How Context Matters in High-Need Schools: The Effects of Teachers’ Working Conditions on Their Professional Satisfaction and Their Students’ Achievement

Oct. 01, 2012

Source: Teachers College Record,Volume 114 Number 10, 2012

Purpose of Study

In this article, the authors examine how working conditions predict both teachers’ job satisfaction and their career plans.

Specifically, the authors ask three research questions:
(1) Do the conditions of work in Massachusetts public schools affect teachers’ satisfaction with their jobs and their career plans?
(2) Are schools with better conditions of work more successful in raising student performance than schools with less supportive working conditions?
(3) If the conditions of work are important, what elements of the work environment matter the most?

Research Design
In this article, the authors combine a statewide survey of school working conditions (MassTeLLS) with demographic and student achievement data from Massachusetts.
The authors examine three primary outcomes: teacher satisfaction, teacher career intentions, and student achievement growth. 


The authors found that measures of the school environment explain away much of the apparent relationship between teacher satisfaction and student demographic characteristics.

The conditions in which teachers work matter a great deal to them and, ultimately, to their students.
Teachers are more satisfied and plan to stay longer in schools that have a positive work context, independent of the school’s student demographic characteristics.
Furthermore, although a wide range of working conditions matter to teachers, the specific elements of the work environment that matter the most to teachers are the social conditions—the school’s culture, the principal’s leadership, and relationships among colleagues—that predominate in predicting teachers’ job satisfaction and career plans.

More important, providing a supportive context in which teachers can work appears to contribute to improved student achievement.
The authors found that favorable conditions of work predict higher rates of student academic growth, even when we compare schools serving demographically similar groups of students.


In short, the authors found that the conditions of teachers’ work matter a great deal.
These results align with a growing body of work examining the organizational characteristics of the schools in which teachers work.
Together, these studies suggest strongly that the high turnover rates of teachers in schools with substantial populations of low-income and minority students are driven largely by teachers fleeing the dysfunctional and unsupportive work environments in the schools to which low-income and minority students are most likely to be assigned.

Updated: May. 28, 2012