The beatings will continue until teacher morale improves
Teachers are facing unrivaled criticism from all sides. The education reform movement has targeted them as the culprits behind failing schools. This culture of disrespect, little support, and unrelenting demands takes a toll on teachers – and on our students.
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The main reasons teachers cite for leaving the profession are lack of support for the work they do and bureaucratic impediments, according to a study on teacher retention from the Center for Teacher Quality at California State University. The poor teaching and learning conditions exiting teachers described included lack of planning time, professional development, supplies and books, and support from the administration. They also spoke of excessive paperwork, classroom interruptions, and other restrictions that prevented them from doing their jobs.Skip to next paragraph
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Those who remain in teaching not surprisingly complain of burnout. When teachers feel unappreciated for the work they do, the constant bombardment in the form of OpEds and letters to the editor in newspapers eventually takes a toll.
Lack of respect for teaching in US
Sadly, this state of disrespect, turnover, and burnout is the antithesis of the situation of teachers in other countries. In Finland, Singapore, and South Korea, which are widely considered to have some of the best school systems in the world, teachers are held in the highest regard. That may be in part because these countries recruit their teachers from the top third of their college classes. But it’s also largely the result of the culture, which reveres learning for its own sake.
The US has always been ambivalent about teachers. Some Americans recall with appreciation the ones who played an important role in their lives. Others, however, focus on the long vacations and supposedly short teaching day.
Yet there’s another factor at play that accounts for the negative attitude. Until the mid-1970s, the overall high grades given to teachers were the result of limited openings in other fields for talented women and minorities. When they were finally able to find jobs elsewhere, teaching was faced with new competitive pressures.
Many talented professionals left for more lucrative, high-paying jobs. Teaching has never fully recovered.
Demands for improvement, little support
One chief factor that has exacerbated the flight of talent is the unrelenting demand of the accountability movement. Teachers are required to combat systemic school and community problems, address mass under-performance by students, and bring student test scores up by huge percentages in the span of a year – often with little support. Faced with growing numbers of students from impoverished, chaotic backgrounds, teachers are forced to perform triage almost on a daily basis. Little in their education and training has prepared them to play parent, psychologist, and police.
The result has been lack of time for teachers to teach the subject matter that they have been licensed to teach. Therefore, when the media focuses only on student test scores as evidence of teacher effectiveness, taxpayers are presented with a distorted picture. It’s a perfect prescription for demoralization.
It’s time to realize that teachers are doing the best they can in the face of unprecedented demands. A pat on the back – and a little practical support – at this time can go a long way to help them and ultimately our students.