Educator opinions differ on numerous issues and vary from year to year. Professional Educators of Tennessee recently surveyed its teachers and solicited educator input across the state. Nearly 750 educators took the survey sent out from Professional Educators of Tennessee in October of 2019 to our members. While the majority of respondents were classroom teachers, several administrators also took part in the survey.
Salary, school climate, and student behavior have been a constant issue during the last four years. Researchers, policymakers, and stakeholders can gain useful insight into the opinions of those on the frontlines educating children. The majority of educators are satisfied with their jobs and believe their job makes a positive difference in the lives of students. However, two-thirds (67%) of teachers stated that teacher morale was a critical issue in their district.
Student behavior remains a significant issue across the state. While there is a myriad issue that concerns educators, they consistently rank discipline issues near the top. The problem appears to be rooted in the student’s home environment and the school’s culture/climate; both must be considered when addressing the problem.
A school and district must adopt policies that support effective classroom management, as well as instruction for all students. One possible policy needs to be better tracking of time that an educator has to spend on discipline issues. Do parents have the right to know, for example, if one student disrupts their own child’s education so frequently that instruction time is lost? School districts must balance responsibilities toward the community with the responsibility to nurture students. Without discipline, students cannot learn.
Testing is an issue where educators offered some valuable insight. Not only is the amount of testing done by the district a concern, but also tying teacher evaluation scores to the testing data also remains controversial.
Salary issues provide an invaluable perception of how educators view the financial reward for their profession. Educators believe that salary compensation should be equal to other fields with the same degree. It is clear that educators either reject or do not understand what policymakers mean by a “differentiated pay system.”
Well over two thirds (70%) of teacher’s support across the board salary increases. We feel that addressing salary issues should be a primary concern for policymakers. Overall, 92% indicated that salary was an issue which concerned them, followed by retirement and healthcare. Educators were very interested in student loan forgiveness incentives.
If the teacher shortages continue to be an issue state-wide and nationwide, there must be more incentives to go into the teaching field and remain there. Obviously higher pay is the biggest enticement, but also consider giving educators the opportunity to job-share and provide more appealing benefits especially when it comes to health care and retirement. And most importantly, treat educators as professionals and trust them to do their jobs without micromanaging that is currently the norm.
Certainly, some educators have been forced to leave their school system for subjective reasons, rather than objective reasons. Actions speak louder than words. In some cases, dismissal may have been warranted, but in many cases, it appears circumstances were little more than personality conflicts and people not fitting into a certain educational or political environment. We have lost some good educators in our state because of this subjectivity, and we would argue many of these educators deserve another chance to keep their careers going. This will require policymakers to make teacher retention and recruitment a top priority.
The consistency of the same issues in the last few years means that much work remains as educators are not seeing the needed changes. Policymakers and stakeholders must continue to work to make improvements in policies that impact salary, school climate, and student behavior. Education policy must remain a high priority across the state.
JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. To schedule an interview please contact Audrey Shores at 1-800-471-4867 ext.102.