Most private employers will tell you that one of their foremost concerns is employee morale. In service companies in particular, a customer’s experience with a particular employee determines whether that business survives or dies.

In government, however, too many public officials disregard employee morale. Teachers are an acute example. More and more, I hear from education leaders across the state who worry about our teachers’ morale. It is an issue that we must confront if we are to achieve our education goals.

We all know the importance of our teachers. Every child deserves an excellent education, and an excellent education in school begins with a quality teacher in every classroom. Whatever the status of our buildings or our technology, children learn best through a passionate, skilled instructor.

That’s why teacher morale is so important. If we are to retain our finest teachers and have them perform at the highest level, they must feel good about their jobs. Teachers who speak poorly about the profession discourage other, talented individuals from entering the field. We cannot afford to lose any of our current well-qualified teachers, nor can we cut off any skilled young person thinking about becoming a teacher. One of Tennessee’s largest school districts, however, has 40% of new teachers leave within five years—a trend comparable to nationwide statistics.

Most teachers I know sought out the profession because they wanted to make a difference. Money and benefits are certainly part of the equation, but in the long run, much of a teacher’s job satisfaction comes from seeing a child learn and grow. Strong principals and administrators make such a big impact on schools because they support teachers and allow them to perform in the classroom. The best administrators relieve discipline problems while giving support and helpful feedback so that their teachers can reach high expectations.

Our public officials can also affect teacher morale. Too often we hear public officials praise the importance of teachers, yet lambaste their performance. We should be working with and listening to our teachers in the halls of the state legislature and throughout our local governments. We must acknowledge that public officials’ actions have a very real impact on teacher morale. In just the last several weeks, we have seen lawsuits, school board fights, and highly scrutinized personnel moves across the state. Whether these actions are properly taken is not the point. Instead, we must recognize that they play a role in how excited our teachers are to perform their jobs.

We have a critical initiative before us: hiring and retaining high-quality teachers to raise standards and help our students achieve success. Teachers know that their classrooms can often become a battlefield as they fight various factors that can derail a student, from lack of parental support to difficult learning disabilities. Our teachers need to know there’s an army of support behind them, ready to provide reinforcements. It’s up to the rest of us to provide that support.