Teacher morale is an important issue in public and private schools. Low morale decreases engagement with colleagues and students, decreases productivity, reduces student learning, and breeds cynicism. On the other hand, when morale is high and the faculty culture is healthy, students excel socially and academically, teachers are productive and collaborative, and the school environment is dynamic and engaging. Given the important role that teacher morale plays, schools must continually work to improve teacher morale.
The main factors that affect morale are school leadership, workload, compensation, student behavior, and professional development. Effective and supportive leaders contribute significantly to morale, while weak leaders and low morale go hand in hand. Clearly, teaching is intensive, relentless, and intellectually, emotionally, and physically demanding. In addition to teaching, teachers have many other responsibilities, such as curriculum development, recess supervision, extracurricular activities, marketing, fundraising, and administrative paperwork. Feeling overloaded with so many responsibilities contributes to lower morale. Naturally, being overworked and underpaid is a recipe for moral disaster. Student behavior problems are another major reason for low teacher morale, especially when teachers don’t have the tools to address the problems. And finally, access to professional development plays an important role in determining morale.
School leadership: School leaders have extremely demanding and complex jobs. Many enter leadership positions without proper training. Even with excellent training and experience, school leaders face extremely difficult challenges on a daily basis. Ongoing leadership training, executive coaching, and professional development are critical to enabling school leaders to provide powerful leadership and ensure high faculty morale.
Teacher Workload: There may be no getting around the fact that a teacher’s workload is heavy. However, when faculty work hard and collaborate, hard work is much more fun. In fact, in my experience as a school principal, teacher morale was at the top of the chart when teachers were highly engaged in major initiatives that required extensive work. Involving teachers in decision making, planning, and problem solving, and creating collaborative teams to share the workload goes a long way toward fostering high morale.
Compensation: Competitive compensation is important. However, the key to compensation, as it affects morale, is the system for determining wages and raises. If teachers feel the system is unfair, compensation, no matter how much, will hurt morale. Fairness is largely judged by the perceived congruence between a person’s value to the school and that person’s compensation. To compensate fairly, schools must move away from traditional “step” systems and implement systems that link compensation and performance.
Student Behavior: Teachers face increasingly complex demands to meet the needs of their students in both public and private schools. From antisocial behavior to special needs to apathy across the socioeconomic spectrum, teachers are experiencing increasing problems with behavior management. Two major school initiatives will help address this problem. First, it is essential to provide behavior management training to teachers who struggle with discipline. Second, faculty and staff must work together as a school-wide team to address behavioral issues.
Professional development: Professional development is directly related to student achievement and teacher satisfaction is directly related to student achievement. Teachers and schools that value professional development or adult learning create the conditions for students to also value learning. When students are making excellent academic and social progress, teachers feel the rewards of their profession. Providing teachers with meaningful and effective professional development is critical to the success of schools and teacher morale.