Guest Column

Reading the Morale Thermometer

by Daniel Espeland

Ithink it is a generally accepted as fact that the morale of school district employees is of utmost importance to every superintendent. Thank goodness some of our employees are so willing to provide this information to us.


Every school has at least one employee who carries around a morale thermometer. He or she can tell you at any time about the morale of their school or district. These unique staffers somehow know when others need a morale report. Two employees will be having a conversation when one will say, “You know, the morale in this district is terrible.” The second person usually will agree, nor, or add a few more details.

Few people disagree with someone reading the morale thermometer. I suppose this is because they don’t have their own thermometer.

Short-Term Memories

No doubt some models of thermometers are better than others. There are individuals who only can report that morale is good or bad. Others can give you a more definitive reading, such as “On a scale of 1 to 10, the morale in this district is 0.” There are even thermometers that keep extended records. The people who carry these will give you reports like, “The morale in this district is the worst it has been in 25 years!”

However, these thermometers with long-term readings must have limited memory as I have yet to hear a report about morale over 26 years. Either that or the thermometer gets stuck. For several years now, I have heard the same people suggest that morale is the “worst it has been in 25 years” when actually they should be reporting it as the worst in 26, 27 or 30 years.

Anyway, I think there is a good opportunity for someone to profit from morale thermometer repair or extensions to random access memory. What a seller—for only $79.95 we will give you an 8 MB RAM card for your morale thermometer. With this addition, your grandkids will be able to compare morale from their classroom to yours. They can make statements like, “You know, the morale is the worst it has been since grandma’s last year of teaching. And you know how ornery that class of ’77 was!”

Self-Esteem Readings

Although I have never seen one, don’t know how to read one and definitely don’t know how they are used, I have a theory about morale thermometers. I have come to the conclusion they must not be oral thermometers. Whenever someone gives you a report, they scrunch up their face and look quite irritated. As uncomfortable as it must be to check a person’s morale, it amazes me that morale is checked and reported so frequently.

You might wonder if a morale thermometer ever moves above the bad mark. I think most thermometers seem to stay at the “good” or “great” level for only a short while—seldom past the middle of February. The exceptions appear to be those years when a varsity sports team wins a state tournament.

The morale thermometer is similar to another instrument—the self-esteem thermometer. I don’t know which was invented first, but they seem to have similar functions. Maybe a self-esteem thermometer is just a morale thermometer with limited capabilities. Maybe self-esteem measurements are collected to produce an overall morale rating—similar to the way air quality readings are collected.

I would imagine the data is gathered like this: “Hi Jim, how is your self-esteem?” To which Jim replies, “Oh, I checked it this morning and it was about a 1. It was a 9 last night, after the Denver Broncos won. But this morning I heard the copier in the main office is down and it dropped really badly.”

To which the morale checker responds, “Yours is a 1? You braggart! Obviously you haven’t heard the rumor that they will be using our classrooms for the speech and debate tournament this weekend. I have been checking around and you’re the first person I have found above 0. But your self-esteem won’t make much difference. From my checks, the morale around here still averages really close to 0. I think it is probably the worst it has been in 25 years!”

Dan Espeland is superintendent of the Converse County School District, 615 Hamilton St., Douglas, WY 82633. E-mail: