Why is teacher morale so low?

The daily Circuit live chat for March 21, 2012

  • Life is about balance and the balance in our profession is very off. Everyone weighs decisions as risk vs. reward. Teaching used to be a profession with low risk (high job security) and low financial reward and we knew that going in. Now teaching is high risk low reward. Which might still be okay if we were at least "rewarded" with the respect of the school board and community, but that is gone now too.
  • Class size makes a huge difference. It's easier to teach all the standards we are asked to teach, to teach students with special needs, and reach out to all students in a class as individuals, when the class size is small enough to allow you to do so. But when class sizes are so large, you can’t teach, all you can do is manage.
  • The biggest negative contributor to teacher morale is low pay. Teachers are the most underpaid employment group in the nation. For the importance of their work, they should be receiving $50k their first year, with more to come as they mature in their career. Instead the average starting teacher salary I see is only $25k/year. This shamefully low teacher pay rate is a vestige of the former sexist model that limited women's working roles to only be secretaries, nurses and teachers. While nurse pay has increased, teacher pay has remained stagnant. Unless teacher pay is improved, high achieving individuals will be relatively turned off from teaching as a career goal and continue to retreat into the better paying but less achieving private sector, and the educational system will remain depressed. I'd have become a teacher if it weren't for the famously anemic pay.
  • Many of my colleagues have not had a cost of living increase for 6 out of the last 8 years. The pay for teachers has considerably decreased and shows no sign of improving with the current economic downturn. Also, the quality of the administrators is at an all-time low. You should have a show about the horrible leadership in Minnesota schools
  • Ed note: To Lindsay, who just commented. I accidentally deleted your comment. So sorry!
  • We can sit here and wrong our hands about low morale but what about solutions? What can members of Boards of Education do to improve morale. WE are the "Public" in Public Schools, we need to flex our ownership of the situation to influence the teching professions environment.
  • Teacher morale is very low for several reasons. Despite most teachers’ effort to bring engaging and meaningful work to their students every day, we are constantly berated by politicians and the media and even one-time supporters who have begun to believe the spin created by union-busting corporations that see taking us down as a two-fer.

    We are the largest unionized workforce in the country. In breaking our spirit and our union, these well-organized opponents get to push aside public education’s strongest supporters AND open the way for privatization of public schools. They have already gotten states and local districts to buy into the quality-testing approach of industry with standardized testing. I remember when we actually were allowed to treat children as children. If we continue on this path, every city will be Kansas City, where only the most at-risk students remain in public schools and support is so splintered teachers cannot get the resources they need to help our students.
    by Kaye Peters edited by Stephanie Curtis, MPR News 3/21/2012 2:21:47 PM
  • That would be "wring" our hands...
  • Teachers love learning and have a passion to help others develop the skill of learning. My view is that no support is given for progress only performing to a standard. For example if you move a student from 20-79% perficiency you failed if the standard is 80%. Faced with this obstacle you teach to the test instead of developing the skill of learning.
  • Our nurturing family-like experience at Barton (my son had Amber!) did not prepare us for a horrible high school experience at South.

    My son has a class that is interrupted by lunch, we have had to pay for books, one teacher left to rejoin the Army for a better financial retirement, there are teachers who shared their bi-polar illness with the kids, parents have to turn in ID to come into the school making it an unwelcoming place. Kids are biding their time and so are teachers.
    by Leslie edited by Stephanie Curtis, MPR News 3/21/2012 2:22:42 PM
  • Lee wrote, "Teaching is a complex task. After 33 years, I am still driven to make every moment count with every student, looking for new ideas, new ways to be the best teacher I can be. But this isn't enough anymore; I am compelled to be an activist because so much is impacting my job from outside my walls. There are serious concerns about the future of public schools and my personal time is now spent ensuring teacher voices are heard. Much of what is reported is disconnected from what is truly happening in my school. This causes much stress and although I personally have high job satisfaction and my job is secure, my morale is at an all time low along with many of the colleagues I represent."
  • I agree with the comments about teachers being underpaid. If we want "high quality" teachers, we need to pay highly qualified teachers what they deserve (and again, that could help us get out from underneath our loans!).
  • I teach in Wisconsin and under the present Governor teachers are under fire
  • There is an urgent need to professionalize teaching. We are wasting teacher talent and energy when we ask them to spend significant time making posters and copies. I am a second year teacher who taught at a school in North Minneapolis that was unexpectedly closed mid-February due to financial constraints. This is not a sustainable profession and needs to be revolutionized at a national level in order to attract quality teachers.
  • I am working on a Masters in Education. And I've had several teachers in this program who have such passion. They don't pull punches about the obstacles. But ultimately, they show such support and such love for kids, learning, teaching and other educators.
  • Teachers are blamed for all of society's ills. Morale would improve if the public, and mostly politicians, would recognize that schools are a reflection of society and its ills, not the cause of its problems.
  • I teach in a small charter school where the teachers are owners. We all share fully in the management of the school. This helps us feel like we know what is happening (budget etc.)
    by Nichole Kotasek edited by Stephanie Curtis, MPR News 3/21/2012 2:25:53 PM
  • I think empowering teachers by returning some decision making about instructional methods and tailoring the experience to their students is a big part of the solution. This article is from 2006 and this model doesn't work everywhere, but I think it includes some important lessons about decentralization and aligns with the value of school choice. orgsci.journal.informs.org
  • I believe administration is probably the biggest piece in creating a positive or negative work environment. My husband has taught Chemistry and Physics for over 20 years, is a very good teacher, and has many, many letters and emails from former students who have thanked him for preparing them well for the rigors of college.

