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93% of teachers say they're asked to do too much for their pay, poll finds

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

As the school year winds down, it is time to take stock. Many districts have been struggling with teacher shortages. At the same time, Republican lawmakers and activists are pushing efforts to restrict what can be said and read in schools. So NPR teamed up with Ipsos on a pair of new polls to find out how teachers and parents alike are feeling. As NPR's Cory Turner reports, the polls found something surprising given these divided times - consensus.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Ninety percent of parents and the general public agree that teaching is a worthwhile profession that deserves respect. It's broad, I know, but when was the last time 90% of Americans agreed on anything? The bad news here is that much of the consensus is that things aren't great right now.

SILVIA GONZALEZ: We need to help support teachers as much as we can.

TURNER: Silvia Gonzalez is a veteran teacher in the Dallas area.

GONZALEZ: So that the good ones aren't burning out and finding waitressing jobs to do because they either get more money or they just don't want to deal with it.

TURNER: In our poll of teachers, 93% say they're asked to do too much for the pay they get. It turns out three-quarters of the public agree.

MIKE KERR: Are you freaking kidding me?

TURNER: Mike Kerr is a Colorado Republican with two kids in public schools who says teachers are absolutely undervalued.

KERR: Even if they're getting paid a million dollars, they're not getting paid what they're worth.

TURNER: Our poll of teachers surfaced a few other red flags. Two-thirds say over the past 10 years, working conditions have gotten worse. Leeann Bennett teaches at an alternative middle school in Oregon and says when she first started teaching, educators had the freedom to decide...

LEEANNE BENNETT: What to teach, how to teach, when to teach. They just had a lot more decision-making power. I believe that they were treated more as professionals.

TURNER: But that trust in teachers, Bennett says, has eroded.

BENNETT: Nowadays, it feels like we are treated as though we're glorified babysitters and we're working to warehouse children and provide a place to keep them while their parents are out working.

TURNER: But teachers do so much more than that, says Scott Lone, who works with at-risk middle and high school students in Wisconsin.

SCOTT LONE: All it takes is one teacher to be a beacon of hope for that child, and that child will flourish.

TURNER: Lone is openly gay and says if teachers are not allowed to help students who feel marginalized because of their gender identity or their race or a learning disability...

LONE: If we can't be that beacon of hope, then we have done a disservice to the teaching profession. We have done a disservice to humanity, and we really ought to be ashamed of ourselves.

TURNER: Seventy-three percent of teachers tell us the public's perception of them has also gotten worse over the past 10 years, and half of the public agree. Part of that is likely fueled by high-profile culture war fights over book bans and restrictions on teachers discussing race, sexuality and gender identity with students. The irony, though, is that in our poll of parents and the public, it's clear these efforts are not broadly popular, even among Republicans.

MALLORY NEWALL: It's really this focus, I think, on some of the most extreme voices that has made teachers feel persecuted or feel like their job has gotten harder.

TURNER: Mallory Newall is a vice president at Ipsos.

NEWALL: And that's not how the vast majority of the American public feels. Most Americans still agree that teachers should be trusted to make decisions in their classroom and that teaching is a profession that's deserving of respect.

TURNER: Leeann Bennett, the middle school teacher in Oregon, says ongoing efforts to limit teachers miss the whole point of teaching - to help children learn not what to think but how. Cory Turner, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICK KINGSWELL'S "HOMESICK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.