the Author
  • Larissa Gaias
    University of Washington
    E-mail Author
    LARISSA M. GAIAS is a postdoctoral fellow at the SMART Center at the University of Washington. Larissa’s primary research interests focus on educational equity. She explores how school processes can better support marginalized youth, including students of color and youth affected by violence. Her recent publications include:

    Gaias, L. M., Gal, D., Abry, T., Taylor, M., & Granger, K. L. (2018). Diversity exposure in preschool: Longitudinal implications for cross-race friendships and racial bias. Applied Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication.

    Gaias, L. M., Lindstrom Johnson, S., White, R. M. B., Pettigrew, J., & Dumka, L. (2017). Understanding school-neighborhood mesosystemic effects on adolescent development. Adolescent Research Review. Advance online publication.

    Gaias, L. M., Abry, T., Swanson, J., Fabes, R. A., & Bradley, R. H. (2016). Considering child effortful control in the context of teacher effortful control: Implications for kindergarten success. Learning and Individual Differences, 45, 199–207.


  • Manuela Jimenez
    Arizona State University
    E-mail Author
    MANUELA JIMENEZ is an assistant research professor at the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University. Her research interest focus on understanding how to better support teachers to engage in effective practices by identifying teacher characteristics associated with their engagement in effective practice, as well as features of teacher education and professional development that are directly related to improvements in practice.


  • Tashia Abry
    Arizona State University
    E-mail Author
    TASHIA ABRY is an assistant research professor at Arizona State University’s T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics. Her research centers on the identification and promotion of learning environments that enhance teaching and promote social, emotional, and academic competence in children and youth. Her recent publications include:

    Abry, T., Granger, K. L., Bryce, C. I., Taylor, M., Swanson, J., & Bradley, R. H. (in press). First grade classroom-level adversity: Associations with teaching practices, academic skills, and executive functioning. School Psychology Quarterly.

    Abry, T., Rimm-Kaufman, S. E., & Curby, T. W. (2017). Are all program components created equal? Relations between specific social and emotional learning components and teacher-student classroom interaction quality. Prevention Science, 18, 193–203.

    Abry, T., Bryce, C., Swanson, J., Bradley, R. H., Fabes, R. A., & Corwyn, R. (2017). Classroom-level adversity: Associations with children’s internalizing and externalizing behaviors across elementary school. Developmental Psychology, 53, 497–510.


  • Kristen Granger
    Virginia Commonwealth University
    E-mail Author
    KRISTEN L. GRANGER is a research faculty member in the Department of Counseling and Special Education in the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University. She received her Ph.D. in family and human development from Arizona State University. Dr. Granger’s primary research interests focus on understanding the relation between teacher, child, and classroom characteristics, teaching practices, and child well-being. Her recent publications include:

    Granger, K. L., Hanish, L. D., Kornienko, O., & Bradley, R. (2016). Preschool teachers' facilitation of gender-typed and gender-neutral activities during free play. Sex Roles, 76, 498–510.


  • Michelle Taylor
    California State University, Long Beach
    E-mail Author
    MICHELLE TAYLOR is an assistant professor of child development and family studies in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at California State University, Long Beach. She received her Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Taylor’s primary research interests include examining contextual and relational influences on young children’s school readiness. Dr. Taylor is currently the recipient of a Program Evaluation Grant funded by the Brady Education Foundation to examine the effectiveness of Books Can…©, an interactive public library program for parents and their preschool-age children.
 
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