Utah teachers love what they do - and hate the conditions under which they are doing it. In a Deseret News survey, 74 percent say they would at least consider leaving the profession if they had a good opportunity.
"This survey confirms what education leaders have been saying," said Superintendent James R. Moss of the State Office of Education. "We have a ticking time bomb on our hands. The survey results are verifiable data that our teachers are being stretched too far. They can only absorb so much work, and they have absorbed what they can. We are worrying about money; we should be worrying about people."Thirty-four percent of the 531 respondents to the poll said they definitely would leave the profession if they had a good alternative; 40 percent said maybe; and only 26 percent that they expect they are in the profession to stay. (Figures have been rounded and may slightly exceed or fall short of 100 percent.)
Orem teacher: "Education is becoming a beggar profession. We beg for money. We beg students to do their work. We beg parents to help. We beg for recognition as a profession. We beg for respect."
Paradoxically, 482 of the respondents said they are either satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their careers as teachers. The level of satisfaction, however, for the great majority, is falling. Sixty-four percent said they are less satisfied now than five years ago; 15 percent the same; 12 percent greater; and 9 percent "don't know."
Salt Lake teacher: "I have been a teacher in Utah for 28 years. It WAS an honorable career at that time, but I would NOT enter the profession again. Education as a career is NOT a good choice today."
One in five (21 percent) of the teachers still rate the state's system as excellent, but the majority (58 percent) see it only as "good" and 18 percent rate it "fair." About 5 percent said the system is "poor."
Salt Lake teacher: "I have taught school in Utah for nearly 20 years and in the past three years, our system has gone backward 20 years. I feel overstuffed classrooms and lack of specialists in the elementary schools, along with a general lack of value placed on education by the community, spells failure in our schools."
Among the teachers' pet peeves are the number of children who fill their classrooms, the insufficient salaries they earn for what they consider a vital societal contribution, the challenge of dealing with a sick society's ills in the school setting and what they perceive as a lack of appreciation from the society they serve.
Society shows its appreciation for its servants by paying them commensurately, Moss said. If teacher dissatisfaction is not addressed, he predicted that fewer high quality people will enter the profession and those now in the ranks will abandon ship for more lucrative or less pressured jobs.
Logan teacher: "Because of the order of importance of education in this state, I have made the decision to move to a state where education and salaries are a number one priority. Morale is low . . . I care more about the youth in this state than do parents."
The poll indicates teachers feel little respect from their communities. Thirty-eight percent said they strongly disagree that teaching is a respected profession and another 43 percent that they "somewhat disagree." Only 1.5 percent see their profession as highly respected.
Cedar City teacher: "Utah is a state which claims to greatly value children. But when it comes to accepting the financial responsibilities of educating these children, we fall short of what we claim to value. In other words, we should be willing to put our money where our mouth is."
Orem teacher: "I hear so much about teacher accountability - and they should be accountable. But I hear nearly nothing about student accountability or home accountability. When a teacher slips up, he/she can be fired. But when a parent or student slips up (in many ways, including discord in the home, divorce, lack of breakfast for students, lack of supervision, use of drugs, etc.) the teacher must fill in, help compensate or adjust some way."
The great majority of Utah's teachers also agree with a report by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, released this summer, which says teacher morale in Utah is near the bottom among the 50 states and in a serious state of decline. Since 1983, morale has become worse, according to 68 percent of the teachers polled by the national organization.
Riverdale, Weber County, teacher: "I feel that teachers' morale is the lowest it has ever been. The salaries need to be looked at. I have taught for five years and have had one cost of living increase."
Jim Campbell, president of the Utah Education Association, sees low morale as a serious problem and the manifestation of deeper discontents that must be addressed, if quality of education in Utah is not to take a nosedive.
"A statewide strike is possible," he said, "especially if the tax initiatives pass." The potential for a systemwide strike was raised recently when the National Education Association looked at Utah's situation and offered support.
"Teachers don't want to strike," Moss said, "but what have they got left?"
