It may not be a popular topic, but the morale and happiness of the teachers who are educating our children is very important. Yes, teachers are professionals and are subject to similar workplace hardships as any other working adult. We can’t just expect them to keep their chin up and have a constant positive attitude. They need help too!
Further complicating matters, teachers “get summers off,” and are at the helm of one of the most visibly struggling industries in the United States. Sympathy doesn’t come naturally under these circumstances.
It should be abundantly clear to anyone with experience around classrooms, teachers or students (which is to say almost all of us), that teaching is a highly emotional craft, loaded with possibility and expectation, importance and scale.
It’s troubling when the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future says that 46 percent of new teachers leave the profession within five years. And even worse, this turnover is also impacting the whole public education machine — learning, teacher education, teacher training, funding, public perception, and so on — in a dizzying cause-effect pattern stuck on repeat.
Fixing this issue is an illusion, as it’s not a single issue but rather a product of countless factors. However, there are six ways we can address it here and now.
1. Replace a Tone of Accountability with One of Innovation
Schools — especially low-performing schools — often seek relief from pressure through alignment, adherence and compliance with a certain program, curriculum, set of standards, approach to faculty meetings, and so on. While there is nothing wrong with having standards and expecting teachers to stick to them, when this is done wrong it can create a climate of “accountability” and “non-negotiables” that requires all teachers to prove they are in compliance on a daily basis. And this is not an atmosphere of innovation or creativity.
2. “Brand” Content, Classrooms and Teachers — Not Districts, Curriculum and Schools
Today, it is generally the district, a selected curriculum or the school itself that gets the “branding,” and is thus what parents and students discuss. To increase teacher morale, why not put the content areas (or unique classes based on those content areas), classrooms and teachers at the center of attention? This goes against tradition, where teachers shy away from acclaim and spotlight, but maybe that — in one way or another — can change?
3. Replace Forced Collaboration with Reasons for Collaboration
Teacher collaboration — in person or in professional learning communities and networks online — is a huge catalyst for teacher improvement. But forcing teachers to collaborate works about as well as forcing students to learn. Just as project-based learning works best under the duress of an authentic need-to-know, teacher collaboration works best under a similar need-to-collaborate, not through forced and externally driven “data teams.”
4. Use PBL to Embed within Local Communities
This would help with the branding mentioned above, but more importantly, it would put teachers in contact with the stakeholders they are most accountable to: the local community.