From California to Rhode Island, school systems are being challenged by tough economic times, and administrators are handling dwindling finances in a variety of ways. That includes reduced hours for some workers, furlough days for others, salary cuts, and increased costs for insurance for many teachers and school employees.

These challenges continue to have a crushing impact on teachers, according to Francine Morris, a speech, language and pathologist specialist for 42 years in Toledo who has spent the past 15 years as president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers. "The morale issue is significant," she said. "Teacher morale has lowered over the last several years in the face of cutbacks."

Patti Kinney, a former teacher and associate director of Middle Level Services for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said the issue affects teachers, principals and other school staff.  "As I talk to principals and teachers, it is demoralizing in a lot of regards," she said. "We're not only losing resources and colleagues, but we are being held to higher levels of accountability at the same time. So, people are struggling to do more with less and less."

Kinney said she tells principals to keep the lines of communication open with their staffs. "There's nothing worse than feeling like you were blind-sided by some kind of budget cut," she said.

Kinney says she urges principals to get feedback from their faculty and staff. In the end, the tough decisions are theirs to make, "but your staff will appreciate considering their input, even if the final decision is bad news for them."

Kinney, Morris, and Smith and others agreed that battling low morale is a little easier with the strong support of parents. In fact, they said there are several ways parents can help:

  • Support your teacher. Open a line of communication with your child's teachers. Join the parent organization at school. Send a small gift at the holidays. At a time when it seems like no one is supporting school workers, it's valuable to get some positive feedback from parents, Morris said. "Parental interest and engagement in their children's education is viewed by teachers in a very positive manner."
  • Fight for your school. Learn about the financial issues in your child's school district. Let local and state officials know your opinion if you are not satisfied with their financing decisions, Kinney and others said. Bonnee Breese is a high school English teacher in Philadelphia who believes in the power of parents. "They have to utilize their political power. Right now the decisions are in the hands of politicians, and if you do not pay attention, politicians will sell us all down the river. All we can do is protect ourselves and our children to the best of our ability."
  • Be prepared to support a tax increase. Many school districts are turning to tax propositions, giving residents a chance to provide more money for schools. Betty Harris, a math teacher at Cerritos High School in Cerritos, Calif., said a school bond election is possible later this year or next year. "If there has to be another school bond initiative, we may have to start pounding the pavement and talking to people in the community," Harris said. Support from parents would be significant.

In the end, though, the battle against morale is often a one-person fight, teachers and principals said.

"You just have to be positive," said Breese. "I still know that when I show up in the building, I am having such a great time … You can't go into the building unless you love what you do."