Campbell said teachers need to get a sense of restored confidence to address education's many problems. "Education has always been a partnership. Parents need to be involved. Teachers need to open their classroom doors to invite that involvement."
Teaching is not a job that begins at 8 a.m. and finishes at 3 p.m., the Deseret News survey indicates. Forty-three percent of the teachers who responded to the Deseret News poll said they spend 10 hours or more each week outside class time working on school-related tasks. Another 16 percent said they spend 8-10 hours in outside preparation; 18 percent 6-8 hours; and 14 percent 4-6 hours. Only 2 percent said they spend one to two hours beyond the required school day, and 8 percent reported 2-4 hours.
Salt Lake teacher: "Most all teachers are in the classroom with students 22 to 27 hours per week. We typically spend 10 to 15 additional hours in that classroom preparing, grading, etc. Then we spend an additional 10-15 hours out of the classroom, assisting or supervising students, in in-service or college classes or just making the school run. My total hours per week average 50 to 55."
Many of the teachers complained of spending their own money as well as uncompensated time on school, a situation that doesn't seem to have a parallel in other professions for salaried personnel. A shortage of school books and supplies is nibbling into their salaries, they said. No survey question directly related to that issue, but it was a frequently stated complaint on the survey margins or in supplementary letters that accompanied the surveys as they returned to the Deseret News.
Salt Lake teacher: "I am putting personal funds into my classroom. My expenditures for the 1987-88 school year were $425."
The teachers were asked to rate challenges they face on a scale of 1-10, with 10 indicating the highest level of discontent.
Over-stuffed classrooms were clearly the first concern, with 348 teachers (66 percent) giving the issue a hefty 10 points. Eighty-seven more (16 percent) gave it nine points; forty-one, (8 percent), eight points. The total rating at the top three digits of the scale included 476 of the 531 respondents - a resounding 90 percent condemnation of the largest classroom loads in the country.
South Weber teacher: "When I began teaching in 1985, my class size was 24 students. In 1986, my class size was 26. Last year, my class had 30 students. My class list for this year shows 32. Where is it going to end? Have you any idea how difficult it is to squeeze 32 desks into a small classroom and still have room for learning centers, a piano and other things for the children's benefit? Not to mention trying to get around to each individual child to be sure his cursive letters are being formed correctly and he's learning his times tables . . . We need help!"
Close behind classroom overcrowding as a concern was salaries. Fifty-eight percent (307) of the respondents gave the issue a 10; 14 percent (73) a nine; and 17 percent (92) an eight - for 89 percent of the total at the top third of the scale.
This is the third year that Utah teachers have had no pay raises or extremely small increases. Many said they feel their income does not reflect their level of preparation and is not commensurate with the responsibility they accept for the betterment of society as a whole.
Manti teacher: "Every male teacher I know of in my school has to maintain another job on the side to be able to meet their financial needs. I strongly believe teaching school should be as financially rewarding as possible - just as any other profession . . . We need good teachers. If salaries aren't increased, the good teachers will find other higher paying jobs. The governor and other officials who think education isn't of utmost importance need to realize THEY would not be in the positions they are without teachers!"
Many of those who responded to the survey also expressed another frustration teachers feel - the lack of control over their own circumstances. They have too little input into decisions that govern their profession and its application in the classroom, they said.
"If teachers are not able to receive significant salary increases, more input into the decision-making process would help expand their `comfort zone' a bit,' " said Ken Zenger, president of the Utah affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.
During the 1989 legislative session, measures may be introduced that would increase the role of teachers in governance of education at the local school level. During a recent meeting with educators, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Brigham City, said such legislation is being prepared, although he was not certain at this point what its exact form will be.
Not all of Utah's educators are unhappy. The purpose of the Deseret News poll was to allow teachers to express dissatisfactions - and they did. The degrees of dissatisfaction vary greatly and many of the respondents stressed that though they have areas of unhappiness with their jobs, they are content to be teachers.
Salt Lake teacher: "I am proud to be a teacher. Regardless of the pitfalls, if I can touch lives in a positive way, it is worth it."