What are the leading causes of low teacher morale?
Non-classroom duties, such as after-school supervision, are among the leading causes of low teacher morale and professional burnout, a human resources researcher at the University of Florida says.
Even leading a student club can frustrate a teacher if it’s not something they volunteered for on their own accord, says Brian W. Swider, an associate professor in the university’s Warrington College of Business.
“The extent to which those responsibilities are thrust onto a teacher or strongly encouraged increases the likelihood people will leave because that’s not why they entered the profession.”
And during COVID, teachers are managing more non-instructional duties, such as helping online learners with IT problems, monitoring student health and sanitizing their own classrooms.
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Administrators can incentivize some of these activities by, for instance, helping teachers earn certification or microcredentials if they are asked to revise or develop online curriculum.
Teachers may also appreciate additional professional development so they feel more confident about accomplishing some of these non-instructional tasks, Swider says.
Finally, even though district leaders are facing budget constraints, pay increases always raise morale and help retain teachers.
“When the lockdowns started closing schools, the popular narrative in media was that everyone finally recognized how underpaid teachers are,” Swider says. “But after the summer, with the pressure to get back in the classroom and the talk about withholding funding if you don’t return, people may have forgotten about pay.”
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He warns administrations that teachers—even those strongly considering leaving the profession—may remain in their jobs until unemployment numbers improve significantly.
That could mean shortages a few years down the road.
“If a lot of your less senior, less invested teachers leave and fewer people are choosing to enter the professions, that means there are fewer people in the pipeline,” Swider says. “That’s not just losing a couple of years of service from someone who chose to retire early; that’s losing 20 to 30 years of teaching from someone who’s never going to come back.”