The teaching occupation has undergone tremendous changes in recent years as the levels of stress and expectation have increased while the amount of resources including finances and professional development have decreased. The annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher in 2012 captured some of the frustrations experienced by teachers and administration in this day of nationalized standards, Common Core Curriculum, and tightening budgets. These factors make life on the job difficult when attempting to teach children who may come from homes where the value of learning is not reinforced and teachers are still held accountable for achieving learning goals.
Teaching attracts some of the brightest and most optimistic young people. Often people enter teaching because they want to make a difference in the lives of young people and because they found their own educational experience to be fulfilling. However, many request transfers to other schools out of frustration or leave the profession altogether.
The Alliance for Excellent Education reported in 2005 that the cost of replacing public school educators was conservatively $2.2 billion per year. This does not take into account those who request transfers to other schools and must be replaced. The costs increase to $4.9 billion per year.
What happens to cause the optimism for teaching to become such dissatisfaction that teachers are leaving the profession? The causes are varied, but most would likely fall under one of three categories.
Teachers often complain about low salaries. The median annual salary for teachers as reported by payscale.com ranged from just over $40,000 for elementary teachers to over $45,000 for special education teachers. All other teachers fell in the middle and salaries do vary by state. This is an insufficient salary for educators with families and who may be paying back student loan debt. Job opportunities in other vocations or in other school districts can be irresistible when they offer more money and the individual is already frustrated with the current work environment.
The challenge of motivating students to learn is difficult enough. Workplace frustrations like budget cuts, unrealistic expectations, too many students, administrative duties, etc. can easily reduce workplace satisfaction. The Alliance for Education report found that among teachers requesting transfers the primary reasons were a lack of planning time, an excessive workload, and a lack of influence in school policy.
Another stressor that goes along with the student composition of classes is the attempt in recent years to mainstream children with learning or behavioral problems in the same class with other students. This creates an almost impossible situation for the teacher because the level of instruction must match the learners. In these situations the level of instruction will be either beneath the level of challenge for the academically-inclined students, which leads to boredom, or the level will be too high for those with learning or behavioral issues and will encourage these students to act out in the class in frustration or to drop out.
Lack of support
A lack of support is another reason for low teacher morale. The 2012 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher reported that teacher morale was lower in schools where professional development was cut over the past 12 months and where teacher mentoring was absent. Budget cuts have remove resources for teachers to use in the classroom unless the teacher wants to purchase items for the class.
The MetLife Survey also touches on an element sometimes overlooked in trying to identify reasons for low teacher morale and teacher turnover and that is the relationship between administration and teachers. Teachers expressed more dissatisfaction in schools where there seems to be a disconnect between administration and the teachers. A symptom of the problem is an organizational environment that lacks collaboration and relies on policies imposed from the top.
What can be done to improve teacher morale and to lower teacher turnover? It really does take a village to educate children. Parents need to share the responsibility for educating their children. They can do this by creating an environment at home that encourages education. Teachers are not magicians. Very few students will ever be successfully in reprogramming the worldview of students so that they love learning if the student lives in a home where education is not treated as a value.
Administration obviously feels the heat from the community and from bureaucrats to meet certain educational outcomes, but administration needs to realize that teachers are on the frontlines in achieving this goal and the school must run like a team rather than a top-down organization. There must be collaboration within the organization and including the willingness of administration to listen and respond to the concerns of the teachers.
Teachers must be part of the solution too. In a sense, everyone is responsible for his or her perceptions and levels of satisfaction on the job. Sometimes teachers may need to step back and recognize that certain stressors are just the nature of the beast and learn to live with it. Still, teachers can become creative. Rather than waiting on the school to create a mentoring program for new teachers just step up and be one when new teachers seem to be struggling. As much as teachers might want to blame much of their low morale on parents and administration, teachers must also remember that they have a responsibility more making improvements in the workplace.
Dissatisfaction is an easy goal to achieve. Learning to make the best of a difficult situation and to even find reasons for hope in difficult situation is a task and an art.