At a recent meeting, it came to my attention that the Oregon Teaching Standards and Practices Commission has been receiving an increasing number of complaints about teachers who have engaged in conduct that is extremely out of the ordinary for them as individuals, or who have acted before thinking, resulting in interactions that were then judged to be unprofessional. The Commission Director indicated that she felt this was an indicator of rising stress in the teaching force.
Rising teacher stress is painfully obvious to any objective observer and is approaching epidemic proportions. We must change it before we completely lose the excellent teachers that we now have.
But this is only the latest reminder about the scope of the problem that I have encountered. This really should not be news to those who make educational policy. Two different studies now nearly two years old sounded the alarm loud and clear. Unfortunately, both have been alternatively “spun” or just plain ignored.
One was the 2012 release of the prestigious MetLife Survey of the American Teacher - Challenges for School Leadership. This was the twenty-ninth in a series sponsored annually by MetLife since 1984 to give voice to those closest to the Classroom.
The other is the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index (2013).
The way in which these two were presented to the public, however, was strikingly different. The Atlantic headlined its story on the MetLife survey "Teacher Job Satisfaction Hits 25-Year Low" and said:
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. 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.But Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Gallup Education, and Dr. Shane Lopez, Gallup Senior Scientist, writing about the findings of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index chose a much sunnier headline "Teaching May Be the Secret to a Good Life", saying:
According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a career in teaching may be the secret to the good life. Never mind the media reports that make teaching in America look like a horrible job; it may be one of the best careers for a person’s well-being.
Teachers beat out investment bankers, consultants, accountants, engineers, sales professionals, and entrepreneurs on how they rate their lives overall. When thinking about their life on a scale of 0-10 — with 0 being the worst possible life and 10 being the best possible life, teachers rate their lives higher than all other professions surveyed, except physicians. Further, teachers are No. 3 among the professions surveyed in terms of saying they get to “use their strengths and do what they do best every day.”This was trumpeted widely by those who would have us believe that Oregon teachers love the Common Core and the many other key attributes of ex-Governor Kitzhaber’s education reform — Stand for Children chief among them. But these cheerleaders for the failed education policies of Obama somehow failed to take public note of the following passage in the Gallup blog, which stated:
The only obstacle in our way, however, may be the workplace in schools themselves. Despite enjoying top marks in overall wellbeing, teachers rank toward the bottom (eighth out of 14) of the professions surveyed on one very important element of well being: work environment. They rank sixth in saying their “supervisor treats me more like a partner than a boss.” And they are dead-last — 14th, behind coal miners and truck drivers — in saying their “supervisor always creates an environment that is trusting and open.” They are also dead last in saying they were “treated with respect all day yesterday,” and experience the second-highest stress level across all occupations. And according to Gallup’s workplace engagement surveys, 31% of teachers are “engaged,” which ranks sixth overall behind farmers and fishermen, nurses, physicians, managers, and business owners. We have to fix this.Oregon policy makers must heed this continuing message and make teacher motivation our number one education policy priority. Instead of mouthing the catchy but sketchy Lake Woebegone-esque quest for "A World Class Teacher in Every Classroom”, Oregon needs to recognize that our teachers are already a highly skilled and dedicated group and switch their focus to take action to assure a motivated teacher in every classroom.
We can and should begin with ending the Smarter Balanced Assessment and its Kafkaesque demands and processes that are causing our teachers to be unwilling accomplices in damaging their kids!