School Climate & Safety Opinion

Teacher Morale Plummets

By John Wilson — March 12, 2012 3 min read
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The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher confirms what we have known for the last two years--teachers have become less satisfied with their jobs. The survey statistics indicate that job satisfaction has dropped 15 points in the past two years, and now stands at 44 percent. This is the lowest level in two decades.

Who among us can blame teachers for feeling this way? They have been the target of blame, shame, and disdain by the media, politicians, and so-called education reformers. Most of these disparagers have attacked teachers and their unions without research, knowledge of teaching, or integrity. Their actions have not served public education well, and many would say that is their motive. Many, if not most of them, have not been stalwart champions of America’s public education system.

When it became obvious that No Child Left Behind was not working, politicians took no responsibility for having ignored the voices of teachers who predicted this failure in 2001. Instead, these elected officials decided to shift the conversation from school performance to teacher performance. Instead of focusing on test scores for schools and targeted sub-groups, they focused on using these same test scores to evaluate teachers, determine career status (tenure), and pay-for-performance schemes. Does anyone believe that these same flawed testing procedures and scores will yield any better results by the shift of focus? Who could be satisfied when teaching is replaced by testing?

The attacks on senior teachers are the strongest. How would you feel if you had spent 20 years giving your best to students and all you heard from policymakers was that you could and should be replaced by a younger person who might or might not have a teaching certificate? Some researchers will tell you that experience doesn’t matter. Does that mean experience does not matter in any job or profession? Do you really want the surgeon just out of med school to operate on you? Of course, this research on teachers was attained by comparing the same flawed test scores. Senior teachers whose work has been relegated to test scores are angry and they should be. They know better, and the politicians should too.

This economy has required sacrifice, but it seems that most of the sacrifice was made by cutting public education because politicians did not have the courage to raise new resources from those whose riches have increased in an unprecedented manner. For the first time in decades, teachers took cuts in pay, saw reduced health and retirement benefits, found less access to professional development, and faced larger class sizes. The cruelest cuts were to their students’ learning opportunities because the cuts limited teachers’ access to the tools and programs they needed to assure a quality education for every student. And yet, despite the cuts, the same old test expectations remained. I would think something was wrong with them if teachers were not angry over these circumstances.

The most nefarious attack on teachers has been the attack on their unions. Attempts to weaken unions by eliminating collective bargaining, payroll deduction of dues, political involvement, and release time for leadership have not fooled teachers. They know that their lives and careers will be negatively affected if their unions are weakened. Teachers and their unions are one and the same. You cannot divide them. Those who forget that and pursue that division, like some Republican governors, have felt the wrath of teachers and those who support them.

This is a wake-up call to President Obama and Secretary Duncan. This lack of teacher respect has occurred on your watch. Are you going to be enablers of low morale or champions for teachers and excellence in teaching? It’s not too late, but the clock is ticking.

The opinions expressed in John Wilson Unleashed 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.