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Morale remains low among Howard County middle school teachers

Renee Foose

The majority of Howard County teachers feel successful in their work, but morale among middle school teachers continues to be lower than that of their counterparts, according to the Howard County Education Association's annual job satisfaction survey released last week.

For the first time, a majority of middle school educators — 53 percent — disagreed with the statement that "overall, morale in my school/work site is good."

Numbers were also lower among middle school teachers when it came to confidence in the Board of Education and superintendent: 46 percent said they were confident in the board, compared to 60 percent confidence overall (the same as last year), and only 67 percent had confidence in Superintendent Renee Foose, compared to 74 percent confidence overall.

HCEA President Paul Lemle said the disparity could be attributed to the new middle school program of studies approved by the Board of Education last year that overhauled the curriculum, altered class schedules, and eliminated a stand-alone reading class while infusing literacy in other areas.

"It's a mess, and it's directly affecting students," Lemle said. "It doesn't matter what question (on the survey) you look at, the middle schools are depressed well below the answer levels of the other schools. You see a dramatic dip in morale at the middle school level."

Lemle cited the middle school program of studies as cause for low middle school satisfaction last year as well, when the survey was conducted in the midst of the contentious discussion and vote on the changes.

Schools spokeswoman Rebecca Amani-Dove said the system is "committed to providing teachers with the supports they need to be successful and feel engaged in their work."

The new middle school schedule was tied to the transition to the Common Core standards mandated by the state, Amani-Dove said.

"We put measures in place to ease the transition, but with any change there are always areas for improvement," she said. "We gathered feedback from middle school teachers this year and, based on this feedback, we have since made adjustments to the middle school schedule for next year."

There are positives to be found in the 91-page report detailing survey responses from nearly 4,000 educators. Harassments from parents, colleagues and administrators saw a "huge decline" from last year, Lemle said, with only 14 percent of educators reporting feeling harassed by co-workers and nine percent feeling harassed by administrators and supervisors.

Though the numbers are down four percentage points from last year, 28 percent of teachers reported feeling harassed by parents.

Overall, 88 percent of teachers surveyed feel successful in their work (down one percentage point from last year), and more teachers this year feel their administrators reflect their negotiated contracts — 90 percent versus last year's 84 percent. The percentage of teachers who feel their work is evaluated fairly is also up two points from last year, to 88 percent.

Educators reported morale was the highest at Bushy Park Elementary School, Dunloggin Middle School and Mt. Hebron High School. High morale is created by a good administrator, Lemle said.

"On the positive side you have these places were morale is high and are really wonderful places to work," he said. "You get this feedback cycle where the administration supports the teachers and the teachers support the administration. That's how you get a really strong community inside the school that creates an environment that's good to work in."

Morale was lowest at Bryant Woods Elementary School, Harper's Choice Middle School and River Hill High School, according to the survey. Low morale levels, Lemle noted, are directly correlated to teachers not feeling support from their administrators when it comes to enforcing student discipline.

At Harper's Choice, for example, only 33 percent of teachers felt the school's administration supported teachers in disciplining students, and only 20 percent reported good morale — the lowest of any school in the county.

"The educators don't believe they're being supported in this case," Lemle said.

To see the complete job satisfaction report, visit hceanea.org.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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