A hostile work environment for a teacher has a ripple effect, influencing not only teachers, but also students, parents and entire communities. Unfortunately, many of the contributing factors for a teacher's unhappy work environment occur well outside of the classroom, making it difficult for individual districts to focus on correcting the problems. Disrespect, constant outside intervention, obstruction of chosen teaching methods, insufficient teacher solidarity, and an overwhelming lack of support for many teachers can sometimes generate a difficult and unrewarding profession.
Like other professionals, teachers typically complete multiple years of training and certification in order to teach in a classroom. With schools’ increasing reliance upon canned curricula, many teachers feel professionally stymied when it comes to developing and implementing creative unit and lesson plans. According to Cynthia Kopkowski, author of "Why They Leave," a lack of professional respect generates hostility in individual teachers, which leads to an uncomfortable work environment. These teachers, Kopkowski suggests, feel they are mere cogs in a larger curricular machine, unable to utilize any of the creative skills they’ve honed over the years from their own education, training and experience.
Intervention and Obstruction
The so-called “crisis” in education has led to a multitude of non-teachers and non-teaching agencies to intervene in the teaching process. The result is that many teachers feel as though they are constantly being observed and judged by people outside of the teaching profession. Angela Fleming, author of "Teachers in Crisis," maintains that this constant intervention and obstruction by outside agencies, ranging from government officials to corporate testing companies, produces an unfavorable environment. Reflecting on her own experiences, Fleming states she felt “on display” and in constant threat of losing her job if one of these observers should object to something she did in her classroom.
As a result of outside intervention, many teachers feel isolated and threatened. Li-Ching Hung and Cary Smith, co-authors of "Why Do Teachers Leave," argue this makes it less likely for teachers to seek assistance from colleagues, and to, in turn, view any outside opinion about their teaching methods as antagonistic. The lack of solidarity among teachers in a given school initiates an environment where they don’t feel as though they can rely upon their colleagues for advice or assistance. This can cause teachers to then operate in a bubble, totally closed off from any intercollegial interaction.
Perhaps the greatest contributor to a hostile teaching environment is an overwhelming lack of support for teachers -- and students -- at the classroom level. Because districts shell out millions of dollars for pre-set curriculum at the district level, many teachers consider their needs unmet. Kopkowski, Fleming, Hung and Smith all agree that this lack of support relates to more than just monetary support, though, as many new teachers complain they receive very little in way of mentoring or guidance from either their administrators or senior teachers. This causes many new teachers -- nearly 50% -- to leave the teaching profession within five years of entering it.
Samuel Hamilton has been writing since 2002. His work has appeared in “The Penn,” “The Antithesis,” “New Growth Arts Review" and “Deek” magazine. Hamilton holds a Master of Arts in English education from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Master of Arts in composition from the University of Florida.