You Better Start Listening to Teachers
This past week I noticed a storm brewing, and I am not talking about the snowstorm that swept through the Midwest. I'm talking about the indications of unrest found in the latest MetLife American Teacher Survey. The results were dismaying but not surprising to me. I've talked to teachers who, like most in their profession, care deeply for their students and weep with anger over the bureaucratic intrusions into their classrooms that prevent them from doing their best for those students. I've talked to teachers who say they can't afford to teach, and I've talked to teachers who are exhausted from the struggle to provide resources and attention to classes too large for students so needy.
I have also heard that the average salary of teachers has declined---declined for the first time in my lifetime. Their profession is not getting better for teachers. Politicians, education leaders, business CEOs, and parents must listen to teachers before serious damage is done to the public schools of America.
When I read the results of the MetLife survey, I noted that results were based on information gathered in the fall of 2012. How much worse will the next report be if we don't start doing some things differently? According to the survey, job satisfaction is at the lowest level in twenty years, and teachers who are more likely to leave for another occupation are at the highest level. Teaching was once thought to be a secure profession, but now, high numbers of teachers feel insecure in their jobs because of budget cuts and flawed evaluation systems. The combination has created an environment of fear and high stress levels in which no employee can do her or his best work for children.
This survey provided key insights into the elements that produce job satisfaction. Being treated as a professional with respect and trust, adequate opportunities for professional development, time to collaborate with other teachers, preparation time for lessons and analysis of student data, and parent involvement that promotes positive relations were the main drivers. Additionally, the survey found that while benefits are fair for now, salaries are woefully inadequate and there seems to be little effort to prioritize salary improvement in budgets.
I have often written that the primary core value of teachers is fairness. Life for them today is not fair. For example, a blog about an architect of the flawed No Child Left Behind legislation stated that he has his own children in a private school, a school that proudly promotes that it does not administer the state standardized tests and advertises its small class sizes.
In addition, politicians have unfairly bashed teachers using that big club of flawed standardized tests. Teachers know that they are totally responsible for their practice, but test scores are the responsibility of the test takers. You can evaluate a teacher's practice if test scores show a pattern of problems, but it is not fair to stop at one test score. If the testing pressure continues, the best prepared teachers will only be found at schools for the middle class and affluent while poor children will be relegated to short-termers and the unprepared.
How can we begin to shore up our schools and the teachers in them? We can start by having every school administer the Teaching and Learning Conditions Survey and use the data to make substantive changes in the school environment. The New Teacher Center is the resource for getting that started. The Center's work is no longer mere theory, but meaningful data for school improvement and a must for those who want to improve teacher job satisfaction.
Secretary Duncan should use his bully pulpit to declare teacher morale and job satisfaction key factors in achieving world class schools. He should conduct teacher town hall meetings virtually and in person to listen to teachers. The Secretary of Education needs to partner with America's teachers in providing all children a great education. If we truly believe that teachers are the most important element in creating great schools, then listen, listen, listen.
A storm is brewing. Let's take the steps needed to prevent its blowing down our public schools.