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Morale Takes a Hit, but Commitment is Strong

July 2, 2011
Brenda Alvarez

In a perfect world, every public school teacher in America would be able to influence classroom instruction and size, have quality conversations with administrators, determine the best professional development and have the right resources needed to create student success. But reality for today’s public school educator is quite the opposite.

Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Alabama are just a few of the states around the country experiencing draconian assaults on public education—and teachers are feeling the angst.

Melissa Spencer, president of the Des Moines Education Association, says these types of measures make it difficult for teachers to teach, as well as negatively affects the next generation of thinkers.

“These policies make it hard for teachers to show up and do their job because they feel they’re not being valued,” said Spencer. “But it’s harder for our students because the further you privatize education, the more you marginalize their ability to get a good public education.”

Susan Solomon, a staff representative of the United Educators of San Francisco and a kindergarten teacher by trade, knows what if feels like to be undervalued. Within some of the school walls Solomon represents, it’s not uncommon for there to be no communication, refusal to set meetings and receive little to no support for educators.

“One of the problems is mid and top level administrators not trusting the teachers and the paraprofessionals, nurses, the social workers, librarians counselors to really understand the work and to be able to help inform the district about what needs to be done,” said Solomon.

Education reform has brought a mixed bag of educator morale.

In Dayton, Ohio, three schools—Dunbar High School, Belmont High School and Meadowdale High School—received federal School Improvement Grant funds.  And at each school, staff spirit varies.

“Belmont staff is energized, ready to go,” David Romick, president of the Dayton Education Association.  “They’ve taken the reins, and they’re riding with the whole Priority Schools program.”

Down the street at Dunbar High School, however, it’s a different feeling that’s more common among schools that have implemented new changes as part of the SIG requirements.

“Dunbar is a little fatigued,” Romick said. “It’s just been a strain to think about new ways to do things,” saying that the school’s staff was stuck in the ‘we’re going to keep doing things the way we were doing them because that’s what works for us.’

“Of course with Priority Schools and SIG, you can’t do that,” he added. “That change in particular has been tough for them.”

But make no mistake about it, educators are not sitting idle.

“Organizing is the key to all of this,” said Spencer. “We’re organizing members, as well as parents and the community to help talk about how teachers need collective bargaining, a fair evaluation system, and a good public school. And, we’re making phone calls, sending emails and visiting legislators to make sure this happens.”

To learn how educators and their unions are helping to lead reform efforts around the country, check out NEA's Priority Schools Campaign.

 

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