Education Opinion

Demoralized Teachers = Deprived Students

By Walt Gardner — February 24, 2010 1 min read
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One of the criticisms frequently leveled at public schools is that they’re run for the benefit of teachers rather than for students. The media love to play up this angle because it is guaranteed to elicit heated responses.

But there’s another side to the story that needs to be heard. When teachers feel demoralized, they’re not going to be able to do their best for their students. And when that happens, students are shortchanged.

The military has long appreciated the importance of maintaining high morale if missions are to be effectively carried out. That’s why so much emphasis is placed on achieving this objective and promoting officers who are capable of fostering it.

Yet strangely schools somehow are seen as immune. It’s dangerous to persist in this fiction. Brooklyn Technical High School serves as a case in point.

One of three elite public high schools in New York City, Brooklyn Tech was the subject of a series of columns and news articles in The New York Times that exposed the tactics used by the principal to force out stellar teachers who dared to criticize him. One of the best was “Principal’s War Leads to a Teacher Exodus” in the On Education column of Jan. 28, 2004.

What columnist Michael Winerip described was a cautionary tale that is given short shrift in the ongoing debate over teacher tenure: When the best teachers are harassed, they either leave the school or burn out trying to cope with the bullying. In either case, students are the ones who lose out.

Teacher morale, of course, is not only linked to the action of principals. It also comes from the overall low status of the profession. None of the countries that outperform the U.S. on tests of international competition has this problem. In fact, teachers are revered. The correlation between student achievement and teacher status will be the subject of a future post.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.