Statewide survey finds teachers are generally satisfied with their work

March 04, 2010|By Liz Bowie | liz.bowie@baltsun.com

The first statewide teacher survey shows that Maryland has a remarkably satisfied teaching corps, three-quarters of whom feel positive about their work, the resources they are given and their school's efforts to help every student.

Most teachers don't feel they have enough say in the decisions that are made in their schools, or on the district level, however, and they say their school districts should increase the mentoring and support of new teachers.

Only a third of new teachers said they had a mentor, a key point as the Maryland General Assembly considers legislation that would extend the length of time it takes a teacher to get tenure and would require more mentoring.

The online survey of 43,000 teachers, or 62 percent of the state's corps, responded to detailed questions on a range of subjects, from how much time they spend working outside of the classroom to how safe they feel and whether they have enough support from parents.

The results, broken down by county and for each of the state's 1,000 schools, are available for the public to view online at tellmaryland.org. The information is intended to be used by principals and teachers to spur conversations about what needs to improve in their schools, according to Eric Hirsch, director of special projects at the New Teacher Center, which conducted the survey.

He said after the survey results were compiled last spring, the New Teacher Center looked at whether there were correlations between the achievement at schools and certain answers. What was found, he said, was that "schools that are performing better are engaging teachers more in critical decisions that impact their classroom and their school."

So it appears that when teachers are involved in decisions, student achievement goes up. Michelle Kaminaris, kindergarten teacher at the high-performing Hampstead Hill Academy in Baltimore City, said teachers should be involved in the decisions at schools.

"We are working in the classroom every day and we know the [students'] needs and we know what it takes to carry out the curriculum," she said.

Teams of teachers meet at Hampstead Hill weekly to talk over the next steps for the school, said Matthew Hornbeck, the principal. When a new teacher tries out for a vacancy at the school, the staff gives Hornbeck their impressions. And he also relies on the current teaching staff to recommend teachers they know for open positions.

But those practices are not common everywhere in the state. Eighty percent of teachers in the survey said they play no role in helping to hire staff and 71 percent said they don't have a say in decisions on how money is spent in their school.

The survey also showed that nearly three out of four teachers spend more than three hours creating lesson plans and being involved in other school activities.

Several teachers laughed when asked in interviews if they spend more than three hours a week working outside of their classroom.

"I am here some days until 6 and I am not the last one to leave the building," said Elizabeth Flaherty, a music teacher at Mount Washington Elementary School in the city.

Kimberly Feldman, a ninth-grade English teacher at Oakland Mills High School in Howard County, feels her school is a good place to work. However, she said, it is clear that some new teachers need more mentoring.

"That is an area of critical need," she said. "So many teachers leave the profession early in their career."

One of the difficulties for teachers in their first year, Feldman said, is that they are so busy trying to stay ahead of lesson planning and other duties that they feel they don't have time to talk over problems with a mentor.

"They need more planning time in the early years to grow and be mentored," she said.

The amount of mentoring teachers get appears to vary widely. Amie Luther, a Mount Washington teacher who transferred from a school in Easton, said she was happy with the support in Talbot County.

"My mentor was fantastic," she said. Not only did she have a mentor from outside the school, she also had a "buddy teacher" down the hall.

Flaherty said about her mentoring in the city, "It saved me."

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