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?