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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Teacher Job Satisfaction...or Lack There of

By Peter DeWitt — April 09, 2012 4 min read
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Teachers are also more than four times as likely now than they were five years ago to say that they do not feel their job is secure.” The Metlife Survey of the American Teacher

The other day I read the Metlife Survey of the American Teacher. To say it was a depressing document to read is an understatement. I happen to read it on a day when I had to inform several of my teachers that they may lose their jobs at the end of the year. It’s the third year in a row that I have had to spend the first days in April handing out letters across the table from teachers I love and admire. As I walked from room to room to say good morning I felt like the Grim Reaper because people kept asking me if they were getting letters before they said hello. Over the past three years our school has lost some very incredible educators due to budget cuts.

Before I go on I should state that I am a principal in a rural/suburban school district. We have done everything correctly over the past few years and have an outstanding business administrator who has led the district financially in the right direction. We have spent down our fund balance, kept taxes low and kept spending lower. We are now administratively and teacher lean because we have spent the past three years getting “one time” budget elimination gaps by our state that has added up to over ten million dollars in cuts.

I love being a principal and we have a great school. That feeling is not based on test scores but on how good our kids are and how well our staff gets along. When we have school assemblies, kids wave to the former teachers and hugs are handed out with every step. We have great parents who are supportive and most days our building climate is inclusive and respectful. We have bad days where we don’t do well and then we have bad days that we try to turn around. All in all, ignoring outside influences, I have high job satisfaction.

Job satisfaction is something we all care about. It also happens to be something we care more about when we have less and less of it. It’s a hard balance to maintain because we have satisfaction when we are with our students but we lose that same satisfaction when we read negative press or hear politicians use bad education statistics in sound bites. We certainly cannot control what they say about us but we can control how we react.

Social Emotional Growth
Teachers say there have been cuts to school budgets, programs, and services, while at the same time reporting that students and their families are demonstrating increased needs” (Metlife).

For decades schools have played an important part in the social and emotional growth of children. This is something that is at risk with the increased pressures because of high stakes testing. However, even during the toughest of times, teachers will have an impact on their students and it is up to them to decide whether they want it to be negative or positive.

We show who we are when we are facing tough times. We also show our students who we are during those times because they are watching and listening to everything we do. I taught first grade about 90 miles outside of NYC on 9/11 and we were in session when the tragic event occurred. As much as we did not say anything to students, they could read our faces and knew something was wrong.

It’s important for students to understand how to get through tough times in an effort to get back to more positive times. Perhaps in the future when we are through some of this economic and political mess, we will learn to appreciate our careers and our job satisfaction will increase.

Public education has always been a hot button issue because it affects a majority of the population. It has been used as a topic in political campaigns and news stories but this time feels different. The past few years have been incredibly difficult and it feels as though there is a dark cloud over us and we can change that. Instead of sitting back allowing ourselves to be abused we need to do a better job of showing who we are because most of us do a very good job at educating our students.

The Tide is Changing
Amid the disquieting findings in this year’s survey, data indicates strong support for the teaching profession” (Metlife).

Parents are a little tired of seeing the negative campaigns about teachers and schools. Obviously this is more likely to occur if the parents feel their children attend good, or even great, schools. Parents and teachers are beginning to stand up together to bring back positive conversations about schools.

In addition, the study stated that 46% of parents said they visit their child’s school at least once a month. In 1988, that percentage was at 16 which shows that more parents are involved in their child’s education. What does this mean for us? It means that when we think we are alone and no one understands our plight, we need to look to our parents for help. We cannot look at ourselves as victims and we need to advocate for what we do because it matters.

The Met Study held some interesting facts, some of which many of us already know. We all want job satisfaction and it is going to take parents, students and teachers to get there. We need to continue this grass roots effort to change the public discussion around education, and actually involve more of the public in it.

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Metlife Study

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground 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.