Friday, July 25, 2014

How Bad Education Policies Demoralize Teachers

February 7, 2012 by jrosales  
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By John Rosales

We often hear the term “teacher burnout” to describe how some educators feel overtaken by the pressures of the classroom. But are these really cases of burnout or have many educators become “demoralized”? These are similar but also distinct forces, says Doris Santoro, Assistant Professor of Education at Bowdoin College, and both are driving dedicated and talented teachers out of the profession.

In a recent article for the American Journal of Education, Santoro argues that demoralization at the hands of rigid education “reforms” is often misdiagnosed as burnout, a condition that has more to do with how an individual responds to everyday stress. Demoralization, according to Santoro, occurs when much of the value of teaching has been stripped away by rigid, ill-conceived education reforms, creating a high level of frustration and  helplessness among teachers. “Burnout” is not the issue. As she explains to NEA Today, the work of teaching has changed and it is therefore up to school communities and policymakers to help restore the “moral rewards” of teaching.

How does teacher demoralization differ from teacher burnout in terms of cause and effect?

I make a distinction between demoralization and burnout primarily in terms of cause. The effects – apathy, bitterness, depression, exhaustion, isolation – may, in fact, look remarkably similar. Burnout is studied most frequently by psychologists who examine how an individual’s personality, physical and mental health, and coping strategies help to manage stress. Burnout tends to be characterized as a natural by-product of teaching in demanding schools and leaves the problem of burnout as an issue of teacher personality and/or naiveté. Burnout is characterized as a failure of individual teachers to conserve their personal store of resources.

In demoralization, the resources – what I term the “moral rewards” of teaching – are embedded in the work itself. Demoralization occurs when the job changes to such a degree that what teachers previously found “good” about their work is no longer available.

Moral rewards are what bring many of us to teaching: finding ways to connect meaningfully with students, designing lessons that address students’ needs, using our talents to improve the lives of others. It is a sense that the moral dimension of the work is taken away by policy mandates that affect their teaching directly.

Explain a bit more about the moral dimension of teaching, particularly how it relates to the recruitment, retention and attrition of teachers.

The moral dimension of teaching is the aspect of teaching that suffuses instruction and curriculum, but also exceeds them. It is where teachers talk about what is good, what is right and what is just about their work. What is it about teaching that enables us to find and express moral value? How is what I am doing bettering the world or myself? How does my teaching improve the lives of others?

The moral dimension of teaching goes beyond questions of student achievement (for example, “Will this raise my students test scores?”) and includes asking about how the teaching affects all involved as persons (for instance, “Is how I am teaching good for my students and for my wellbeing?”). I believe that we get into trouble when we divorce achievement-type questions from moral questions. They must be held together.

Teaching attracts individuals who seek to do good work in spite of the profession’s relatively low status and pay. Research has also shown that the ability to enjoy the moral rewards of doing good work sustains teachers throughout their careers. Of course, salary, school conditions, and structural supports like time for collaborative planning or smaller classes must be addressed, but in concert with the moral dimension of the work. These issues are often intertwined.

How do so-called education reforms lead specifically to demoralization?

My preliminary research shows that it is never one single event or policy that leads to demoralization, but a compilation of mandates that change the character of teachers’ work. It depends on how the policy is implemented at a particular school and what a particular teacher views as central features of good teaching.

Doris Santoro

It is undeniable that teachers who work high-poverty schools tend to experience the most Draconian forms of high- stakes accountability. Examples of policies that may demoralize teachers are scripted lessons that divest teachers of using their talents in planning, mandated curriculum that allows no space for teachers to respond to students’ academic needs and interests, and testing practices that make teachers feel complicit in doing harm to their students.

For instance, one teacher I interviewed spoke of her district’s requirement to have first-grade students sit for a three-hour exam without a break. Other teachers have mentioned their school’s mandated fidelity to the pace of commercial curriculum even though students were not ready to move on to learning a new concept. Overall, the high-stakes accountability climate has neglected conversations about good teaching.

How do burnout and demoralization differ in regards to individual responsibility vs. community responsibility in preventing and addressing the problems?

