By now, most people know that today is the first day of class in Lawrence and many other public school districts in Kansas. That's always a big deal, especially for kids starting kindergarten for whom school is an entirely new experience.
But one fact often lost in all the back-to-school hoopla is that this is that for more than 5,000 newly-minted teachers in Kansas, it's also their first day on the job, standing completely alone in front of an entire classroom full of kids they've never met.
For them, there is both good news and not-so-good news in some new reports out this month.
First, the good news: A Kansas University researcher says there is statistical evidence to show that first-year K-12 teachers are among the most actively engaged professionals in the workforce.
The not-so-good news is that for veteran teachers ... well, not so much.
Shane Lopez, a researcher at the KU School of Business and senior scientist for the Gallup polling organization, analyzed survey data from more than 7,000 teachers nationwide using Gallup's "engagement index," which classifies workers as "engaged" in their job, not engaged or actively disengaged.
Lopez reported his findings in a Gallup blog post earlier this month.
Overall, he says, 31 percent of K-12 teachers were classified as "engaged" in their work, meaning they "are deeply involved in and enthusiastic about their work and actively contributing to their organization."
That was the fourth highest engagement score among the 12 occupations included in the survey, ranking behind managers, executives and officials (36 percent); physicians (34 percent); and nurses (33 percent).
Among teachers, however, the highest engagement ratio was among first-year teachers, at 35.1 percent. The rate of engagement then falls off sharply, to 28 percent among those who've been in the classroom three to five years.
“For our nation, this means more than 2.5 million of our 3.7 million K-12 teachers are not bringing their best selves to work every day,” Lopez said. “For parents like me, it means that four of my son’s six teachers aren’t fully engaged.”
(Of course, it also means about two-thirds of the doctors in the country aren't fully engaged in their jobs either, and I'm guessing most of those doctors have full appointment schedules.)
Lopez is quick to caution that the survey did not track individual teachers over time, so you can't infer from this particular survey that any given teacher loses enthusiasm as the years go by. It could be that the disengaged teachers who've been around for years have been that way since they started.
But what is known, according to Scott Myers, who heads the teacher licensing division at the Kansas State Department of Education, is that upwards of 40 percent of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years.
Brown gave a report to the State Board of Education this week full of statistics about licensed personnel. When broken out by years of service, the largest group of Kansas teachers (19.6 percent) have been on the job five to nine years. The percentages taper off pretty quickly after that.
Of the 12 professions examined in the Gallup survey, Lopez notes that teachers are the most likely to agree that at work they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day. And they are more likely to agree with the statement that "there is someone at work who encourages my development."
On the flip side, he noted, they are the least likely to agree with the statement "at work my opinions seem to count."
Lopez and Myers both draw the same conclusion from their data: Schools need to do a better job of encouraging and retaining those highly motivated, enthusiastic and "engaged" teachers.
"A key choice educational leaders make is who to put in the classroom, which is why hiring and engaging great teachers is a vital step to school success," Lopez wrote in his blog. "Engaged teachers not only challenge students to grow, they also encourage and engage their fellow teachers, building the foundation for great schools."