Why are Teachers So Unhappy?

The results of the Survey of the American Teacher for 2012 are out and guess what?  Teachers aren’t very happy.  Teacher job satisfaction is at an all-time low and has dropped 23 points over the past five years, including a 5-point drop between 2011 and 2012.

Guess what happens to people who aren’t very satisfied with their work?  1) They don’t do it very well and 2) They end up leaving that job and finding something more satisfying.

But why? What might be making teachers so dissatisfied?

Well, the value-proposition for teachers is not a great one, for starters.  Pay is not great and support is not great and so teachers don’t feel good about their relative value.

Specific to Tennessee, a number of “reforms” have taken shape in recent years that no doubt contribute to the unhappiness of the Tennessee teacher.

First, there was the successful effort to end collective bargaining in Tennessee.  This in spite of the fact that no evidence was shown that this would improve student outcomes.  Collective bargaining in Tennessee was mostly about giving teachers a seat at the table when budgets and salaries and resources were discussed.  Rarely did teachers strike and they certainly never held Boards hostage for huge pay increases.  In fact, many local teacher’s associations bargained for textbooks and other resources for students in place of raises for the teachers.  One middle Tennessee district’s teachers offered to forego a raise for the length of a 3-year contract in exchange for keeping the health insurance match intact.  Instead, the teachers saw their portion of health insurance increase and have so far gone without a local raise for six years.  Now, with no seat at the table at all, teachers across Tennessee have even less input into district operations and resources.  And it’s not like Tennessee’s state or local governments are lavishing high pay and impressive resources on teachers.

The same year that collective bargaining ended for Tennessee teachers, the state implemented a new evaluation system.  Policymakers seemed to think it was more important to get the evaluations in place than to get them right.  And there have been changes in the first two years and more changes coming.  Imagine being told by your boss that there are certain standards you have to meet.  Then being told that all of that will now change.  And then change again next year and the year after that.  How secure would you feel about your job?  That’s what Tennessee teachers are facing.

This year, instead of focusing on boosting teacher pay or increasing support through mentoring or coaching programs or adding more resources to schools, legislators are focused on an unproven (and in the case of one Vanderbilt study — proven NOT to work) performance pay schemes.

And the Governor is focused on adding an even less proven and likely expensive voucher scheme to the mix.

This is a state that truly took a step forward with the BEP back in 1992.  Then stopped fully-funding it when it got too expensive about six years later.  Then, Pre-K was expanded.  And the expansion has stopped because finding the money became too difficult.  And possibly because it became trendy to suggest that we could improve our schools without making new investments in the people in them.  Four classes of 4-year-olds have become kindergarteners since the last expansion of Pre-K.  This in a state with one of the lowest rates of college degree attainment.  That’s four years worth of students who are significantly less likely to graduate from high school.  And for those who do, they are far less ready for college than they would have been if they had enjoyed access to the high-quality Pre-K program Tennessee offers a fraction of its families.

The BEP was reformed as BEP 2.0 around 2007.  That reform, too, proved too expensive.  Many districts around our state would have seen significant increases had the new BEP been fully-funded these last few years.  Instead, budget challenges (and unwillingness to raise revenue) at the local level have meant stagnation in teacher pay and a lack of resources for students.

Tennessee’s education policy history is fraught with examples like these.  Well-meaning reforms and investments thwarted when the going gets tough and finding money for schools gets too difficult.

And now, we’re asking more from our teachers than ever before with less pay, no seat at the table, and few resources.  Is it any wonder they are dissatisfied?





10 thoughts on “Why are Teachers So Unhappy?

  1. If teachers in TN are so “unhappy”, why don’t they get their political activity back and replace those who serve in the TN House and Senate who brought all of this down upon them? Instead they helped REelect these same folks in 2012 by their INaction or by actually voting FOR them. IN Rutherford County, we actually had a Murfreesboro City Schools teacher running for the State House and the support of teachers for him was little to none. I say, teachers are , for the most part, getting what they asked for!! “Let them eat cake!” They have managed to let all those benefits I and thousands of others worked for in the 1970s disappear in a short, two -year period. And from what I hear, those in the State House and Senate are not nearly finished!!!~

    You did not even mention the loss of teacher and retired teacher representatives on the TN Consolidated Retirement System Board!!!???That was another little “plum” that the Republicans handed themselves. Now, they are their own political appointees!!

    • Steve – did you not read that teachers had their votes taken away from them? Unions were expensive, but a way to stand up for yourself that wouldn’t necessarily put you out of a job for a political opinion… Also, here in Sumner County I know many teachers who voted in order to replace people in the House and Senate. I don’t think you can say blatantly that teachers as a whole don’t vote. Seems pretty bold and hateful……

    • It’s sad, isn’t it? When the teacher and retired teacher representatives were taken off the TCRS board I knew it was just a matter of time before our retirement benefits were tweaked. Lo and behold it has come to pass.

  2. And add to that list the number of students who are not interested in the least in learning or working hard to earn something, but instead wanted it handed to them while they listen to their Ipod.

  3. as a former teacher, i was dissatisfied with board policies with regard to discipline in the classroom. the family breakdown, societal decay and progressive agenda are the main reasons that students AND teachers are missing the mark. standards have dropped across all spectra and this has absolutely nothing to do with pay/collective bargaining and teachers unions. in fact, in my view the unions have contributed to the failure of the public education system in america. just look back 40 yrs ago before the aforementioned elements entered the picture. discipline in the classroom was minimal, students academic success was greater and shock -teachers were happy in the chosen careers.

    • i accidentally submitted my post without an important edit. i contend that unions and collective bargaining are contributing factors to the failure of education. good teachers don’t work for the pay as their primary motivation. they want to teach and that can only happen with good policies, standards and discipline which sadly today are in shambles. school boards don’t want to pay teachers who aren’t getting the job done, and that is hard to do with the politically correctness and liberal ideology driving the education machine. i don’t see things getting better unless we return to the “old fashioned” way of doing things in the classroom. prayer? pledge of allegiance? paddling? yes. yes. yes.

  4. What a well-written and accurate article! Now in my 34th year, I still love teaching. But I left TN and am now teaching in Cairo, Egypt. The “hoops” teachers in the US are expected to jump through have taken all the joy out of teaching. The new TN teacher evaluation system, which I went through in its first year last school year, is insane. No teacher I know is opposed to being evaluated and being held accountable. But holding us accountable for factors beyond our control–such as the home situations of many students being less than ideal–is also insane. It breaks my heart to see what is happening in education. I have always encouraged bright young people who want to teach to pursue that dream. But now, in my heart of hearts, I can’t do that. How many of these young people who enter the profession will last 30 years? Will they even last five years? Now I am in a private international school where I am valued and respected and encouraged. I will stay overseas and finish my career.

  5. surprise surprise that you interpreted it that away.

    “but 82 percent of teachers say they’re “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their jobs. Only 17 percent say they’re somewhat or very dissatisfied (just 4 percent say “very”)”

    “Bottom line: There is a lot of data in the report, most not reflected in the predictable statements and coverage.”


    little bit of a misnomer too to extrapolate to TN w/out specific TN teacher data

  6. As a teacher, in one of the lowest paid counties, this upsets me. I wouldn’t trade my job for anything but base my pay when only 1 of my 7 students take TCAPS…..I mean REALLY? Everything has gotten CRAZY in education

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