    Yet the current principal continues to talk in staff meetings and on a regular basis via emails and other communications about the ineffectiveness of the teaching staff. This is in a school where students score well above the state average in almost all areas.

    I would agree with those who say that the internal management has the most impact on moral. Even when pay was cut by over 10%, which can be demoralizing (you know, we think you are great, here is a pay-cut) just the appreciation for having to do more with less goes so much farther than the constant beating of the "you can do even better" drum by administration. A good administrator will continue to strive for excellence and positive change while validating the struggle of just keeping up with teaching 150+ kids at a high level. When that minimum level of appreciation is not there, the feeling of being overwhelmed and buried can be extremely demoralizing.
    by Sarah from Lindstrom edited by Stephanie Curtis, MPR News 3/21/2012 2:28:11 PM
  • @KerriMPR Love the conversation on #thedailycircuit. Not sure, what keeps me going, but here I am. And I'll keep going. #futureteacher
  • To add to the reasons mentioned on air, parenting styles have increased criticism on teachers in defense of their kids.
  • i am a parent not a teacher but I see what works in my child's school. Small classes that give teachers the flexibility to have groups of students working at multiple levels, experienced teachers that can team up and mentor new teachers on new strategies and one of the things I appreciate the most is my childs schools flexibility in moving children around different grade levels for particular subjects so they are challenged or getting the extra help they need. Teachers should be paid twice what they are now. They put so much effort into their work. I also see how disappointing it is for them to have to teach to the test. For example there is little time for science because they have to do more math so the test scores are good
  • Teacher salary is well-studied. Higher salary WOULD attract more people to the profession and COULD retain some for a longer period. But salary is not necessarily a morale booster for the day-to-day experience of teaching. In a cynical way, raising salary without also improving the conditions of teaching is like saying, "What's your misery worth?" We need to increase salaries AND significantly improve the quality of the profession.
  • Glasser in his Quality Schools discussion suggests a model of (1) how you think about yourself (2) determines how you action towards others (3) which is how others feel about you. When this is a positive loop, you have a positive environment. When it is negative, you have a toxic environment. With this in mind, instead of focusing on teachers, focus on the leadership, which I believe are not prepared to lead schools or school districts. Instead of showing disrespect for teachers as was done in Wisconsin, focus on creating a leadership development initiative so that teachers can do what they have a passion to do and what they are trained to do. Great discussion!
  • What has made morale plummet? One word: Testing. It has sucked the life out of our building and district. The negative effects of NCLB are just now taking hold in our system. The pressure is not only on teachers, but administrators as well. The $64,000 question is: Who are the stakeholders that are pushing the current way we do things. By that, I mean, who in the public is clamoring for more numbers, and less child-centered education? We are trying to use black and white measures to measure something grey.
  • Yes! to the comment about sub-par principals and administrative support at schools. My kids' teachers are overall WONDERFUL, but school administrators can be inflexible and anti-change. Not sure what admin. thinks their role is, but it SHOULD BE to support teachers and parents and listen openly to new ideas and suggestions to implement positive change.
  • I worked at a Montessori charter school where I was the only English teacher in the building. I was a new teacher in my second year of teaching and had to plan the entire curriculum with no Montessori training or materials. Our new head of school all of a sudden decided to completely change our schedule and style of teaching part way through the year (even in the middle of a trimester), but did not give us much support as to how to do this well. She listened to parents and students complaints, but never formally observed me or looked into the reasons why I did what I did in my classroom. As a result I lost my job, despite working extremely hard. Is this good administrative practice?
  • As a teacher, my morale has been impacted by levies not passing in my district and the expectations for me as a teacher not changing. In fact, my work load has increased, along with the number of students in my classes. It's one thing for parents to tell me I'm doing a great job and knowing I'm doing that. It's a whole other thing to not be financially supported.
  • I listen to many views in our community. The negativity seems to be aimed at the Unions and the expectations that they always receive raises and benefits despite our local companies freezing pay and significantly decreasing health benefits. Or that teachers complain they have not had increases, when no one else locally has. The other huge complaint is the well-known list of awful teachers who are not let go. Sure, it may not be many, but with every penny counting, GET RID of those terrible teachers. Even a few number of terrible teachers affect the lives of hundreds of kids academics. Honestly, how can parents in smaller communities influence the system to ditch the terrible teachers?
  • The same as for any other profession. Recognition of the work and successes we have as an individual teacher and recognition of what we provide to the team (school). More pay always helps too;)
  • Just like in the corporate world, great is never good enough. The pressure to see limitless growth is destroying the morale. No matter what you are doing, it is not good enough in the eyes of the administration. However, we all know the admins are under pressure too. But who is pressuring them?
