The answer comes in the meaning of "morale", one of many terms misused in the education field. It doesn't mean "happiness"; I will state without definite proof that conditions in gruesome battles make people less "happy" than having students take a standardized test. A roommate of mine at West Point once defined morale for me as "confidence in your ability to get the mission accomplished". My handy dandy Webster defines it as "moral or mental conditon as regards courage, confidence, etc."
So when teachers say they have low morale, they're saying they don't have confidence in their ability to teach kids. Great.
Given that backdrop, you can imagine my response to this article about a meaningless "no confidence" vote in a high school principal. Excerpts:
Teachers at C.K. McClatchy High School took a vote of no confidence in their principal last week, less than a year after she was hired.
The significance of the vote is still unclear. Few details were available Friday, including how many teachers showed up to vote, by what margin the resolution passed, or even what outcome the teachers desire.
But the vote sent a message that some teachers are dissatisfied with Principal Cynthia Clark's leadership.
"Over this year, I've seen morale extremely low," said Marcie Launey, president of the Sacramento City Teachers Association.
Cry me a river. Granted, lousy leadership certainly has an impact on military morale--a bad leader can get you killed. But honestly, how much impact does a principal have on your ability to teach students? When they don't enforce schoolwide discipline, or don't back you on your own classroom discipline plan, sure--that impacts your ability to teach. But that isn't what's happening at McClatchy High. What are the teachers upset about?
Although the reasons for the vote remain unclear, Clark may have alienated some of her staff earlier this year when she recommended firing four science and math teachers, Launey said.
Teachers from McClatchy protested Clark's recommendation at a board meeting. In response, Superintendent Maggie Mejia met with Clark, and three of the four teachers were allowed to keep their jobs, Launey said.
District officials offered a different explanation for the vote. Although the teachers at McClatchy work hard and care about low-performing students, Clark "is asking some tough questions about students that haven't been successful, and that's hard for any staff member," said Susan Miller, an associate superintendent for the district who oversees McClatchy.
Clark was hired in part because the district felt she was the right person to close McClatchy's racial achievement gap, Miller said. During her three-year tenure at Edison High School in Huntington Beach, where she was principal before coming to McClatchy, Clark emphasized discipline and the school's Academic Performance Index score increased 49 points.
"She had a very impressive track record of turning around a high school that had sort of lost its focus in terms of academics," Miller said.
Ah, so she actually focuses on academics and, horror of horrors, wanted to remove some teachers! I don't know if those teachers warranted removal or not, but apparently one of them did because, as the article says, only three of the four were allowed to keep their jobs. Another so-called problem is that she actually asks tough questions of teachers. Gads!
Is she the right person for the job, if the job includes closing the racial achievement gap? I have no idea. What I do know is that it's not uncommon for teachers (or anyone else, for that matter) not to like to have to justify what they're doing and how they're doing it, and we don't often like to take any responsibility for our failures. We'll blame the kids, the parents, the demographics--but don't accept any responsibility ourselves, none. We like the status quo, even if that includes hoards of failing students that we tried to reach and teach.
I don't know these teachers and I don't know this principal. The only information I have to go on is this one article--and of course my own experience as a teacher and a union member. I don't know anything about the leanings of the article's author, but the paper itself is moderately left-leaning (more so at election time!). Taking all that into account, I'm not too disposed to take the side of the teachers in this case. It sounds to me like we have a principal doing exactly what a principal should be doing--focusing on academics--and I for one support that.
Want to improve morale? Quit whining about how much you dislike your principal, quit whining about state-required tests that provide outside eyes on the teaching that goes on in our schools, quit whining. Focus on achievement, and get on board with the person whose instructions you're paid to follow. When you do this you'll have "confidence in your ability to get the mission accomplished". You don't want to admit it, but your whining causes the low morale, it's not a product of low morale.
Become part of the solution. Right now, McClatchy teachers, you are the problem. And I will stand by that statement until some of you can post about what horrible things she's doing to sabotage your ability to teach kids. If she's a raging you-know-what, tell me how that impacts your ability to teach kids. Remember--working in rose-petal-covered happiness doesn't mean you have high morale, it just means you teach in a pleasant work environment. There's a world of difference between the two.
Update, 6/12/06 1:57 pm: I emailed Principal Clark and received a reply. While not offering any further information, she thanked me for recognizing that there are two sides to every story.
She also said that high standards apply not only to students, but to teachers. Hear hear!