If you are like me, the recent thrashing of our profession was everything from thought-provoking to ire-building. And readers here know that I am not always a full supporter of unions and that I cheat on my public school by supporting charter schools and working for a non-profit focused on getting urban students out of public schools and into elite boarding schools. For me, the recent drubbing we took coincided with a healthy dose of chaos in our building. Teachers, who are normally well-spirited, have quickly grown weary this year. An obvious lack of energy and passion hovers over our faculty. If we are this worn down in October, what will we look like in March? Should our morale remain in the depths of despair, our students will certainly suffer. As of this day off from school, here are my ways to improve teacher morale at any building where morale is low:
1. The Gift of Time: As student scores drop, the amount of time a teacher can devote to planning dwindles. Instead, we attend professional development sessions where adminstrators "model" appropriate teaching methods. Then, we are shipped off to unwrap standards, create common formative assessments, score those assessments, make a pretty chart about those scores, and then start all over again. I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't seek improvement. However, what should happen is that we are allowed to focus on the areas that we need to improve on as individuals. Do you need time to plan your next unit? Then sitting in a professional development session on Marzano's effective teaching strategies (which are common sense) probably isn't the best use of your time.
2. Differentiate: What a fantastic word! If your sophomore English class has students reading at the 5th grade level and students reading at the 11th grade level, then YOU must differentiate. Why is this only an effective concept for teaching students? Every professional development looks the same for every teacher. No matter that you have already created, delivered, scored, and analyzed your pre-assessments. Today, we are all working on creating pre-assessments. Treat me like an individual, just as we are expected to do with our students.
3. Respect: Please value us. When Teacher X is doing the best she can with a terrible situation she did not create, tell her you appreciate her; don't question how she missed that one student out of 70 who wrote on the cafeteria table. Teachers generally do their best. We are notorious for accommodating others, giving more of our time and selves than we ever should be required to do professionally, and for making something out of nothing. So let us know that. The other day I noticed an adiminstrator at my door. He watched for about two minutes and left. Later that day, he sent an e-mail to the staff letting us know that he had been out to many rooms that afternoon and saw excellent teaching happening in the building. It's time that schools learn from the business world. Value your "help."
A secondary aspect of teacher morale is under our control. Though we are running in so many different directions, and though our frustration levels are at an all-time high, we need to come together, not divide ourselves. Teachers need to find ways to come together.
Our school recently came together by purchasing a Staff t-shirt. One hundred and two of our roughly 150 teachers, custodians, and support staff put up the $12 to purchase a terrific shirt. In the process, we raised over $500 for a newly established Faculty Scholarship Fund. You know what your building needs in terms of morale; start making it happen.
If you need fun, go have fun together. If you need respect, start letting your colleagues know that you appreciate them--something I need to become better at and will remedy once I stop typing here.
At any rate, we can either allow others to beat us down or we can choose to be great in spite of them. Our morale is ultimately in our hands.