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Teacher morale has 'reached a tipping point,' new survey shows

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With work stoppages cropping up in all corners of the U.S., it’s clear that many American teachers are in a bad way. The sunny optimism that likely propelled them into the field is rapidly fading as the result of low salaries, insufficient funding, and the often complicated social-emotional needs of their students. This is according to the Educator Confidence Index from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMHC).

The report shows that teacher optimism has fallen dramatically, from 50% in 2018 to 34% in 2019.

The index is a part of the educational publisher’s fifth annual Educator Confidence Report, which is done in conjunction with YouGov. The report and survey of more than 1,300 K-12 teachers and administrators reveals that teacher optimism and confidence has decreased significantly since 2015.

Teachers, staff and their supporters march through downtown Chicago, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. The teachers are calling for district leaders to meet their demands on class sizes just days before a threatened strike that would affect thousands of students in the country's third-largest school district. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)
Teachers, staff and their supporters march through downtown Chicago, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

The current overall teacher Confidence Index stands at 43 on a scale of 0–100. Scores do, however, vary by location, with teachers in the Midwest having the highest confidence scores (56), while teachers in the South have the lowest confidence scores (37).

“The significant decrease in optimism this year shows that the mounting pressures put on teachers have reached a tipping point,” said Jack Lynch, CEO of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Lynch told Yahoo Finance that many U.S. teachers feel undervalued, leading to teacher strikes like the one that recently ended in Chicago. He believes the U.S. should better compensate teachers.

Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance
Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance

“Our belief is that teachers are not compensated sufficiently, and you see that in certain cases, when a strike happens. But I think it’s indicative of the value we attach to the teaching profession as a society. Other countries pay teachers much better than we do,” Lynch said.

A 2018 study done by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) found that in 38 states, the average 2018 teacher salary is lower than it was in 2009, in real terms. "I don't feel as though teaching as a profession has a lot of respect from the outside community. It is also more stressful as teaching your content is not the only concern," an Ohio middle school-teacher who participated Education Confidence Report survey said.

The Houghton Mifflin Harcourt study found that many teachers feel the same way — that students increasingly need more social and emotional support.

Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance
Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance

It’s not just about the money

Francie Alexander, chief research officer at Houghton, believes that that community-wide cooperation is needed to address the growing needs of children effectively.

“Maybe a child really had a problem that you had to deal with individually, and couldn’t quite think of teaching. So, the peaks and valleys are a real part of a teacher’s day,” she said. “The forces of the community need to be brought together so that we can keep our children safe and healthy and happy.”

A teacher in California who participated in the study echoes this sentiment. “Each year, the students seem to have greater emotional needs that have an impact on the class as a whole, without enough support for the teacher. These situations can be so overwhelming that it makes academic instruction almost secondary as a daily focus,” he or she said.

These and other problems noted in the study often lead to teachers leaving the profession. According to the report, 27% of teachers who have taught 10 years or less will leave the field.

It’s often said that there is a special place in heaven for teachers, but most would settle for a system that understands the challenges they and their students face daily. Lynch believes that taking the time to listen to America’s educators is vital. “We must take the time to listen closely and understand the realities facing the teaching profession today, both the triumphs and challenges.”

Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.

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