"Tired Of Being Treated Like Dirt" Teacher Morale In The 2019 PDK Poll
The title of the 2019 Phi Delta Kappa Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools of "Frustration in the Schools," and the focus in much of the coverage has been on the results about teacher morale.
75% of teachers say schools in their community are underfunded.
50% of teachers have considered leaving the profession.
48% of teachers feel less valued by the community. (10% say they are valued "a great deal.")
55% of teachers would not want their child to follow them into the profession.
The breakdown of the teachers who have seriously considered getting out cite reasons that are all inter-related.
Inadequate pay is the marquee reason, and notably regional. Public school teachers are far less likely to feel fairly paid in the South and Midwest. That reason is followed closely by stress and pressure, which is followed by a lack of respect. Lack of support. Teaching no longer enjoyable. Testing requirements. Workload.
These are tied together with the single thread of distrust and disrespect for teachers. This has been evident on the national stage with issues like installing a Secretary of Education who had previously dismissed public educationas a "dead end" or a Secretary of Education who asserts that student failure isbecause of low teacher expectations. Education has also carried the modern burden of thethesis that poor education is the cause of poverty, or even our "greatest national security threat," and so the entire fate of the nation rests on teachers' backs. And yet, teachers are not trusted to handle any of this; instead, we've had decades of federal and state programs meant to force teachers to do a better job. In the classroom, much of these "reforms" have sounded like "You can't do a good job unless you are threatened, micromanaged, and stripped of your autonomy." There is a special kind of stress that comes from working for someone who says, in effect, "You have a big important job to do, and we do not trust you to do it."
Teachers do not experience disrespect only on a national level. Talk to individual teachers about their own work circumstances and you will often hear about district and building administrators who treat teachers like children. When I was entering teaching forty years ago, one of the appealing features of the profession was autonomy, the freedom to pursue excellence in your classroom. There are some excellent school leaders out there who empower their teachers, but there are too many teachers out there who find themselves figuratively bound hand and foot, required to justify every action, treated like they are a source of trouble instead of valuable front-line professionals getting the work done. It is discouraging to work for a boss who does not trust you to behave like a responsible adult and do your job. Are there teachers who have proven not to deserve that trust? Of course--it's a huge profession. But if I had approached my classrooms with an attitude of "I'm going to assume you're all stupid behavior problems," I would have had a rough time. In a classroom, you get respect with respect.
Certainly pay matters. One cannot buy their family food with respect. But for many teachers, the low pay feels like one more act of disrespect, a very literal declaration that "you're just not worth it."
Let's not overstate the problem. According to the PDK poll, 52% of teachers feel respected by their community, and 40% feel they are fairly paid. There are teachers out there who still love what they do, and who are happy to keep doing it. And an excellent principal or superintendent can help support and lift up the staff.
But the effects of the issues covered by the poll have been felt for several years now. We hear regularly about a "teacher shortage," and districts across the country are having real trouble filling positions with qualified people. However,calling the situation a teacher shortageis incorrect. If you can't buy a Porsche for $1.98, that doesn't mean there's an automobile shortage. It means that you haven't made an attractive enough offer to the people with Porsches to sell. You need to make a better offer.
The PDK survey is a snapshot of how much less attractive the teaching profession has become. PDK gave a random sampling of those who considered leaving the profession a chance to explain why. Certain repeated phrases jump out. "Lack of respect," "No respect," "too little pay and respect," "we are treated like trash," and "tired of being treated like dirt."
There is no teacher shortage. The U.S. education system needs to make a better offer.