Why teacher morale appears to be dropping

Salary increases can boost job satisfaction, but operational funds must also rise, administrators say

Teachers feel less optimistic about their profession than they did a year ago, according Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s annual “Educator Confidence Report.”

In a survey of more than 1,300 educators, 34% of teachers expressed optimism, compared with 50% in 2018, according the report. Teacher confidence declined in many areas, such as building students’ critical thinking skills, using data to inform instruction and applying instruction to the real world.

Also, nearly all administrators and teachers surveyed said students need more social and emotional support. Teachers told Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that they want their schools’ SEL initiatives to focus on self-discipline, self-motivation and self-regulation.

However, more teachers are feeling confident in their abilities to use ed tech, according the report.

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The drop in morale is being noticed in districts’ central offices. When interim Superintendent Kristen McNeill took the lead role at Washoe County School District this summer, she said boosting teacher morale would be a priority, the Reno Gazette Journal reported.

McNeill told the newspaper that workload, pay and benefits are teachers’ top concerns.

Oklahoma’s minimum $5,000 pay increase for teachers, enacted in 2018, has improved morale in many districts, the Tulsa World reported. But Broken Arrow Public Schools Superintendent Janet Dunlop told the newspaper that operational funding also has to increase to sustain morale in the long term.

“The teacher pay raises were fantastic,” Dunlop told the newspaper. “But I don’t want anyone to be misled in thinking they take the place of also having some additional operational funding, because we can’t spend the raises on anything else. So all those other gaps that came from 10 years of budget cuts are still there.”

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Professional development offered through one-on-one mentoring programs is one way to boost the morale of new teachers, District Administration reported earlier this year.

The one-on-one PD model can also provide a reboot for veterans, said Michelle Lemons, coordinator for The Mentor Program, a partnership between Albuquerque Public Schools in New Mexico and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation.

“I think a lot of teachers reach a point where they want to give back—they want to make a deposit on their legacy,” Lemons told DA. “It also fills their cup back up. They really need to carve out some time to replenish their own learning and their own skills.”

And many districts are also using residency programs to help new teachers get off to a good start, DA reported in September.

In special education, a growing number of districts are using a coaching model to build teacher confidence and effectiveness, DA reported this fall. Leaders in these districts told DA they are already seeing results in increased student achievement.

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Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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