Friday, March 19, 1999

morale low, isle
survey finds

A teacher survey shows a
troubling 'lack of effective
working relationships between
teachers and administrators'

By Crystal Kua


They call their relationships with some school administrators oppressive, vindictive and retaliatory.

They say their union doesn't represent or listen to them.

They describe their workplaces as shabby, dirty and broken.

And they're tired of being on the receiving end of negative publicity.

Hawaii's public-school teachers say these are some of the reasons why they're so down in the dumps.

"What did take us aback was the intensity of the feelings," said Anthony Turbeville, chairman of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Teacher Morale, which reported its findings to the Board of Education yesterday. "What's in (the responses) is truly gripping."

The six-member commission was formed as a result of the teacher collective bargaining contract signed in 1997. The commission was charged with investigating apparently low teacher morale. Three members were selected by the Hawaii State Teachers Association, and three by the governor.

The commission sent out surveys to Hawaii's 12,000 teachers and received almost 2,400 responses. Members also visited all islands and had face-to-face meetings with teachers.

Turbeville, a sixth-grade teacher at Makaha Elementary, said the commission's findings were predictable, but the degree to which the teachers responded caught members by surprise.

"I didn't realize there was so much dissatisfaction out there," Turbeville said.

Turbeville said teacher morale is an important symptom of how the school system is doing as a whole. "We're really addressing the health of the system."

Turbeville said that while teachers who are satisfied may be less likely to turn in a survey, he believes the findings reflect the sentiments of teachers statewide.

The report found seven factors that negatively affected teacher morale:

bullet A lack of administration support.
bullet Large class size.
bullet Teacher overload.
bullet Issues related to special-needs students.
bullet The negative perception of public education.
bullet Poor physical working environment.
bullet Dissatisfaction with HSTA.

The commission also came up with recommendations on how to improve on these negative factors and listed four morale boosters: success with students, caring colleagues, supportive administration and supportive parents.

"A troubling theme that arose . . . was the lack of effective working relationships between teachers and administrators on too many campuses across the state," the report said.

Teachers described these relationships as oppressive, unkind, vindictive, manipulative and retaliatory.

Teacher dissatisfaction was not only directed at their superiors, but also the entity that represents them: the teachers union.

Teachers believe HSTA negotiated an inadequate pay raise and gave in to the state's demands to add seven extra instructional days to the school year, according to the report.

Teachers also said the union doesn't enforce the contract, doesn't listen to the majority of members and protects incompetent teachers.

Issues such as class size and work overload made teachers feel overwhelmed and exhausted with many mandates to follow.

Frustration due to special-needs students is not directed at the students themselves, but results from lack of training, support, resources, collaboration and time to meet ever-increasing demands, according to the report.

Poorly maintained buildings were another reason for unhappiness among teachers and students. They reported facilities are not conducive to learning, with dirt, dust, peeling paint, broken toilets, poor lighting and no air conditioning.

Teachers also saw the media as spending too much time focusing on negatives while not portraying more of their successes.

They said the many different reforms implemented for school improvement are confusing. "Teachers are finding it hard to know which direction they're going in," Turbeville said.

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