Boosting K-12 Teacher Morale

Boosting K-12 Teacher Morale

Public school teachers are stressed out by their work. They have a gloomy outlook on the problems students face and a dim view of K-12 education’s future, according to an article in Forbes. These views are chronicled in a new Pew Research Center survey of classroom teachers entitled What’s It Like To Be a Teacher in America Today?

To be sure, teachers are just as prone as the rest of us to overstate how bad things are. Moreover, this survey is a snapshot of one point in time.

Today, roughly 3.2 million K-12 teachers serve around 49 million students in 98,500 public schools. These teachers have low levels of job satisfaction. A majority report their job is frequently stressful (77%), even overwhelming (68%), and believe schools are understaffed (70%). They are less satisfied with their jobs than the typical U.S. worker. While a slight majority (51%) of U.S. workers say they are either extremely or very satisfied, that number falls to one out of three (33%) teachers.

Teachers’ views on classroom behavior and obstacles to teaching raise significant student learning concerns. Almost half of teachers (47%) say students show little or no interest in education, riding to nearly six out of 10 (58%) among high school teachers. One out of three (33%) say students are distracted by their cell phones, rising to over seven out of 10 (72%) in high school.

Other student behaviors threaten teachers’ well-being and safety. Nearly seven out of 10 (68%) teachers report they experienced verbal abuse from a student, including being yelled at or threatened. Physical violence is also a problem. Four out of 10 (40%) say a student has been violent toward them.

Schools do not seem inclined to address these problems. Two out of three teachers (66%) report current school discipline practices are very or somewhat mild. A similar number say they do not have enough influence in determining discipline practices at their school.

Only one out of five teachers is optimistic about the next five years, saying that K-12 education will be a lot or somewhat better in five years, with a majority (53%) saying it will be worse.

There are initiatives underway to remedy these problems. For example, the International Baccalaureate Organization’s Wellbeing for Schoolteachers program documents evidence-based interventions that foster teachers’ personal and professional well-being. And Opportunity Culture works with districts to create cooperative staffing models, including on-the-job coaching and other teacher support.

Other initiatives are directed to specific groups, like the one for Gen Z teachers sponsored by the Southern Regional Education Board. Or they are directed to the stages of teaching, like the Education Week State of Teaching survey that examines the life cycle of teachers’ professional lives and the supports needed in each phase.

But there are no quick and easy fixes to this trouble in the teaching profession. K-12 policymakers and other community stakeholders should start by acknowledging its troubled state and developing strategies to remedy it.


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