WASHINGTON, D.C. – A recent Gallup survey found that K-12 teachers who are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” – about 70 percent of all teachers – miss a combined 2.3 million workdays than their “engaged” colleagues.

In Gallup Daily tracking surveys between Jan. 3, 2013 and Sept. 30, 2014, the polling firm used “responses to questions about workplace elements with proven links to performance outcomes” to place teachers into three categories: engaged, not engaged and actively disengaged.

Engaged teachers are enthusiastic and committed to their work, and represent about 30 percent of teachers. Not engaged teachers are satisfied but not connected to their jobs, and rarely go above and beyond for students. They represent about 57 percent of teachers.

Actively disengaged teachers not only hate their work, they find ways to undermine their coworkers or schools. Those teachers account for about 13 percent of U.S. educators, according to Gallup.com.

“A majority, 57%, of full-time K-12 teachers in the U.S. are ‘not engaged.’ They report, on average, 11.3 unhealthy days per school year – days that keep them from doing usual activities – resulting in an estimate of about 3.5 missed workdays per school year,” Gallup reports.

“Additionally, about 13% of U.S. teachers are ‘actively disengaged’ in their jobs, somewhat lower than the 18% average for all American workers. These actively disengaged teachers average 20.4 unhealthy days per school year, resulting in slightly more than six missed workdays per school year – more than twice as many missed workdays as engaged teachers reported.”

“Not engaged” teachers missed an estimated 781,921 more days per year than engaged teachers, and “actively disengaged” teachers missed about 1,521,101 more days. Combined, those teachers missed about 2.3 million more days of school than “engaged” teachers.

“Absenteeism associated with a lack of teacher engagement creates a drain on school productivity. School districts must foot the bill for classroom replacements. And when substitute teachers are relied on to execute a regular teacher’s lesson plans, often with limited advance notice, it can easily create a suboptimal learning environment for students,” Gallup reports.

The Gallup findings build on a similar Gallup study released in August 2013 that showed the percentage of K-12 educators who are engaged in their work drops significantly after the first year of employment.

In that poll, conducted between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2012, Gallup categorized teachers in the same way as the most recent survey, and the results showed 35 percent of educators on the job less than a year were “engaged” in their work.

At the one year mark, that figure dropped to 30.9 percent, then to a low of 27.9 percent for educators in the third to fifth year of their career, according to the Gallup data analyzed by Ed Week.

When compared to other professions, teachers are more engaged than most during the first year, but “the measurable decline in engagement by years of experience is smaller for those in other types of jobs (than for teachers),” Ed Week quoted from the 2013 study.

Another Gallup poll, conducted with nearly 1 million students in grades 5-12 from 2009 to 2011 showed that, when compared to the 2013 teacher survey, they’re more engaged than their teachers, overall, Ed Week reports.

Ed Week suggests “it stands to reason that people would begin a new career with enthusiasm – and that that would wane as reality sets in,” but asked educators to weigh in on the data.

Poster “Liberty in Exile” offered his take on why some teachers become disengaged – which the most recent Gallup poll shows is a key factor in teacher absenteeism and lost instruction time for students.

“Every year for the first three years of my teaching career I received a pink slip. I put off buying a house for fear of being unable to make payments in the event I would lose my job. I worked very hard (and continue to do so after 7 years) to engage the students and try to make learning fun using various methods of instruction, but I saw MANY veteran teachers who either sat and read newspapers in their classroom or staff meetings, lectured all the time, some cussed out the kids all the time, and I knew they were getting paid more than I. They did not receive any pink slips by virtue of their tenured status and were clearly indifferent to their performance being evaluated in such a way as to pose a threat to their employment,” Liberty in Exile wrote.

“I’ve seen the worst and laziest employees rush to the union to file complaints or to mitigate issues for them and the union went to bat for them, but when it came to the newbies the sentiment was something like ‘tough break, folks.’ This could all account for the high rate of low engagement, don’t you think? Little or no responsibility after tenure? Little concern for the fresh and idealistic teachers who are bringing energy and new ideas to the classroom? Any real change in the education system should consider these issues.”

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