Understanding Teacher Morale

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Listen to profiles of teachers featured in this report.

Teachers and the conditions of teachers’ work matters for our students, our schools, and the wellbeing of our communities and society. Teacher job satisfaction is at its lowest level in 25 years with over half of teachers reporting that they are “under great stress several days a week,” an increase of 15% since the mid-1980s. Teacher morale is directly related to teacher retention and student achievement, and has significant human and financial costs. Retention of new teachers is of special concern, with over half of new teachers choosing to leave their school placements within the first five years. As teachers exit the profession, relying on new teachers to fill vacancies will become more difficult as fewer people are choosing a teaching career. Nationwide enrollments in traditional and alternative preparation dropped by 20% in 2013-2014 alone. It is noteworthy that the negative effects of teacher dissatisfaction are experienced with more frequency and more intensity in the schools with the most academic and socioeconomic challenges. Teacher dissatisfaction, teacher absenteeism, and teacher turnover are all higher in these schools, exacerbating the achievement gap and sustaining patterns of inequality.

This study emerged from discussions within the Policy and Planning Council of the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium (MERC), a research alliance between Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Education and seven surrounding school divisions. The study addresses the following three questions:

  1. How do teachers experience job satisfaction and morale?
  2. What are the dynamics between a teacher’s job related ideal and the professional culture of the school that support or hinder the experience of job satisfaction and morale?
  3. How do differences between schools related to policy context and social context affect the dynamics of job satisfaction and morale?

To answer these questions MERC assembled a research team comprised of a university researcher, graduate students, and a team of school personnel from the MERC school divisions. Over the course of two years, the team developed a conceptual framework for understanding teacher morale, designed a research study that involved observing and interviewing 44 teachers across three purposefully selected middle schools in the Richmond region, and then collected and analyzed the data. The schools varied in policy context (a range of accreditation status), social context (socioeconomic status and racial makeup of the school population), and school-level leadership style. Teachers varied in their years of experience, contract status, subject and grade level, teaching load, and level of engagement with extended responsibilities. The report shares both the process and the findings of this collaborative research effort. This research project was also designed to support action by local policy makers, school division leaders, central office personnel, principals, and teachers.

Research Team
Jesse Senechal – Principal Investigator – VCU
Tamara Sober – Graduate Research Assistant, VCU
Samantha Hope – Graduate Research Assistant, VCU
Teri Johnson – Graduate Research Assistant, VCU

Study Team
Felicia Burkhalter – Henrico County Public Schools
Teri Castelow – Chesterfield County Public Schools
Debbie Gilfillan –  Henrico County Public Schools
Kenya Jackson – Henrico County Public Schools
Autumn Nabors – Chesterfield County Public Schools
Patrick Neuman – Colonial Heights Public Schools
Rodney Robinson – Richmond Public Schools
Rob Sargeant – Hanover County Public Schools
Stacy Stanford – Hanover County Public Schools
Deanna Varljen – Chesterfield County Public Schools

 

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