What will the first day of school look like this fall for the people in front of the classroom?
Expect to see countless educators digging in and trying to do a good job, as the results of a recent survey on teacher morale nationwide show.
But the study, conducted by Merrimack College’s Winston School of Education and Social Policy to chart overall morale of the nation’s public school teachers, also carries a classroom caveat.
If given a chance to do it all over again, more than half of the teachers surveyed said they wouldn’t.
That is, 54% of the respondents reported that if they could, they would advise their younger selves to stay away from the profession altogether.
Which is one of the more-telling findings in the study that still shows a dogged optimism among educators in a field operating on shaky ground from societal changes wrought by the 21st century.
Learning losses from COVID are still casting shadows, to go with ever-increasing threats of gun violence in America’s schools.
The pandemic alone, said one veteran middle school teacher, drove her to panic attacks (which she’d never before experienced), as she skirted a razor’s edge of trying to maintain remote lessons and academic equilibrium for her students — while doing the same for her own children sequestered at home.
Even with all paradoxical currents of the above, though, above-average levels of job satisfaction still factored in: with 80% of teachers 26 or younger reporting that they enjoyed going to work every day.
That enthusiasm was still strong with older teachers, with 62% of teachers aged 27-42 reporting the same.
Nearly 70% of teachers 59 to 77 who are still in the profession said they were satisfied with their job.
With school board meetings becoming more and more contentious, just 55% of those responding said they felt respected by the public because they were teachers — opposed to the others who said they felt no public regard at all for their profession.
In a sign of America’s current emotional malaise, a total of 42% responding said they worried about the overall mental health of students.
Teen court and mediating measures for students who do have trends of discipline problems can help, they said.
So do district-sanctioned wellness services for teachers, they said — something Monongalia County Schools put in well before the pandemic.
Four years ago, the local district established a department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and named Michael Ryan, a former counselor in Mon schools who was West Virginia’s Counselor of the Year in 2018, as its inaugural director.
“Direction” is the word, Ryan said.
Meaningful data from the Merrimack study and other sources, he said, can always right a ship that has veered from the port.
And everything — COVID to classroom burnout, he said — is a teachable moment.
“You always hear that ‘things will never be the same again,’” he said.
“Well, they shouldn’t be, because we’re learning. We can take the good from it and use it.”