Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Environment We Create for Educators IS the Environment We Create for Our Children: What the Results of the BAT/AFT 2017 Survey Mean to Me!

By: Marla Kilfoyle, Executive Director, The Badass Teachers Association; Public School Teacher; Public School Parent.


In May of 2015, the American Federation of Teachers and The Badass Teachers Association conducted a groundbreaking study of teacher workplace conditions.  The 80 question survey was completed by over 30,000 teachers and showed a profession in crisis.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) conducted another national Educator Quality of Work Life (EQWL) survey in May-June 2017.  The study surveyed a public sample, random sample, and two cities (Solvey and North Syracuse).  These four groups were compared against the NIOSH Quality of Worklife National Survey of worker conditions.  Thus, comparing educators against the general working population.  The results of the AFT/BAT 2017 work continue to show a profession in deep crisis, feeling under attack, but also showing that unions enhance the work that educators do in our schools each day.

Teacher Stress Impacts Children

A teacher's work environment becomes a student's learning environment.  At the American Educational Research Association (AERA) meeting in April of 2016, researchers from the University of Groningen (Netherlands) reported that “teachers who showed higher levels of stress at the beginning of the year displayed fewer effective teaching strategies over the rest of the school year, including clear instruction, effective classroom management, and creation of a safe and stimulating classroom climate for their students, than did the teachers with lower initial stress levels.”   

In another study done in June of 2016, researchers at the University of British Columbia found that “teachers' occupational stress is linked to students' physiological stress regulation.” Researchers found that in classrooms where teachers were feeling more burnout and stress, children were as well.  

Finally, a study from the University of Virginia Curry School of Education found that when you reduce teacher stress (done via a study and program called CARE), you increase productivity in the classroom.  Researcher Patricia Jennings stated, “The study also showed the CARE program directly impacted students, as the students in the CARE classrooms were rated as more productive than those in the control group. CARE teachers made better use of instructional time, resulting in students being more involved in learning activities.”  

Taking Care of Educators Means Taking Care of Children - What the EQWL Toplines Tell Us

The 2015 survey by AFT and BATs stated educators felt disrespected by elected officials, the national media, and the U.S. Department of Education Secretary.  The survey completed this past year continued this trend.  A majority of educators in the four samples (Public, Random, and 2 City Schools) disagreed when asked these questions:
“I am treated with respect by elected representatives of state and federal government.”
“I am treated with respect by local and national media
“I am treated with respect by US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.”

Furthermore, as stated in the 2015 survey, 30% of the 30,000 respondents reported being bullied. The 2017 EQWL random sample and the two cities’ samples reported a higher rate of bullying (25.4%-26.7%) than the national average conducted by the NHIS (6.9%).  Most alarming was that all four samples reported low numbers when asked if their district provided regular training on workplace harassment and bullying (Random and North Syracuse 1/2; Public Sample and Solvey ⅓).  Despite being disrespected and bullied on the job, educators are less likely to want to leave then the national average.  Educators are committed to the children they teach, and therefore, more likely to remain in a career to which they feel dedicated, despite the dismal working conditions.  The 2017 EQWL found that a smaller proportion of the EQWL random sample, and the 2 cities’ survey participants said they were “very likely” to “seek employment outside the field of education within the next year” (3.2-7.1%) compared to NIOSH QWL survey participants (16.9%) who said they were “very likely” to “make a genuine effort to find a new job with another employer within the next year”.

Strong Supportive Schools Have Healthier Teachers - The Union Difference

There has been a volume of research that shows that unions make a difference in the workplace condition of workers but especially for women and minorities.  Since a large portion of the teaching force are women, it should be noted how unions not only elevate the status of women in the workplace but how unions allow educators to provide great places for children to learn.  

In their report, “The Union Advantage for Women” the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that “among full-time workers ages 16 and older, women represented by labor unions earn an average of $212, or 30.9 percent, more per week than women in nonunion jobs.  Union women experience a smaller gender wage gap.  Women of all major racial and ethnic groups experience a union wage advantage.”    In their paper “What do Unions do for Women, Spalter-Roth, Collins, and Hartmann found that women who are unionized earn higher wages and longer job tenure when compared to their nonunionized peers.  Most important was that unions especially benefit minority women (and men) particularly people of color and Hispanics.  
The National Domestic Workers Alliance supported this finding that “union representation boosts Black women’s earnings and reduces gaps in earnings between Black women and other workers.”   

The two cities used in the AFT/BAT 2017 Survey (labeled North Syracuse (NS) and Solvey (S) ) were two schools districts that have a history of strong labor management, great relations with the community, and a supportive school environment.  Their data shows that there is a strong union advantage for educators.  EQWL participants in NS reported a significantly lower  (6.3%) of fair/poor health compared to the NIOSH QWL national sample (12.6%).  Furthermore, it was seen in several questions about stress and work.  When asked “The stress and disappointments involved in working at this school are not really worth it.” the NS and S samples had lower agreement levels than the public sample.  (S 41.9%, NS 40.4% versus the public sample 57.1%.) .  When asked “I think about transferring to another school” the NS and S samples, again, had lower agreement levels with this question  (public sample, 54.7% agree, vs. 43.3% S and 33.4% NS.).  Finally when asked  “I don't seem to have as much enthusiasm now as I did when I began this job” the public sample had close to a 15% jump over the NS and S sample (public sample, 74.9% agree, vs. 61.0% S and 53.8% NS.).  The strongest disagreement that “My school focuses on what is best for student learning when making important decisions” and “There is a great deal of cooperative effort among staff members” was seen between the public sample and the S sample.  

Finally,  the public sample reported higher percentages than the NS and S samples when asked
1) it was “somewhat hard” or “very hard” to “take time off during your work to take care of personal or family matters” (public sample 36.3% vs. the other three samples, 13.2%-29.2%).
2) their work was often or always stressful (public sample 81.4%, vs. S 58.4% and NS 69.2%).
3) it was somewhat or very likely that they would “seek employment outside the field of education within the next year” (public sample, 37.2% agree, vs. 24.2% S and 11.3% NS.)

The above work shows  that when you compare the public sample with the NS and S samples (who have strong labor management and supportive workplace conditions) educators are reporting to be healthier, less likely to leave the profession, and more enthusiastic about their work.


When we draw the bottom line, it certainly is this:  The environment that we create for educators IS the environment that we create for our children.  For the last two decades, America’s educators have been under assault - No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Arne Duncan, John King, and now Betsy DeVos.  Unlike the private sector, teachers don’t have a direct “boss” that they can hold accountable.  Educators are accountable to the public that they serve.  The public, in turn, relies on the local, state, and the federal government to support their schools (both economically and in policy).  What America’s teachers have been saying for a LONG time is SUPPORT US so that we can support the children in front of us.  Educators are demanding that politicians protect us from billionaires and reform models that seek to destroy public education. Educators are poised to vote out lawmakers who support an education agenda that seeks to create unhealthy environments for our children.  The time is now - Support America’s educators, support the children in our care and support the communities we serve.  

You can follow Marla on twitter at @marla_kilfoyle
You can follow BATs on twitter at @BadassTeachersA

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