Certainly there are teachers with personalities that render them prone to burning out – they do not have healthy boundaries or may find self-realization through self-sacrifice. There are also sick school cultures that can contribute to burnout. For instance, schools where putting in anything less a twelve-hour day is viewed as a lack of commitment to the job.

Demoralization, being rooted in the practice of teaching and having policy- and system-based causes, should be addressed by whole-school communities. Current federal policy initiatives require data from teacher surveys on levels of support in and working conditions of schools be published in state and district report cards. Why not include questions such as: When, why, and how do you find value in your work? What enables you to teach at your best? What prevents you from engaging in good teaching? While some responses to these questions may be cynical or blame students and their families, it is likely that they will also point to aspects of policies that require revision in the interdependent goals of improving student learning and retaining talented teachers.

Absent better policies, can teachers do anything to keep from becoming demoralized?

Teachers should first resist the label of “burnout” if what they are really experiencing is demoralization. Demoralization indicates a problem with the profession and practitioners collectively can call attention to the ways in which the work is changing. Demoralization is not a personal problem, so it cannot be avoided individually. Naming and resisting policies that impede doing good work need to be addressed collectively.

There is no shame in demoralization – it is the work that has changed, not the failure of an individual to tough it out. Teachers can ask themselves, colleagues, school leaders, policy makers, parents, whoever will listen: How are we able to access the moral rewards of our work? What do we need to do to “remoralize” our teaching?

See also:

Surviving Teacher Burnout
An Upset Educator’s Letter to Oprah – ‘Ask Teachers’
Survey: Teacher Job Satisfaction Drops to New Low
Florida Teacher’s Essay Becomes Rallying Cry for Respect

Supporting teachers, providing them with career options and helping them improve throughout their careers is a key component of NEA’s Leading the Profession action agenda, released last December. Read more about NEA’s plan to transform the teaching profession.

Comments

86 Responses to “How Bad Education Policies Demoralize Teachers”
  1. brenda segal says:

    I’m from New York and I speak up especially for my students. At age 65, the school administration wanted to get rid of me. They gave me so many assignments, liked nothing I did. I had to be on the same page as every other science teacher and had to prove daily in writing that I had done so including student samples. One afternoon the principal wanted to see me in his office. I said that I would see him in 20 minutes after class. He brought a police woman into the classroom and she was fully armed. So I just sat down on the linoleum floor. Their only choice was to drag me out and I would have grabbed a stationary object. So the principal asked the students to leave and before they did I explained distillation of water. I was the salt. They were the water.

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  2. Susan Davis says:

    Well written article! Posted it to my FB page! Got lots of positive comments! It makes souch sense! Think I’ll make a copy and take it over to my super! :)

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  3. Michael Harper says:

    WOW! This article clarifies so much what I’m experiencing! This should be sent to every superintendent and principal in the nation!

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  4. Beverley Pearce says:

    I believe that my school principal did the best she could considering her superiors were responsible for adding more students to classes including AP and giving more responsibilities to teachers. I had over thirty students in my junior AP English Writing classes. I taught three AP English classes and two junior English classes. In addition, all teachers had a class of twenty or so students twice a month to follow through their four years by counseling them and playing cooperative games. Also, each teacher was responsible for four seniors after class or on their prep to help them with a senior project. Our school was on a fifty-five minute class schedule, so I would see each English student daily. In addition, several committee meetings a month were scheduled at 7:00AM and after school all staff meetings were on the schedule.
    It proved to be an impossible task to preform each day and I did not have enough hours in the day to teach, plan, assess, go to meetings, and confer with students and parents. Consequently, I spent weekends in my classroom assessing assignments and getting reading for the week. This included not only putting two weeks of lesson plans online but also putting a daily copy of plans in a folder on the door. I answered student and parent emails on weekends as well. Needless to say, I ended my teaching career after ten years of seeing change in the teaching profession. I miss the joy of influencing students to be the best that they can.

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  5. Aaron says:

    I know what it feels like to be demoralized. My first year of teaching was very demoralizing. To begin with, much of what was expected of me was the product of some short-lived education fad or another, applied haphazardly whether it was appropriate or not. Many of those policies have already gone out of style.

