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Good vibes in the classroom

Unlike the vivid images of students and teachers in opposition to each other - which characterized American classrooms in the 1960s and '70s - a new survey shows that in the late 1980s, most public school students and teachers in the United States get along well. ``The overwhelming majority of both teachers (93 percent) and students (70 percent) report that student-teacher relationships in their schools are either good or excellent,'' says a report released at the National Press Club last Thursday by pollster Louis Harris and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.

The annual in-depth survey of some 1,400 urban, rural, suburban, and small-town American teachers this year included 1,200 students, and it found relations between the two ``very cooperative,'' ``respectful,'' and ``not at all strained.'' Teachers are more likely to be perceived as ``excellent'' by students; students in general are listening more in class, say teachers.

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Teachers also report student academic improvement. In 1985, 30 percent of teachers reported a serious lack of basic skills among students. In '88 the number is 16 percent.

Yet ``excellence'' among students - across all subjects - is still ``rare,'' teachers said.

Negative findings include the fact that 1 in 5 students doesn't like school; 1 in 10 never listens in class. And teachers say much classroom time is wasted; as many as 40 percent report that they actually spend less than 75 percent of their class time teaching.

Problems with alcohol and drug abuse, along with violence in school, were seen as more serious by students than by the teachers surveyed.

Other significant results:

Overall teacher morale increased in 1988 for the first time since the survey began in 1984. Fifty percent of the teachers say they are ``satisfied'' with their jobs, up from 40 percent in '87. There was a decline in morale, however, among teachers with less than five years' experience - 34 percent say they will leave teaching, compared with 19 percent in '85.

Minority teachers are still an endangered species. Only 11 percent of the US teaching force is black or Hispanic; of these, 41 percent say they plan to leave teaching in the next five years, compared with a 25 percent non-minority attrition rate.

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The Met Life surveys (this year's is titled ``The American Teacher 1988''), inspired by the school reform impulse of the early 1980s, are the most comprehensive of their kind - an example of corporate concern over US schools.

The somewhat positive demeanor of the 1988 findings, including data showing that the number of teachers earning more than $30,000 has doubled (13 to 26 percent) since 1985, does not suggest an abatement of major problems, Harris researchers say.

As if to put a point on this, a new study of schools in inner-city Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, New Orleans, and Rochester, N.Y., found that only one-third of the teachers in those cities report good working conditions and high morale. One-third are merely ``coping,'' ``struggling'' to make do. And the final third exist in conditions so negative that teachers are often absent; conflict and tension are high in the building.

The 161-page document, ``Working in Urban Schools,'' by the Institute for Educational Leadership in Washington, says the physical conditions of even newer buildings are ``substandard,'' that in 25 of 31 schools resources such as staff, textbooks, computers, and telephones are not adequate, and that in 24 of 31 schools student behavior and attitudes exist in opposition to educational values and authority.

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