  • The cure is to get government out of the education business. Completely. Private enterprise will do a much better job of educating people and they will do it for less than half the cost. Public schools, and the Unions, are just another disfunctional government boondoggle, whose only purpose is to shift middle-class taxpayers money into the pockets of the Union bosses and the teachers, the competent as well as the inept.
  • (My husband is a teacher in an elementary public school.) Teachers aren't just teaching math and science and reading - they also have to teach students how to be good citizens. They're teaching basic morals and values, they're correcting bad behavior, and they're trying to teach kids to be respectful and productive. Apparently many parents aren't following through with the responsibilities as parents! And it's hard to teach respect when administration won't follow through with the no-tolerance policies but just give kids a slap on the wrist. It's hard to teach respect to disrespectful, arrogant, I-don't-care kids.
  • @BCassellius"Trust teachers and support them in improving their craft."RT Tom Weber @webertom1 @MPRnews Join online chat now #DailyCircuit:
  • I find it odd the high number of teachers calling in, aren't they working? Do they get time off during the day?
  • Due to shifting enrollment in his field, my husband has regularly had to move from district to district to find enough full-time (or near-full-time) work. Because of this, he has been through "first year" new teacher training five times, which often entails a number of extra work and meetings. Not being able to "transfer" his experience from district to district is a huge drain.
  • Education needs to have science determine the direction. As long as politics determines direction in education we are at the whim of whomever is elected. And politicians do not know enough about education. When we base our decisions on science we get great results and less jumping on to the next band wagon. We need more research in education, but we have enough to let science lead us.
  • My kids have had mostly good teachers, some very good, but they have had 3 that should not be teaching or in any position that deals with kids. These teachers belittle and mock young children and should be fired but won't be. And they are probably not qualified to do any other job.
  • Increasing class sizes. Effective teaching and work load management is ideal at 17. As the number of students increases the load becomes so large that a teacher cannot address the fine details that are necessary for reaching the needs of each student and her parents. Teachers are rarely off duty, we put in nights and weekends and summers (unpaid by the way), which is extended by the incorporation of technology (emails, reworking instruction materials to meet the needs of 21st century learners, etc.).
  • If teacher unions were more invested in teaching and not just benefits for teachers, perhaps they'd have more say in the teaching process and be more accountable for student outcomes.
  • I recently retired from teaching high school math. Funding caused my class sizes to go from 30 to 40+ students in each class at a highly ranked public high school. But my main point is that EVERY profession suffers from low morale. Unreasonable demands to increase productivity, breakdown of professional associations (aka unions) and failure to enforce fair workplace standards are destroying the morale for all American workers.
  • I'm in my 31st year of teaching. I still love the kids and believe in the future. I was recently cleaning my basement and discovered my high school notebooks...and my own lesson plans thru the years. Wow! I am more challenging than my own great teachers who inspired me to become who I am.
  • Consider the fact that for many new teachers, their total student loan debt is higher than the amount they can expect to earn in their first year salary. The cost of becoming a teacher an be quite high.
  • Jennifer wrote, "I have been a teacher for 18 years, 13 of those years in the near-northwest suburbs. Personally, my morale is much higher this year than it has been for some time, but that is due primarily to the fact that I reduced my teaching load from 1.0 FTE to 0.8 FTE this year and that I am blessed to have an exceptionally sweet and hard-working group of students. I feel fortunate that I have been able to reduce my teaching load (and yes, teaching 4 classes instead of 5 really has made a huge difference), because prior to this change, I often wondered how long I would be able to stay in teaching. I love my job in many ways -- I teach English Language Learners, and I have often said that I feel I have the best job in the school because I really get a chance to know my students and try to make a difference in their lives. But when there are so many pressures on teachers -- from administration, from the public, from the legislature -- and so often the message that we hear is that we aren't working hard enough or that we aren't doing our jobs the way that we should -- well, it can be very disheartening. Most of the teachers that I have worked with over the years are dedicated, caring professionals who give their all to their students day after day. As teachers, we are told that the best way to motivate students is through positive feedback. Well, guess what? That applies in our case, as well. Encourage us, praise us for what we're doing well. Then we'll be much more receptive to new initiatives meant to strengthen our practice even more."
  • As regards the teachers, shouldn't NCLB tests be indexed to the students prior year's performance, instead of on an absolute achievment scale? It seems that teachers that get a clas body of underprivileged students 2 years behind should not be punished if they bring them up a year and a half's performance in a year's time but still wind up with the students testing a half year back. Is this already accounted for in NCLB?
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