Primary Teachers Talking: A Study of Teaching as Work

By Jennifer Nias | Go to book overview
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Chapter six

Job dissatisfaction among primary teachers

If Herzberg’s hypothesis holds for primary teaching we should expect to find that the job dissatisfactions of which its practitioners are aware derive from the context in which ‘work itself (i.e. teaching) is set, and not from involvement with pupils in classrooms; or, to put it another way, that the intrinsic pleasures of teaching are offset by conditions in schools and events in the wider educational system, and not by aspects of the job itself. However, the evidence presented in this chapter suggests that this separation of ‘satisfiers’ from ‘dissatisfiers’ is over-simplistic. First, the absence of satisfaction is in itself an active component in job dissatisfaction, since many teachers enter the job expecting that a high level of job satisfaction will offset low material benefits. Second, and more powerfully, there appear to be aspects of the work which regularly cause unhappiness or frustration but which, once remedied, allow job satisfaction to develop (a finding strongly confirmed by the survey undertaken by the Primary Schools Research and Developmental Group (PSRDG) 1986). I call the latter ‘non-satisfiers’ to distinguish them from more obviously contextual ‘dissatisfiers’, such as pay.

In this chapter, I identify and compare the ‘non-satisfiers’ and ‘dissatisfiers’ of teachers in early and mid-career. I conclude that a further weakness in Herzberg’s hypothesis, when applied to teaching, is that practitioners themselves find it virtually impossible to distinguish between the job itself and the context in which it takes place. Little of a teacher’s work in the classroom can be fully isolated from what happens in the school, and events in the wider educational scene have such a strong impact on the self-esteem and potential for self-realization (or as Maslow 1954, calls it, ‘self-actualization’) of individuals that they can change the way in which the latter perceive and define even ‘work itself’.

Two other points need to be made by way of introduction, both relating to the difficulty of conceptualizing job dissatisfaction among teachers. First, there has been a tendency among some researchers to equate it with stress (e.g. studies of secondary and primary teachers by: Kyriacou and Sutcliffe 1977, 1978, 1979; Otto 1982; Galloway et al. 1982; Dunham 1984). Other studies in the UK and USA such as those by Kearney and Sinclair (1978), Blase (1986), PSRDG (1986), and Poppleton (1988) accept that there is a close empirical relationship between stress and job dissatisfaction but see the two conditions as logically distinct. I have tended towards the latter interpretation, following teachers themselves in seeing stress as a phenomenon which often renders their work unpalatable but which is not the sole cause of their discontents. Second, most of these studies use questionnaires and it is not always clear whether or not the items in them arise from the researchers’ or the teachers’ concerns. Although some studies of primary teachers (e.g. Otto 1982; PSRDG 1986) make plentiful use of written self-reports, only Dunham (1984) appears to use oral material and he does not make it clear under what conditions it was collected. So there is a dearth of spoken testimony from these teachers about those aspects of their jobs which contribute to their dissatisfaction with them.

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