teacher morale, NCLB, teacher pay, respect for teachers, Day of the Teacher, test scores, creativity, critical thinking

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CALIFORNIA SCHOOLS AND PUBLIC EDUCATION—ESSAYS • NEWS • RESEARCH • RESOURCES
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May 20, 2006

Low pay, lack of respect and NCLB create crisis
in teacher morale

Sandra Nichols
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  "...it's a wonder teachers can push this negativism out of their minds while they turn their full attention on their students."

At a time when low morale is as common place in our schools as high stakes testing, we take a few moments on a single day in May to recognize the most important person in a child's education. There! That was May 10th, the official "Day of the Teacher." Did you notice? The problem of low morale continues day after day throughout the nation. If misery loves company, we could have a convention.

Teachers suffer from low morale due in part to the low-pay-high-cost-of-living gap. Decisions handed from the top down leave teachers feeling more like trainers than educators. Teaching in low performing schools should be a rewarding experience, yet these schools are labeled failures. The emphasis placed on test scores makes creativity and critical thinking afterthoughts at best.

Locally, these problems are confounded as some educators are seen publicly lambasting others. The education community is on edge. With all the finger pointing and name calling, it's a wonder teachers can push this negativism out of their minds while they turn their full attention on their students. In this context, rays of hope keep teachers from falling into despair. Teachers are thankfully buoyed by their students. There are moments of joy when teachers reflect, "This is why I went into teaching and continue to teach today."

In the staff room a different story unfolds. Veteran teachers often speak of their own retirements. They can't wait! Others express incredulity regarding how anyone can enter the teaching profession in these days of No Child Left Behind. Even administrators are not immune, with many abandoning the public schools. One, a departing superintendent in New York, summed it up saying today's school reform is really regression. He has grown intolerant of "the naysayers and chuckleheads who look at numbers and throw mud."

An occasional breakthrough in regulations affecting schools elevates the spirits and keeps us teaching. Last week's court decision that some high school students weren't adequately prepared for the high school exit exam resulted in a preliminary injunction just in the nick of time to save the diploma dreams of 130 struggling, local students.

On the National Education Association's web site, www.nea.org, I read about current trends in education that affect the teaching profession. On the basis of those trends and some of my own observations, I made a Pop Quiz. The answers follow. Score yourself according to your own standards.

1.) Why does one choose to become a teacher? A.) to make a living; B.) for the numerous vacations; C.) for the free benefits; D.) to be respected.

2.) How much education does it take to be a teacher? A.) a bachelor's degree; B.) a two-year credential program C.) additional class work after earning a credential. D.) regular in-service training.

3.) Why would anyone leave the teaching profession after so much preparation? A.) teaching is unrewarding; B.) colleagues are disrespectful; C.) teaching doesn't present a challenge; D.) students aren't appreciative.

4.) Why are teachers constantly complaining about low pay? A.) salary increases don't keep up with the cost of living; B.) cost of benefits is always increasing C.) teachers are asked to do more and more; D.) too many out-of-pocket supply purchases.

5.) Do teachers get the respect they deserve? (essay question)

Answers: 1.) None of the above. 2.) All of the above. 3.) None of the above. 4. ) All of the above. 5.) My observation is that teachers respect each other and students recognize great teachers. However, great teachers often go unrecognized by their supervisors year after year. In many cases, administrators are too preoccupied with any number of emergencies and new procedures and regulations, to do anything other than mass mailings in praise of teachers. That kind of recognition generally does not make a teacher's day.

Finally, on a personal note, I once felt unappreciated as a teacher because a new principal didn't appear to know my name for an entire year. Then the principal became aware of my position as a school board trustee. From that day forward, I was treated with respect. Respect and support should be commonplace for teachers regardless of their position on the education ladder. This would go a long way to elevate morale at schools.

Sandra Nichols is a Speech and Language Specialist for Santa Cruz City Schools, the Vice-President of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Governing Board, the Coordinator of Special Education for Spreckels Union School District in Monterey County, and a candidate for Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools. Her opinions are not necessarily those of any school district.

© Sandra Nichols 2001 - 2006

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