The teacher is absent today

January 21, 2015


We’re often told that teachers are uniquely dedicated to their profession. Indeed, many are, and OCPA firmly believes that some of Oklahoma’s best teachers deserve to be millionaires.

However, as policymakers and others continue to discuss the possibility of across-the-board pay raises for teachers, it’s worth remembering that some teachers can be just as crabby and disengaged as any other worker. The Gallup organization polled teachers nationwide and found that just 30 percent described themselves as engaged in their work, while a startling 57 percent said they were not engaged and an especially grumpy 13 percent reported being “actively disengaged.”

Not surprisingly, those lacking engagement were more likely to be absent from school. In fact, the Gallup survey suggested that teacher disengagement is responsible for 2.3 million lost workdays each year. If it costs $100 to hire a substitute for those days, that's more than $200 million in extra costs. While Gallup didn't poll on other work habits, we can guess that disengaged teachers are also weaker performers in the classroom.

The numbers describing teachers are essentially the same as those reported by all other workers. So it seems that a lot of the people who become teachers regard their jobs as not effectively different from, say, pipefitting or selling shoes.

What do these numbers mean for the kids, who are (or should be) the focus of public education? If less than a third of teachers are truly engaged in their work, that means that many children are not getting the best from the people who claim to teach them. Anyone who has ever gone to school has met some of those "not engaged" or "actively disengaged" teachers, and suffered accordingly. As one local school superintendent in Oklahoma recently acknowledged,

We have some really bad administrators and some really bad teachers who shouldn’t be able to get a job. Yep, call me names if you want, but you know I’m right. We can all think of a teacher or administrator who shouldn’t be a teacher or administrator. Hell, the only reason the really bad educators are able to keep getting hired is because there is no one else out there keeping the bad ones from getting a job. This is embarrassing.

So while the best teachers are worthy of full respect—and merit pay rewarding their performance—those who are not engaged or are actively disengaged obviously come up lacking. Not good odds for little Johnny if he wants to learn. And certainly not a strong argument for across-the-board pay raises.