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Teacher Morale Plummets

The 29th annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher confirms what was expected. I'm referring now to teacher satisfaction, which is the lowest in a quarter of a century. Specifically, only 39 percent of teachers said they were very satisfied, and more than half said they felt under "great stress" several days a week.

These results are not at all surprising in light of the pressure that public school teachers and principals are under to produce quantifiable outcomes. I warned about the trend three years ago this month ("The Beatings Will Continue Until Teacher Morale Improves"). I expect the next MetLife survey to be even more disheartening. I hope I'm wrong.

What's given short shrift is the effect that low teacher morale has on students. Let's not forget that no one goes into teaching for fame, fortune or power. Those who choose teaching as a career - not as a resume builder - genuinely want to help young people be all they can possibly be. They don't always succeed, but they spend enormous energy and time trying. As a result, the last thing they deserve is unrelenting bashing. And that's precisely what they're getting. I liken the matter to kicking a person when the person is down. Burnout is slow to develop, but when it does it undermines the ability of even the most dedicated teacher to teach students.

Reformers are quick to respond that teachers have plenty of time to recover. They trot out the usual factors: long summer vacations, short teaching days etc. Of course, few, if any, reformers have ever taught in a public school, or if they did, it was decades ago when conditions were entirely different. I guarantee that they wouldn't last a week in front of a class of students now. I say that because teaching was once fun. That's no longer the case. When teachers' jobs largely depend on posting ever increasing standardized test scores, the atmosphere in the classroom is unavoidably altered for the worse. Survival becomes the No. 1 concern.

I don't think public schools will be recognizable a decade or so from now. The handwriting is ubiquitous. I've always believed in following the money trail for answers, and there is much money to be made by scapegoating teachers. The commodification of education in this country will accelerate, creating a juggernaut that cannot be defeated. I'm grateful that I taught when I did. I never got rich, powerful or famous, but I had a rewarding career. I think that's what most teachers today also want.

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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.

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