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Improving Teacher Morale
Morale Reflected by Enthusiasm
Student and Teacher Morale
School morale is a two-way street. In one direction runs student morale which is addressed quite often in written articles. In the other direction teacher morale proceeds, not often given as much attention as it should.
Most schools, especially private institutions, do a great job in handling student morale issues. Interesting, fun classes are provided and there are various extracurricular activities satisfying the needs and interests of everyone in the student body. It is truly enjoyable for most kids coming to school. If morale was low, not all students would be anxious to attend school. Needless to say, they would transfer to other institutions.
Unfortunately, teacher morale is neglected in many schools. This is undoubtedly due to the patient nature and professionalism of most in the teaching profession. In this article, after defining morale, I suggest steps toward improving teacher morale in response to my previous teaching experience.
What is Morale?
Morale or less-commonly known as esprit de corps is the mental or emotional condition of the individual or group members to maintain enthusiasm, confidence, or loyalty toward an organization's work and goals. This is reflected in group members or employees feeling happy, appreciated, valued, and maintaining belief and self-discipline while performing duties assigned by superiors. Morale is important not only for teachers, but also for other employees in government, business, sports, and military organizations.
Improving Teacher Morale - School Facilities
The first type of issue to address in improving teacher morale is school facilities. This includes such things as：
The classroom is the primary teaching and learning arena in schools. Every teacher expects a blackboard or a whiteboard with markers or chalk and erasers that are in good condition. I have taught previously in schools where blackboards were falling apart and whiteboards were badly defaced. It has also been my experience to have classrooms with no air-conditioning or fans, and so small that I barely had room to move around the board and front row of seated students. Large, well-lit air-conditioned classrooms with functioning boards and adequate bulletin boards go a long way in improving teacher morale.
If teachers decide not to brown bag, they should be provided with adequate cafeteria facilities and preferably an air-conditioned lunchroom to themselves. The food should be hot, of decent quality, and occasionally vary in selection. Cafeteria facilities are sufficient at my school, but the food is often cold and doesn't vary very often. No wonder many of my colleagues go off campus for lunch.
3. Faculty Rooms
About half of my school working day is spent in a faculty room shared with 11 other teachers checking papers and preparing lessons. Although the room is comfortably air-conditioned, teachers' desks are too small and there is insufficient storage space for books, documents, and student papers. There is also inadequate room to meet with more than one student. Many desks have no locks, so it is impossible to secure important things.
4. No Faculty Lounge
During the first year at my school, we had a nice little lounge furnished with a sofa and armchairs. Teachers could go into the lounge during breaks to relax and chat with other teachers without disturbing others who were working. During my second year, school administration took away our lounge and the morale of teachers dropped considerably.
5. Lack of Elevators
My school has inadequate elevators for faculty use. On our school campus, there are five different instructional buildings, but only one of them is equipped with an elevator. In the other four floor buildings, elderly and other teachers with health problems occasionally have extreme problems climbing the stairs to get to classes.
Improving Teacher Morale - Management Practices
School management practices have played a big part in dampening the enthusiasm, confidence, and loyalty of many teachers. Some of these practices include:
During the second year of EFL teaching in Thailand, my school had a change in administration. The administration which had given foreign teachers considerable autonomy in the classroom was replaced by one which took micromanaging to the limit. Every morning the new administrator of our English Program would patrol the corridors and peep her head into each classroom. Every teacher was constantly under the microscope from the clothes they were wearing that day to whether they dotted their "i"s or crossed their "t"s on the board. My colleagues and I hated this, and teacher morale soon headed south in a hurry. Almost every test or teaching material submitted by teachers was nit-picked to the limit, resulting in the anger and loss of self-confidence by some instructors. After a near mutiny by the teachers, the administrator backed off and morale quickly improved.
2. Bad or No Communication with Teachers
One of the biggest gripes most of my colleagues and I had was being the last in school to know when activities would be scheduled and classes canceled, or when early dismissal was allowed for students and teachers. You can't imagine the unhappiness and frustration of teachers who showed up for a class which would never be held.
3. No Praise, Rewards, or Appreciation for Work Well-Done
When I worked with the government, morale was very good and most people really enjoyed coming to the office every day. Besides having promotion opportunities, all employees were rewarded for excellent work with cash awards, letters of appreciation, and paid time off. Most of this did not exist for employees in my school. Although most teachers were given yearly salary increases up to a capped amount, there was no special recognition given for outstanding or extra work done by instructors. There seemed to be only criticism given such as when a parent complained to the school about her daughter. Letters of appreciation, cash awards, and paid time off didn't exist at my school. The teacher who skated by doing the absolute minimum amount of work required was rewarded in the same way as an instructor who "busted his ass" doing an excellent job. Because many teachers felt unappreciated and undervalued, they started adopting the attitude that what the supervisor wanted was not necessarily what she would get from them.
4. Inadequate or No Team Building Activities
During my career with the government, team building activities such as Christmas parties, picnics, employee farewell luncheons, and occasional birthday parties were held outside the office during noon or early afternoon hours. Through these activities, coworkers bonded more with each other and developed better working relationships. I can remember very few team building activities at the school where I taught. It seemed that when an infrequent team building activity was held, it was in response to increased strong criticism from teachers. The team building activity was in essence appeasement and equivalent to trying to put a small bandage on a big festering wound.
5. No Suggestions From Teachers
Almost all businesses are interested in knowing the opinions of their employees. For this reason, they provide suggestion boxes and encourage employees to use them. This idea didn't exist at my school. Management would do exactly as it pleased, and didn't seem interested in valuing the suggestions of teachers.
School morale doesn't only include student morale. It encompasses teacher morale which has been neglected and insufficiently addressed today by school management. If our schools and quality of education are to improve, teacher morale and issues in school facilities and management practices must be confronted and solved.
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© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn