Monday, June 15, 2009

Montgomery Teachers Under Stress

By Eric Luedtke.

This spring, educators in Montgomery County and across the state participated in the TELL Survey, which sought to gauge the opinions of Maryland's teaching workforce on a broad variety of issues. The results are, frankly, fascinating. They paint a picture of the teaching workforce in Montgomery County in which many teachers are stressed by an increasing workload and unhappy with not being included in district and school level decision-making. Most surprisingly for a school system which prides itself on being among the best in the state, our system does not compare favorably with other parts of the state. And I need to be clear - this is not just an issue for teachers and their union leadership. It's an issue for everyone who cares about our schools. As I've pointed out on MPW before, the issues of workload and inclusive decision-making are profound factors in our ability to recruit and retain the best teachers. Just as importantly, any one with a child in school will tell you that they want them in a classroom with a relaxed, well-planned teacher, not one who is stressed and distracted by bureaucratic minutiae and who doen't have time to do their job right.

In the results that follow, results are shown for both Montgomery County and the state as a whole. The results of our county skew the statewide results, of course, so the reality is that the difference between our responses and responses in other jurisdictions may be larger than they first appear. Numbers aside, compared to the state as a whole, Montgomery teachers are less likely to report that:

- they have reasonable class sizes
- they have enough instructional time to meet the needs of all students
- school leadership consistently enforces rules
- teachers are involved in decision-making in the district
- teachers are trusted to make sound decisions about instruction
- there is an effective process for making group decisions in their school
- their school leadership facilitates an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect
- teachers feel comfortable raising concerns in their school
- school leadership makes an effort to address concerns about conduct and learning

Perhaps more damning for a school system which prides itself on collaboration with employees, only 38% of teachers think they have an appropriate say in decision-making in their schools and only 19% think that about the school system as a whole.

These results are alarming. We know that the most successful school reform models across the country have placed a high premium on professionalism and the inclusion of teachers in decision-making. We know that reasonable workloads and empowerment are key to keeping good teachers in our classrooms. We know from a University of Pennsylvania researcher that when staff have more say in their schools, it not only decreases staff turnover but drastically reduces problems between teachers and students.

And yet, Montgomery County is underperforming the state. If nothing else, this proves again that addressing workload and school leadership issues will be key to continuing the improvements we've seen in student performance in MCPS. The system and teachers have a golden opportunity to chart a new course during the coming contract negotiations, if only we have the will to take advantage of it.