The Demoralization of the American Teacher

The Demoralization of the American Teacher

Standardization, budget cuts, layoffs, and public outcry are leading to a severely demoralized education work force.

There’s a crisis within public education that is outside of the concerns of pro-privatization billionaires and educational reformists in Washington. Teachers are coming to work more demoralized and broken down than ever; struggling to teach kids that don’t have a home, or food in the refrigerator; facing year after year of salary freezes and lay-offs due to state and district budget-cuts, and attempting to give kids real-life skills despite spreadsheet–style standardization. We are facing the corporatization of our childrens’ education, and it’s leading to the lowest teacher job satisfaction rating in decades.

It’s easy for MBA-wielding reform and crusading politicians in need of a good campaign talking point to make the case for widespread standardization and freezing or even lowering teacher pay. These individuals are looking at “the evidence” in terms of glossy consulting firm presentations and a couple of charter school walk-throughs where the administration has had three weeks noticed to buff their floors and paint over the graffiti.

The reality in schools is that the education reform agenda has gone well beyond what was ever realistic, or even productive. Instead it’s been moralized, made a political ideology, and pursued with the kind of dogged determination that can only be produced by venture capitalists that have “caught the scent”.

The result is that teachers, parents, and students are feeling the crush. According to the METLife Survey of the American Teacher of over 1,000 teachers and parents in 947 public schools across the country, things are getting pretty bad. Amid many disparate reform agendas, near-austerity budget cuts, and increasingly prevalent teacher layoffs, teachers are reporting the lowest job satisfaction since 1989. Just 44% of teacher respondents reported being satisfied with their jobs. Of those, only 27% reported actually enjoying their job. What does that mean for America’s schools? As “broken” as the media cycle and politicians would have you believe the system is, the education work force is feeling the pressure of heavy-handed regulation and public outcry.

What’s important to mention in all of this is that according to most national polls, individuals are by and large happy with their own children’s teachers. The perception of low-quality teachers in public school classrooms is often one that people attribute to other schools and other teachers. Well if most people are happy with their own schools and teachers, then most schools and teachers must be doing OK, and this national epidemic of low-quality teachers is more misperception than reality.

Of course there are stagnating schools out there, and there are low graduation rates and underachieving minority students and everything else that the statistical data actually says (not to be confused with what politicians and pundits will attempt to make the statistics show). However, to attempt to demonize an entire workforce of individuals that are famously (infamously) under-compensated is to further damage the profession of an already overworked, overburdened, and underappreciated group of people.