School Culture And Climate

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Naturally, I am very optimistic and I spend time encouraging educators on a daily basis. I celebrate when student teachers get their first job, teachers get promoted to administrators, administrators get moved to the central office. I hear wonderful stories where teachers love their profession and school. I also hear the reports of the difficulties and the challenges.

One of the issues that is often overlooked in the education profession is school culture and climate. Teachers understand the salary issue is ongoing, and correctly believe that it is critical for them to be paid as the professionals that they are. However, salary is not usually the determining factor to make someone enter the education profession. For most educators it is a calling of a noble profession. They teach to make a difference in the lives of their students and in their communities.

Student discipline is spiraling out of control in many schools across the nation. We have all seen and heard stories on local news. Internally, in some schools it may even be worse. In Hamilton County, for example, reports of teachers quitting strictly because of discipline issues are unfortunately becoming common place.

However, school culture and climate are beginning to really become a major issue that needs to be addressed. If not addressed soon on the local level, it will certainly become a statewide policy issue to be addressed by policymakers.

Let’s examine a few issues:

Loss of Teacher Autonomy. Doris Santoro, author of the book “Demoralized,” describes systemic pressures, such as top-down initiatives or punitive evaluation systems, which has diminished teacher autonomy. State Department of Educations and School Districts must do a better job of addressing the culture and climate in our schools to impact the morale of their teachers. Constant turnover in districts and schools really impact teachers, as much as students. In addition, there are ongoing and chronic conflicts between school boards, school leaders, and even educators. While change is always inevitable, staff and stakeholder participation are essential. Too often there is little attempt to align culture, strategy, and structure in public education. If educators feel listened to, and their knowledge and experience are respected, there is greater chance of success.
Lack of Support. In the absence of monetary support, educators desperately need emotional, and professional support from their administrators and colleagues. Support starts at the top with ongoing, collaborative teacher support. The working conditions in the schools, become the learning conditions for the students. Administrators must be consistent when dealing with student discipline or parent situations. Teachers need to know their administration has their backs. Students who are sent to school administration for extreme misbehaviors cannot be sent right back to class, and education policies must be clear to all who are involved. If criticism is warranted, do it in private, not in front of parents or children. Every situation is unique, and how an administrator handles a situation depends on each individual situation. In addition, some administrators seemingly scold the entire staff for the faults of a few. Former educator and now author Jennifer Gonzalez wrote: “Behind every teacher story is an administrator who is interpreting policy, setting expectations, and establishing a tone that will determine the quality of their teachers’ work, and by extension, the education their students receive.”

Legal and Liability Challenges. We live in a litigious society. As an educator or school employee, teachers are acutely aware that professional liability insurance is critical because district coverage may not protect them individually. Due to their unique role, educators face exposure to liability much greater than does the average citizen and therefore must exercise a higher duty of care than most professionals. Nearly every day teachers must deal with diverse laws related to issues such as child abuse, student discipline, negligence, defamation, student records, and copyright infringement. One district in the state, Williamson County, appointed an attorney---who lacked classroom teaching or school level administrative experience---as its Director of Schools. The new director has also added additional attorneys on his staff. This has to be concerning to parents, taxpayers, and educators when a district is top heavy with lawyers---especially when they lack classroom and administrative experience. Ultimately such a heavy legal presence will not serve the interests of classroom teachers when they experience conflict with the district. When a conflict of interest occurs, and they will occur, the interest of the district will likely prevail over the teacher or administrator. This will mean settlements will be reached, even when educators may not be at fault. The district, in order to save money or diminish the negative publicity, will place its interests above those of the teacher or administrator. Educators know it is dangerous and potentially career-threatening if you enter a public-school classroom or school without liability or legal protection. That is why professional education associations are needed more than ever.

Together, salary, student discipline, along with school culture and climate are driving teachers out of their profession. These issues will impact the teacher labor market in ways in which it may not recover creating a shortage of highly qualified teachers in school districts across Tennessee. States and districts must track student discipline issues better. Research into why teachers leave teaching, including pressured or forced resignations would be helpful for future retention issues. Novice and experienced teachers and administrators alike will deal with school leaders that are great, terrible or somewhere in-between during their career. It's vital for the education of our students that we start giving teachers the support they need. Those are the stories I most like to hear.

JC Bowman
Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee


Enough With The Politics, Let's Fix This Thing

Special Session Of Legislature Needed To Deal With Biden Vaccination Order - And Response (4)

Teaching Is More Than A Job


We can play these political word games all we want. The fact remains - people continue to get sick and die from the COVID virus - and we know exactly what we need to do and how to do it. We can ... (click for more)

A special session of the Tennessee General Assembly needs to be called. Joe Biden drew a line in the sand and has challenged us to cross it. Tennessee’s leaders and elected officials have a choice ... (click for more)

I have heard that a few leaders in state government believe, “all teachers are liberal.” I interact with educators across the state daily, and their political ideology---just like most Tennesseans--- ... (click for more)



Opinion

Enough With The Politics, Let's Fix This Thing

We can play these political word games all we want. The fact remains - people continue to get sick and die from the COVID virus - and we know exactly what we need to do and how to do it. We can continue to listen to the political posturing we hear every day or we can stop our whining and fix it. This is America - we are Americans. We should be lining up to do our part. We love ... (click for more)

Special Session Of Legislature Needed To Deal With Biden Vaccination Order - And Response (4)

A special session of the Tennessee General Assembly needs to be called. Joe Biden drew a line in the sand and has challenged us to cross it. Tennessee’s leaders and elected officials have a choice to make. We are either on Joe Biden’s side or on the side of Tennesseans. We must address Biden’s executive order, vaccine and mask mandates, parental rights, excessive quarantining, stronger ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Higher Number Of People Under 50 Dying From COVID-19 In Hamilton County

The Hamilton County Health Department reports an increase in the number of COVID-19 deaths below the age of 50, over the past three months. During the most recent winter surge, four percent of deaths were age 50 or younger. Since the beginning of July, 22 percent of deaths have been below the age of 50. “We extend our sympathy to all of our community members who have lost ... (click for more)

Hamilton County Records 5 More COVID Deaths, 245 More Cases; Tennessee Has 65 More Deaths

The Hamilton County Health Department reported five more deaths from the coronavirus and 245 new positive cases on Thursday. The case number is down from 274 on Wednesday. The total cases in the county now stands at 59,555. The death total is at 594 in the county. The new deaths are reported to be three men and two woman; three white and two black; two age 41-50, one age 51-60, ... (click for more)

Sports

Chattanooga FC: Potential Is The Key Word For Bahena, Hurtado And Rodriguez

Ricardo Bahena could be seen on the wing at the end of Chattanooga FC’s Thursday practice, working on driving toward his defender before whipping crosses into the box. Next to the 19-year-old was coach Peter Fuller, who gave the teenager specialized instructions as clouds loomed overhead. “You have to do what I was doing today, which is spending time working with and coaching ... (click for more)

Dan Fleser: Vols Trying To Process Lessons Learned From Pittsburgh Loss

Operating on the premise there’s much to be gained from a loss, Josh Heupel was especially observant this week. Tennessee’s first-year head football coaching watched every move his players made following last Saturday’s loss to Pittsburgh. Everything from their attentiveness in meetings to their competitiveness on the practice field was scrutinized. Did they process the result ... (click for more)