A student's math textbooks at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone are shown in this 2009 file photo. Credit: John Clarke Russ | BDN

What should be the priority for school funding? Initiatives to reduce poverty, said the country’s elite teachers in a survey released yesterday. Fighting poverty was followed by early learning and “reducing barriers to learning” such as providing health care and other services to poor children.

The survey of 46 of the country’s 2015 Teachers of the Year was conducted by Scholastic and the Council of Chief State School Officers. It’s a small sample size, but the teachers represent the country’s best.

What are students’ biggest barriers to learning? Teachers overwhelmingly chose family stress, followed by poverty, and learning and psychological problems.

“Those three factors in many ways are the white elephant in the living room for us in education,” Jennifer Dorman, Maine’s 2015 Teacher of the Year who teaches in Skowhegan, told The Washington Post. “As teachers, we know those factors present huge barriers to our students’ success. Helping students cope with those three factors is probably the most important part of my job. But on a national level, those problems are not being recognized as the primary obstacles.”

Here is the breakdown of the survey:

If these teachers could choose where to focus education funding in order to have the highest impact on student learning, their top priorities would be: Anti-poverty initiatives, early learning, reducing barriers to learning (access to wrap-around services, healthcare, etc.), and professional development/learning.

When asked in an open-ended question, “What do you feel is your biggest challenge as teacher?” educators most often cited the need for more time to accomplish everything involved in the day-to-day activities of being a teacher.

The teachers said they get the highest job satisfaction from time spent working with students in the classroom – whether one-on-one or teaching whole group lessons. They get the least satisfaction from required paperwork, grading student work and preparing student report cards.

Asked what barriers to learning most affect their students’ academic success, 76 percent of teachers cited “Family stress,” 63 percent cited “Poverty,” and 52 percent cited “Learning and psychological problems.”

What top qualities do they feel make a good teacher?

Erin Rhoda is the editor of Maine Focus, a team that conducts journalism investigations and projects at the Bangor Daily News. She also writes for the newspaper, often centering her work on domestic and...