The MetLife Survey of The American Teacher presents important research to support what we already know. Teachers’ job satisfaction is lower than it has been in twenty years (44%). Leaders are working in buildings and districts, where keeping the morale up has become a paramount challenge. The conditions of the economy as they affect the schools result in teachers and principals facing reductions in staff, services, and programs that help students maneuver through the process of growing up, while learning academics, and participating in activities that contribute to their development as young men and women. The experience for our students is diminishing as teachers and principals work even harder to make up the difference, but it is becoming too difficult to do. The disheartened cannot teach...at least not with the enthusiasm that children deserve. The data supports the reality. We live in the midst of these findings. Yet, they help tell our compelling story and raise important questions. In this first of a two-part post, we will examine the teacher data.
Not only are we charged with teaching student academic subjects, we must meet the needs of each and every student who walks through our doors. Sixty four percent of teachers are reporting that the number of students and families needing health and social support services increased. Simultaneously, about one third report a reduction in those very services. Who is meeting the needs of those students and families? If they are not met, how ready can those children be to learn? These responsibilities fall upon the teachers and their principals. For many, this has reached the tipping point. Even the best attempts at making up for the lost class offerings and services fail. Too frequently, this leaves the social, emotional, and academic needs of our children only weakly addressed. Children fall through the cracks of disconnected and also depleted systems.
The world we live in is abandoning paper in the form of magazines and newspapers. Encyclopedias are no longer publishing. Digital resources abound. College applications are now emailed, books are being published as eBooks. The data reveal 34% teachers have reported that educational technology and learning is not up to date. Teachers face their students knowing full well that their classrooms lag behind in the use of technology, contributing to the inadequate preparation of students for college and career. We are running the Race to the Top...without the proper equipment. What successful athlete or soldier could win a race without the required fundamental gear?
At the same time, state departments of education are instituting new evaluation systems for teachers and principals. As much as 50% of the evaluation components are dependent on students’ academic growth in some states. For many, these evaluations are based on curricula new to teachers and students, as are the assessments. But in few places do we see the increased professional development that prepares and supports successful change. Pressure to achieve, with less than full capacity resources and with every child, is increasing. Frustration and, ultimately, stress increase also. The other growing, invasive threat to success in classrooms and schools is fear. Fear may be fear of judgment, of conflict, of change, of loss of job, or image or identity. After Newtown, it is also be fear of what the next moment will bring. Schools become a breeding ground of cynicism...one of the powerful barriers to change. Is it any wonder that the percentage of teachers who are likely to leave the profession has risen to 29%?
Parker Palmer, author of The Courage to Teach, suggests that good teaching requires teachers who are authentically present in the classroom, in an active connection with students and subjects alike. In a recent newsletter he wrote “We need to open a new frontier in our exploration of good teaching: the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. ...Reduce teaching to intellect and it becomes a cold abstraction; reduce it to emotions and it becomes narcissistic; reduce it to the spiritual and it loses its anchor to the world. Intellect, emotion, and spirit depend on each other for wholeness. They are interwoven in the human self and in education at its best, and we need to interweave them in our pedagogical discourse as well.”
Our current professional development addresses the intellect but we do mighty little for the emotional or spiritual parts of our teachers and leaders. And these are the sources of morale. In fact, many of us think those are not ours to address but they have great impact on the teaching and learning that actually occurs in our schools. This is the very point we often miss. Recently, Terry Chadsley, the Executive Director of the Center for Courage and Renewal, blogged:
“teaching and learning are not mechanical processes but deeply human ones that call upon not just our minds but our hearts and souls. Good teaching requires teachers who can fully show up day-after-day and year-after-year, cultivating their own identity and integrity, in the face of both heartbreaking challenge and exhilarating success...”
Amen to this. The same holds true for leaders. Now, more than at any previous time, it is imperative to support both teachers and leaders with an additional kind of professional development. Let’s breathe new life into those disheartened teachers and leaders. Knowing what we now know from the MetLife Survey, can we deny any longer that we must find ways to sustain the efforts and the hearts of those upon whom we are heaping demands? With dwindling resources, public outcry against salaries and benefits of teachers and leaders, with positions being eliminated and demands for individual accountability increasing, isn’t it the least we can do?
Blog authors’ correction: The data used in this blog was based upon the 2012 MetLife Survey data. Results that are comparable are consistent. One difference, however, is teacher job satisfaction has gone from 44% in the 2012 report to 39% in the 2013 report.
Palmer, Parker J. (2007). The Courage to Teach. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons
Engage with Ann and Jill on Twitter
NB Ann is a facilitator of Courage to Teach® and Courage to Lead® programs.
The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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.