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40% of teachers are “disheartened”

October 22, 2009

I’m saddened, but not surprised.

Public Agenda released a report yesterday (“Teaching for a Living: How Teachers See the Profession Today“) that provided some fascinating insight into what teachers are thinking and feeling about their jobs and education in general.

Approximately 900 K-12 teachers were surveyed and the questions were extensive.  What Public Agenda found is that 40% of those teachers are “disheartened” and disappointed about their jobs. While many will review this data and immediately say, “Great, but 60% are content!” that’s not a fair statement.  It’s significant that nearly half are unhappy.

But the “why” is even more telling.  Those teachers that reported being discouraged, nearly 75% of them blame discipline and behavior issues.  And, over 60% of them cite lack of support from their administration as another factor.

For years I’ve been saying that teacher satisfaction depends a great deal on their working environment.  When you recognize that too much time that should be spent on teaching goes instead to “discipline and behavior issues,” it’s not hard to connect the dots for why teachers are having a tough time.  Imagine ANY other “business” where you were losing 30/40/50% of your “work time” on dealing with other people’s behaviors or discipline problems — it just wouldn’t be acceptable.  You’d get frustrated because you couldn’t get your job done, and you’d feel completely dragged down at the end of the day.

Let’s put it in the teacher’s perspective. I happened on another site yesterday where there was an Op-Ed from Michelle Obama on teachers — how valuable and important they were, recalling with nostaligia the teacher who always stood out.  One teacher’s comments were particularly interesting (I’m paraphrasing, but I’ve retained the general gist):

“…it becomes extremely difficult to teach the core subject areas when the idea of character and life skills are not being taught at home. I feel like I am constantly addressing “life” skills and teaching the students how to act appropriately, before the actual teaching begins. There is simply not enough time in the day to give lessons on lifeskills then manage to actually teach them something academic. Additionally, there is CONSTANT interruption in the classroom because students do not know how to respect themselves, their teacher, or their classmates, which takes another portion of the day to give lessons on this. When does the actual teaching begin?”

This is not an isolated case, as the Public Agenda study shows.  This teacher goes on to advocate character education teachers in the classroom, as a separate but standard course of study, subject-matter experts like math or science. That part I don’t agree with because isolating it as a separate subject continues to treat it like an unrelated skill.  Our character, our values, our behavior should be a constant, no matter whether we are at PE, on the playground, learning math, at the library.  It IS what and who we are. 

But the general concept is valid. As she continues:

“If the government treated Character Education as another core subject area, then I feel that behavior would improve and student respect for learning would increase.”

And, as we know, when we integrate social skills education into the core, other good things happen — test scores go up; bullying disappears; absenteeism goes down; teachers, students and staff are happier and more satisfied. These problems can’t be fixed in any other way — not by applying more money, creating smaller classes, or building more charter schools.  All those things, in absence of addressing classroom discipline issues, won’t be enough to turn the ship around. It really IS at the core of the problems in our schools, and now we have another study that helps support what I’ve said in the past: the 3Rs aren’t enough.  It’s the missing Rs (Respect, Reliability, Responsibility, Resourcefulness, Resilience) that our kids aren’t learning that’s hurting everyone.

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