Aaron Regunberg: Corporate ‘Reform’ Alienating Teachers/Principals
Monday, March 04, 2013
The Metlife Survey of the American Teacher recently released a report from their 2012 investigation into the state of U.S. educators. The annual survey, which was conducted among 1,000 K-12 public school teachers and 500 K-12 public school principals, offers an invaluable snapshot of the condition of those professionals to whom we entrust the educating of our nation’s youth. This year’s results continue a disturbing—and an escalating—trend that should have all of us seriously reconsidering what kinds of strategies will actually, positively reform our education system.
The number one loudest alarm bell I saw in the survey were the findings on educators’ job satisfaction. According to the study, “Principal and teacher job satisfaction is declining. Principals’ satisfaction with their jobs in the public schools has decreased nine percentage points since it was last measured in 2008. In that same period, teacher satisfaction has dropped precipitously by 23 percentage points, including a five-point decrease in the last year, to the lowest level it has been in the survey in 25 years.”
And that is not all: “A majority of teachers report that they feel under great stress at least several days a week, a significant increase from 1985 when this was last measured… Stress is related to job satisfaction for teachers. Teachers today with lower job satisfaction are more than twice as likely as those who say they are very satisfied with their job to feel under great stress several days a week or more (65% vs. 28%).”
Unsurprisingly, these trends are not evenly distributed, with educators at low-performing schools and schools that have had budget cuts reporting more stress and dissatisfaction.
“Principals and teachers with low job satisfaction report higher levels of stress than do other educators and are more likely to work in high-needs schools,” the report said. “Less satisfied principals are more likely to find it challenging to maintain an academically rigorous environment and an adequate supply of effective teachers in their schools, while less satisfied teachers are more likely to be working in schools where budgets and time for professional development and collaboration have decreased in the last 12 months.”
It is difficult to over-stress the significance of these findings. This kind of decline in job satisfaction—23 percentage points in four years—is shocking, and I don’t know how one could argue that such a development would not have major effects on students’ academic experiences. While a little stress is acceptable (maybe even helpful) in challenging us to strive, do any of us perform best in our profession when we are highly stressed? Do any of us work harder and more effectively when we are decidedly dissatisfied with our jobs? Of course we don’t, and I would argue that it would be even harder to defy these normal rules of behavior in a job as complex and difficult as that of a teacher or principal.
In essence, this survey shows that we are actively chasing away the very people who are most responsible for the direct implementation of our young people’s schooling. This is not a trivial development. Research shows—and, indeed, it should be self-evident—that school reform efforts hinge on teacher buy-in. It doesn’t matter what kind of turnaround plan you may have concocted; you simply cannot improve a school’s performance if the rank-and-file educators who will be enacting this plan are not invested in and taking ownership of the initiative.
So what’s the lesson of all this? We have to stop doing everything in our power to make teachers hate their jobs, whether it is taking away their freedom to be creative in their own classrooms; forcing them to spend their days teaching to a standardized test; labeling them “ineffective” and even firing them based on faulty evaluation models; hyping movies like Waiting for Superman or Won’t Back Down that actively blame teachers for all the problems facing public education; highlighting programs like Teach For America whose underlying premise is that career teachers need to be replaced by temporary, untrained elite college grads; or any of the dozens of other ways we de-professionalize, constrain, and devalue our nation’s educators.
Our public schools are failing to properly serve low-income students. But we are not going to fix this titanic and complicated dilemma by making students’ teachers miserable, and we need to recognize this truth and course-correct if we are to begin making substantial progress towards ensuring every young person gets the relevant, engaging and high-quality education he or she deserves.
- Aaron Regunberg: Want Economic Development? Raise the Minimum Wage
- John Monfredo: Hidden Heroes of Public Education in Worcester
- John Monfredo: It’s Time To Get Serious About the “Summer Slide”
- John Monfredo: Knowledge of American History and Civics in Danger of Becoming “History”
- Julia Steiny: A Fresh Take on Separate, but Not Remotely Equal Schools
- Julia Steiny: Fifth-Graders Having a Blast with Algebra
- Julia Steiny: Legislators, Stop Ruining Four Months of School
- Julia Steiny: Michelle Rhee Throws Gas on Ed Reform Hostilities
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