Teacher morale is improving, but more can be done to address mental health needs

Following a significant decline as a result of the pandemic, teacher morale appears to be improving, according to the second annual Merrimack College Teacher Survey, commissioned by the school’s Winston School of Education and Social Policy.

However, results also suggest there is more work to do to keep these trends moving in a positive direction.

Conducted by the EdWeek Research Center, survey results show 20 percent of teachers report being very satisfied with their jobs — nearly double that of last year. Meanwhile, the percentage of teachers who say they are very or fairly likely to leave the profession in the next two years declined from 44 to 35 percent.

The bad news: Measures of teacher autonomy were stagnant, and most teachers still say that, given a chance to do it over again, they wouldn’t advise their younger selves to pursue the profession. Additionally, 42 percent of teachers reported their own mental health and wellness challenges are having a negative impact in the classroom. More than half said the same of their students.

Asked what could be done to improve the situation, teachers provided various solutions, big and small, that touched on everything from pay raises and smaller class sizes to administrators listening to them and valuing their input.

“If there was a real focus on mental health and on work-life balance for teachers as human beings, and a real recognition of what the field has been through recently — I think all those would make a huge difference,” Deborah Margolis, dean of the Winston School of Education and Social Policy, said during a May 25 webinar about the survey findings. “There’s always a lot of focus on content and student scores, but I think there’s much less focus on the importance of health of teachers in order to be able to appropriately meet the needs of their students. If we can look at all of the things that have worked to some extent, and put some hybrid together, we might meet more needs and stress teachers a little bit less.”

One method could be embracing “full-service schools,” or community schools, Margolis said. “What we know both through the research and anecdotally is that schools and teachers have taken on more and more roles in our culture … it’s another thing that’s really burdening teachers — they’re not just teaching content, they’re not just helping kids be good citizens in the classroom, they’re actually taking care of kids’ health needs, mental health needs, nutritional needs,” she noted. “And I think that if we could collaborate better across different community agencies and organizations and bring more people into the schools so those needs are met by someone other than just the teachers.”

Key findings

Administered Jan. 15-25, the 27-question 2023 Merrimack College Teacher Survey included responses from 1,178 K-12 public school teachers. Among the key findings:

  • Forty-two percent of teachers said their teaching and professional growth had suffered this year because of the state of their mental health, and 55 percent said that the mental health and wellness of teachers in their school has declined over the course of the 2022–23 school year.
  • Just 2 percent of teachers said their district offers extensive programming to support employee’s mental health and wellness. Nearly a quarter said their district offered no programming, 44 percent said programming was minimal, and 30 percent said their district made some effort to support staff mental health.
  • Asked how districts can support teachers’ mental well-being, the most common responses included raising pay or providing a bonus to reduce financial stress (67 percent), smaller class sizes (62 percent), more or better support for student discipline (62 percent), fewer administrative burdens such as meetings and paperwork (57 percent), more positive acknowledgment of work (54 percent), and the opportunity to take mental health days with more or better substitutes available (each at 52 percent).
  • About 80 percent reported being respected as professionals within their school, and 75 percent reported the same of students’ parents. However, only 55 percent of teachers said they’re respected and seen as professionals by the general public.