According to a recent survey, teachers are unhappy. They’re more dissatisfied now than they’ve been at any time in the last twenty years.
Speaking for myself, I think it has to do with a certain coincidence. On the one hand, we’re feeling pressure from lawmakers and the business community to perform at a higher level; to increase student achievement across the board, regardless of student demographics. State legislatures - and the economists who inform them - have locked onto the fact that teacher quality is the most important factor in a child’s education: any child can learn, in any classroom, in any school, in any neighborhood, as long as they have a great teacher. With this mindset, school reform becomes a matter of passing rigorous teacher evaluation bills and simplifying the process of firing ineffective teachers.
On the other hand, the weak economy has meant budget cuts to education. Teacher salaries and in-class support have been reduced, while class sizes have gone up. The weak economy has also had an effect on the student populations that many of us serve. Over the last five years, my school’s free-and-reduced lunch rate has climbed from 30% to 50%.
In other words, we’re expected to do more with less; the perfect recipe for frustration, discouragement and dissatisfaction.
But so what? Who said we’re supposed to have it easy? Why shouldn’t we be expected to deliver a high-quality product for as low a cost as possible? I mean, from what I hear, things are tough all over. Why should education be the exception?
It shouldn’t. But at some point something has to give. You can't demand better and better results with less and less support.
And when the system begins to break down (if it hasn't already) guess where the first cracks will show up? To find out, you need to drill down about halfway into the report: “Teachers with low job satisfaction are more likely to teach in urban schools and in schools with larger proportions of minority students. Teachers likely to leave the profession are more likely than others to teach in schools with more than two-thirds minority students.”
In other words, our legislative squeeze play – demanding more for less – will ultimately hurt our most fragile students. It will hit them first and it will hit them hardest.
Me? I’ll be fine. I might gripe from time to time, but when the bell rings and the students walk in the door, I can put it aside and focus on my job. Don’t worry about me.
Worry instead about the students down the street. The poor students. The students who get a new faculty every five years because their frustrated and discouraged teachers give up and leave.