The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Survey shows low morale, frustration among D.C. teachers

A September survey of D.C. public school teachers showed many were unhappy with their jobs, and some were considering leaving their positions in the next few years. (Shuran Huang for The Washington Post)
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Four out of five D.C. teachers are unhappy with their jobs, according to a Washington Teachers’ Union survey of its members.

More than 600 teachers cited increased workload and teacher turnover as their primary concerns. Many remain frustrated the union has been unable to reach a contract agreement with D.C.'s public school system, which has left educators without raises for the last three years. The situation has become so dire that nearly half said they “will likely leave” their jobs in the next few years.

“Teachers’ dissatisfaction with their working conditions affects children’s learning conditions,” said Jacqueline Pogue Lyons, the union’s president, in a statement. “Teachers are stressed, overwhelmed and upset that they don’t get the support and compensation they need to do their jobs as well as they’d like to. As a result, more and more folks are leaving these jobs, and we have more vacancies than we can fill.”

The survey, which was conducted between Sept. 21-26 paints a grim picture of the city’s public school workforce. Teachers expressed concerns over a lack of support from principals, insufficient planning time and class sizes.

Ninety percent of teachers surveyed called retaining teachers in the District a “very serious” or “fairly serious” problem in the school district of about 49,000 children. The District has one of the highest teacher attrition rates in the country, the D.C. State Board of Education said in a resolution passed last week that called for a “prompt resolution” between D.C. public schools and the teachers union.

The D.C. Council will host a hearing Tuesday at 1 p.m. to discuss “what schools are doing to address teacher and principal turnover and strategies to increase retention of teachers and leaders,” according to a committee notice.

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week at D.C. Bilingual Public Charter School, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said she wanted the District to be a city for teachers.

“I am proud to be the leader of an innovative city, where we attract great talent,” Bowser said. “We are challenged, not just because we want to be competitive in compensation and benefits, that we have great culture, we have a growing housing stock for people of all incomes and this is a great place to raise your own children and families. But I know in the coming months and years I will continue to focus on how we are going to be the city for educators.”

However, the union, which represents 4,300 teachers in D.C.'s traditional public school system, has gone three years without an agreement. A quarter of teachers who responded to the survey said their “salary, no cost-of-living increase [and] no compensation for extra work” is an issue that has changed for the worse during that time. Teachers are, in part, paid based on how many years they have worked in classrooms. They have continued to get those step increases while the contract has lapsed.

Frustrations continued to mount in September as the District reached a deal with a union that represents principals, assistant principals, administrators and school staff members including psychologists, speech therapists and social workers. At that time, teachers were in the mediation stage with the school district, a process during which a neutral party helps both sides negotiate. Bowser, after announcing an agreement with the principals’ union said she was “proud of the offer that we put on the table” to teachers but did not elaborate.

Janet Bass, a spokeswoman for the union, said Monday, however, that mediation failed and the sides have moved onto arbitration, meaning teachers will not be able to vote on their contract once an agreement is reached.

Union officials have said their sticking point with the negotiations is with working conditions; the school system has said it is employee compensation.

Randi Weingarten, president of the national American Federation of Teachers, said teachers need a contract that helps them do their jobs. The issues felt in D.C. reflect problems that are being experienced by teachers throughout the country and contributing to a national shortage of educators.

“No wonder teachers are fed up and demoralized,” Weingarten said in a statement. “DCPS should be listening to them and working with them, not just continuing to demand more and giving less.”