School prioritizes teacher satisfaction


Katherine Esterl

TEACHING FOR JOY: Teacher satisfaction is of utmost importance at school. Psychology teacher Andrew Copeland poses with senior Jacob Greenhill.

Math teacher Will Melton arrives to school every morning at 7:30 a.m. hoping to meet students who need extra help in class. 

However, there are many days in which students do not show up. Despite making the early morning drive to school, Melton remains encouraged that his hard work and long hours in and out of the classroom will help his students succeed.

Many teachers love their job, but some do not feel the job satisfaction they deserve. 

Professional Association of Georgia Educators spokeswoman Ramona Mills attributes a large portion of teacher dissatisfaction to standardized testing. According to a PAGE survey of 4,500 anonymous participants involved in education, 56 percent of participants disagreed with Georgia’s current standardized testing program providing educators with information to improve student learning. 

“If you feel that your efforts are not effective, you are not going to be as happy and fulfilled in your job as you would be if you knew your efforts were contributing to a greater good,” Mills said. “They feel that they are not able to necessarily do their job as they would like given all of the requirements of testing.”

However, according to the same PAGE survey, 50.8 percent of participants reported they were “very likely” and 16.67 percent reported they were “likely” to remain in education for the next five years.

Psychology teacher Andrew Copeland has been teaching at Grady for four years and plans to continue teaching in the future.

“I have fun teaching, so I will continue to teach as long as I enjoy it,” Copeland said. “[Teaching psychology] has ended up fitting my personality really well. 

Melton pointed out that even though teaching has been more difficult than his former engineering job, he expressed the many rewards of teaching.

 “Teaching has been a much more difficult job because there are so many variables that are out of your control that teachers have to deal with every day,” Melton said. “This is both what makes teaching rewarding, but also can add to general teacher dissatisfaction as well.”

According to an anonymous survey of 36 percent of Grady teachers by the Southerner, many of the Grady teachers reported high levels of satisfaction. Eighty percent of the surveyed teachers said they were either always or often satisfied with their jobs.  

Copeland enjoys teaching and credits the relationships he is building with students as a key component to his happiness at school.

“Since I’ve been at Grady, I’ve always felt the best part of my job was how much fun being around the kids is and getting to know how talented and awesome [the kids] all are,” Copeland said.

Teachers were also asked to rate individual aspects of their overall satisfaction on the Southerner survey, such as job environment and social support, on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being “least satisfied” and 10 being “most satisfied.” 

Grady’s teachers had an average score of 8.53 in social support from colleagues, but they had an average score of 6.3 in salary. Teachers also averaged a 6.73 in freedom to teach the way they want to teach.

Literature teacher Susan Barber is currently in her 16th year teaching and her first at Grady. She urges the importance of autonomy for all teachers.

“I think it’s important for teachers to be able to have that freedom to make the choice the way they want to as long as they’re getting the results,” Barber said. “We’ve been to school for this. We have degrees. Just turn us loose, and let us teach. I’m glad I have been allowed to do this at Grady.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 76 percent of public school teachers said they like the school they’re currently teaching at. Additionally, 74 percent of public school teachers said they like the way things run at their school. These statistics go hand-in-hand with the results from the Southerner survey.

Principal Dr. Betsy Bockman agrees the camaraderie between teachers and faculty is strong.

“Everybody is pretty much in the same direction because we want our kids to be prepared,” Dr. Bockman said. “We all understand that that is our job, that we want to get our kids to college and have choices. I think there is that common understanding of our mission.” 

Teachers begin teaching for a variety of reasons.

Copeland attended Georgia Tech to study engineering, but always had teaching as an option. He found inspiration from his favorite high school math teacher.

“I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this is really cool. He seems like he is having a lot of fun teaching,’” Copeland said. “Being competitive in math made me want to be competitive in all my other classes, because of that teacher.”

Photography teacher Kimberly Wadsworth did not always have aspirations of becoming a teacher, but she is lucky she found a teaching career to share her passion with students.

“I needed a career, and I had gone to school for photography,” Wadsworth said. “My sister-in-law was a teacher, and she suggested for me to see about teaching. When I got to Grady, I loved it and the students as well.”

Senior Karl Haddock emphasizes how much more enjoyable school is for him when his teachers are more enthusiastic about their subjects.

“When a teacher gets excited and is passionate about what they teach, it makes the class 100 times more fun,” Haddock said.

Consequently, sophomore Abby Edlein stresses the importance of having good teachers and sometimes uses the reputation of teachers to help determine her class schedule.

“I typically choose classes based on course content, but with my AP classes for my junior year, I selected some based on who teaches the class,” Edlein said. “I knew there were certain classes I shouldn’t take because I feel some of the teachers aren’t passionate about teaching them.” 

Additionally, Edlein also loves teachers who encourage her to move toward a certain pathway or try new things.

“Mr. (Nalin) Needham inspired me to read more challenging books and become more interested in poetry,” Edlein said. “He is the reason I’m currently involved in Grady’s Lit Mag. He was truly such a special teacher, and it was hard seeing him leave.”

Although most teachers are satisfied, some teachers claimed the extra work can be tedious and time-consuming.

“Nationwide, there are a lot of things that are masked or disguised as being in the best interest of students, but they are not in the best interest of students,” Barber said. “And teachers are asked to do things like attend meetings and do paperwork with some of those things ultimately not moving students forward. Teachers I talk to all across the nation say they are just burdened with more and more things that have very little to do with teaching. However, when I close the door to Room E225 and am teaching, I am in my happy place.”

Speech and debate teacher Mario Herrera believes that other issues that make teaching difficult can be solved through better communication between teachers and administration.

“Everyone at this school has the best of intentions, but it would help if we talked to each other more,” Herrera said. “We are this fantastic community, and we are going in every direction, but I think we could go in every direction smiling. That is my utopian vision.”

Because of the success at Grady, Dr. Bockman understands the pressure for teachers to point out any help they want.

“That is a detriment to a very high achieving school sometimes,” Dr. Bockman said. “We have started trying to do more observations and not critical observations where you get dinged, but more like ‘Hey, here is what I saw. Maybe try this, or try to do more of that.’”

Herrera also points out how difficult it is to prioritize certain aspects of teaching over others.

“I tell something to my team all the time, and I believe it is also true in education, ‘If everything is equally important, nothing is,’” Herrera said.

Dr. Bockman hopes that by consistently recognizing teachers for their work and attendance that their overall satisfaction will improve. According to the results from the 2018 Spring Gallup Report, an anonymous survey for all Atlanta Public Schools teachers rating individual aspects of teaching, Grady earned the biggest jump in receiving praise or acknowledgment for doing good work.

“One thing I have done this year is that I give some kind of recognition to the teachers for perfect attendance,” Dr. Bockman said. “I’m really pushing that because when I came here, [teacher] attendance was not great, but now it’s much better. Also, when teachers go out of their box to try something different, that makes me really happy.”

Overall, many teachers at Grady are happy with their current situation. The Grady community and the joy of helping students keeps teachers motivated to show up to school every day.

“I think every job has the potential to make a difference in the world,” Barber said. “But teaching is the kind of job where every day no matter how bad of a day the day I’ve had the day before, I can wake up and say, “I know I have an opportunity to make a difference in the next generation today.’”