Just this week, Gallup released some data about teacher engagement. Their research showed that only 30% of full time US teachers are “engaged” in their work. Gallup’s definition of engagement included teacher’s knowing the scope of their job and actively seeking ways to improve “outcomes.” (Click here for to see the results on Gallup’s website.) Gallup goes on to make some correlations to the number of days teachers miss work, but I think there’s a much bigger problem here.
A teacher engagement level of 30% seems like a major problem–one that administration and policy makers should be trying to remedy. If we, like Einstein, engage in a thought experiment, we may realize that teacher engagement is important. We realize that it’s the teachers who actively seek ways to improve outcomes who are more likely to have an impact on individual students because of their passion to reach all students. We may also realize that these engaged teachers are driven to do more and to do better. This drive can lead to higher student engagement and higher student achievement. (I’m sure there is actual research to support this as well. However, since this isn’t an “academic” blog, I haven’t looked hard for that data.)
If teacher engagement leads to student engagement and possibly to increased student achievement, then why aren’t we working to improve teacher engagement? Current ed policy focused solely on high-stakes testing is hampering any effort to improve teacher engagement. When administrators feel that their jobs are on the line based on test scores, they pass this pressure to teachers. This creates a culture where everyone is focused on improving test scores at any cost. Sometimes the cost, is teacher job satisfaction and engagement. When this happens, they system undermines itself. Teachers become dissatisfied with their working conditions and invest less of themselves in their jobs. Lessened investment can lead to lower achievement which perpetuates the cycle. Add to that the overwhelming demands of new teacher evaluation systems and it’s hard for even engaged teachers to remain engaged.
In a situation like this, what’s a teacher to do? Dave Burgess reminds us to focus on our passions (our passion for our disciplines, our passion for our students, and our personal passions). Focusing on the intangibles is also a great strategy. We can do this by keeping a record of the impact we have on individual students. I’m not talking about grades; I’m talking about that shy middle-school kid who came out of his shell to share something important with you or the kid who you elicited a smile from yesterday. These things remind us why we got into education to begin with. Whatever it takes, don’t give in to the cycle of negativity that will steal your joy and your engagement. Be like an engaged flu: let your engagement be contagious in your school and your virtual connections. We’re all in this together after all.