Teacher Morale Matters
How Parents and Teachers Can Encourage Each Other
When students get to the point of saying, “What’s the use?” it matters little about which curriculum and which tests are being used.
In your opinion, what are some school-related emotions of students? Which help with achievement? Which hurt?
What are some school-related emotions of teachers and parents? How do they differ from each other?
Education is about the transfer of knowledge and “lighting the fire.” This occurs in an environment that supports it. One of the biggest lessons I have learned as a teacher is about the extraordinary value of encouragement. This is often seen as a soft and weak concept. Quite the opposite, encouragement is a key to educational improvement, and it is vastly underused.
Knowledge transfer takes place when both teacher and student are hopeful and optimistic. One of the easier and faster educational “innovations” that has enormous payoff for schools is to ensure that every student (and teacher and family) feels cared about. This is done fairly well in the elementary school. It drops out, as do many students, in the upper grades. Small actions can help solve this situation: a note of praise, a call home to report something good. It’s remarkable how a little caring goes such a long way.
A teacher’s words can make a parent’s day and vice versa. My daughter called excitedly when her first child brought his first report card home. No, it wasn’t all A’s but it did carry a sentence from the teacher that made all the difference: “Your child is a wonderful boy.”
Oh, how these words matter…even if the teacher had written it also on other cards. I know this from long experience in the giving and the receiving ends of report cards. Education is a very human partnership. It depends on its strength, not just on the right curriculum or the right tests. It depends to a greater degree than we have known before on the how teachers and parents appreciate each other and build each other’s sense of hope.
We now know what we did not know before. We know that every home is an important partner in education. This has become almost common knowledge.
Yet, there’s another vital ingredient in this mix which has not as yet been spotlighted: Morale. It takes a hopeful adult – teacher and parent – to raise and teach a hopeful child. Hope is one of the key determiners of achievement. When students get to the point of saying, “What’s the use?” it matters little which curriculum and which tests are being used.
When children start school for the first time, you can smell the hope. It’s not just the new book bags and shoes. It’s the elixir of possibilities. It’s a fire that can be snuffed out or helped to burn brightly.
While I can’t put words of encouragement in the mouths of parents and teachers, I want to make the case for how important they are. When so many schools and families are being labeled as failing, now more that ever, morale is critical.
Words actually make such a big difference in building and sustaining hope for our children and their education. I think the meanest thing a teacher ever said to me happened when I brought my first child to school to register her for kindergarten. I was nervous and wanted to make a good impression. Being a teacher, I did not want to be a bragging parent. But I was also concerned that this teacher know about my child.
So I told the teacher that this youngster entering kindergarten could already read, and I asked what provision would be made for this. The teacher put her arm around my shoulder and proceeded to reassure me in this way: “Oh, don’t worry; they all even out by third grade.” Evening out wasn’t what I was concerned about. It was not what I or any parent would want to hear.
Dr. Dorothy Rich is founder and president of the nonprofit Home and School Institute, MegaSkills Education Center in Washington. She is the author of MegaSkills and developer of the MegaSkills Teacher Training Programs. For additional information:” www.MegaSkillsHSI.org.