Squandering the energy of teachers

By Kathreen Harrison | Sep 24, 2015

I have worked in schools where teachers will stand up and leave an important meeting the minute the clock reaches the end-time specified in the contract, and I have worked in schools where teachers voluntarily invested their own time to make their schools better. What determines the attitude of teachers toward their schools? What conditions encourage teachers to feel personally invested in the success of their schools?

The educational establishment, and much of the media, would have us believe that pressure, shaming and force are needed to get teachers to meet the needs of their students. The nation is in the process of adopting expensive, cumbersome, time-consuming evaluation procedures for teachers, standardized tests and systems of merit pay. All of this is intended to thwart the supposed inclination of teachers to shirk hard work.

In my experience, this approach to educational professionals completely misses the mark. We are wasting the public’s hard-earned tax dollars with these new systems. If we want teachers to work hard and feel invested in the success of their schools, we should support them by providing favorable conditions -- adequate time to think, materials for their classrooms and access to the professional development they need to reach their potential. Even more importantly, we need to involve them in decisions that affect their work: solicit their ideas, listen to what they have learned through experience, recognize their expertise in what works with real children in classrooms.

If the culture wants the most it can possibly get from its teachers, then our treatment of them must change. Teachers who work the hardest are almost always those who are given control over the implementation of curriculum, and treated with kindness and genuine interest by administrators. Top-down, punitive school cultures, on the other hand, drain teachers of the will to give. In these schools, teacher energy is squandered in furious tirades against the establishment. These are the schools where teachers watch the clock – conditions are not favorable for concentrating on developing curriculum, and assessing student needs. These teachers focus on protecting their self-respect.

On the whole, teachers are an intensely devoted group who will go to great lengths to meet the needs of their students. They are human, however, and respond to how they are treated. We should not squander the desire of teachers to meet the needs of their students and to invest deeply in their schools.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.