03/21/2012 02:28 pm ET Updated May 21, 2012

Time to Boost Teacher Morale

By Celine Coggins

Last week, I joined four Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellows at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession. These teachers came to the table with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the national heads of the AFT and NEA, and education leaders from around the world to contribute to an urgent conversation about what needs to happen in American public education to make us competitive on an international scale.

This meeting took place at a moment when morale in the teaching profession has hit an all-time low. MetLife recently released the results from its annual Survey of the American Teacher, and the numbers were stunning:

  • Teacher job satisfaction has dropped 15 points since 2009, from 59% who were very satisfied to 44% who are very satisfied, the lowest level in over 20 years.
  • The percentage of teachers who say they are very or fairly likely to leave the profession in the next five years has increased by 12 points since 2009, from 17% to 29%.

This is the strongest evidence yet that the budget cuts, perpetual layoffs, and media bashing that have defined the past few years are having dire consequences on the teaching force, and by extension, students in American classrooms.

To me, this data reinforces my commitment to our mission. There has never been a time when we've needed the voice of teachers in education policy more. There has never been a time when we've needed more innovative ways to give our strongest teachers new reasons to keep working with students.

While the MetLife survey got major media attention from coast to coast, an article by Brian Denitzio, a teacher at Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Boston, should have been a required companion piece. It's called "So You're a Great Teacher. Now What?" and it describes how his experience as a teacher leader with the T3 Initiative was a game-changer in helping him to continue working with students while also growing professionally.

It is possible to stem the tide of attrition and teacher dissatisfaction. Teachers like Brian inspire us to continue to offer an expanding number of leadership opportunities that encourage teachers to stay in the classroom, rather than moving to administrative roles or out of the field altogether. Teachers like Brian remind us of the urgent need to keep great teachers teaching, so kids continue to benefit from their talents.

This spring, we'll be selecting almost 150 teacher leaders for our programs. Both Memphis and Chicago will welcome new cohorts of Teaching Policy Fellows. And in Boston, Fall River, MA and Memphis, we're recruiting exceptional educators into our T3 Initiative. Applications are open now. We invite teachers to apply and education leaders to nominate strong candidates. With more opportunities like these, we hope to keep great teachers in the classrooms that need them most -- and keep them professionally invigorated at the same time.

Celine Coggins is the founder and CEO of Teach Plus. Check back here later this week for teacher reflections on the International Summit on the Teaching Profession.