    Secondly, a lot of administration policies directly disrupted my class on a regular basis. For example, students waltzed in from (mandated) breakfast twenty minutes into class, and there was nothing I could do about it. Students took full advantage of this and many other flaws in a system that administration was never willing to adjust or even acknowledge was flawed. As another example, by the end of second quarter my first period class was about two weeks behind their peers, due to the fact that hour-long assemblies were always held first period. Additionally, one of my regular ed classes was almost all boys, and difficult ones at that. Who was responsible for that oversight? The list goes on.

    Finally, the entire school seemed to be immersed in a culture of laziness. Everyone–students, administration, and even the teachers–put in only enough effort to just barely get by, and nothing more. Administration was out of touch, teachers were demoralized and defensive, and the students knew it was a free for all. Nobody put any passion into their work.

    Thankfully, I escaped from that situation while I still had some of my love for teaching left. Yet I can’t help but believe that there should have been a better way available for addressing demoralization than desperately relocating.

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  6. Jennifer A. Smith says:

    I retired in June, 2011, after 30 years of teaching-the past 18 in FL including the last 12 in Special Ed. I loved each day that I taught and each student I was entrusted with. However, those who are the most critical about teachers have not walked in our shoes, seen the dedication, the enthusiasm, the problems we deal with on a day to day basis! My last month of school, I had 16 three year old Pre-K/ESE students who came to us developmentally delayed in speech/language, and a variety of other delays (and at the beginning of the year 3/4 were not potty trained). Most of our students obtained some language and many became fluent, but it was frustrating to realize how unappreciated all our hard work was to those in government who make the laws! By the way, many of our students go on into regular kindergarten due to the success of Pre-K!

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  7. Yes, unfortunately, this is it exactly demoralization and not burnout. I can identify with this after being at one of the largest Milwaukee public Schools as a teacher for nearly five years. I was trying to make it to five. All of us in my department at least thought it would be a better year. it was not and I resigned in january and I’m glad to be out of the toxic atmosphere. We were required to go to collaborative meetings which were ridiculous for the most part and took away from engaging lesson plans, instead of just taking attendanceon the computer we were asked to make attendance charts for high school seniors! Is this really teaching I asked myself? I love teaching high school students and miss most of my on task students, but when you don’t have administrative support and are just given busy work to do it’s not teaching. I felt like a glorified secretary. i was staying until 11 and 12 some nights jsut to correct essays when I had 40 to 50 in a classroom ,which finally went down. But there was no support for disruptive students. This was a sad situation. When i left I learned another English teacher had not been hired, some substitutues took over according to some of my good friends and former colleagues – one showed videos almost all day! The saddest thing was when I walked into a store one day and ran into a former student who worked there. he came up to me and said, “Why did you leave us? All we have are subs. ” How could I possibly explain the whole situation to him, but I did say I e-mailed all parents before I left and that i was confident I’d be replaced by a good English teacher. While i’m glad to out of that situation and now subbing at private schools where rules are followed and enforced by admininstrators, I appreciate all I learned from my wonderful MpS students, but hardly any of the administrtors, except for a few dedicated ones. The state of education in this system is very sad. I hope it improves and that students won’t continue to be passed through the system without actually passing. i had seniors and juniors who could not write nor read- sad but true. While this may not be true of all MPS schools, i’m sure there are some good leaders, I never was able to experience that except for two men, one who was transferred to another school who seemed to be running it for 4 years and the other an elderly gentlemen who actually checked on my classroom and came up when I needed help. My belief is it administrators must support and respect their teachers and not enable students who are not followng the rules. This is a major problem in this system. i’m only speaking for two high schools I know of the one I was at and antoher one where I have a very good friend. She can hardly wait to leave. Again, if teachers are supported they in turn will not be demoralized and will have even more to give back to the students – isn’t that the purpose of education??

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  8. This article speaks directly to something I I’ve been writing about over the last few weeks. I posted a series of articles on overcoming burnout, but – maybe because until recently I’ve worked in a very supportive environment – nowhere did I address the question of demoralization, which is clearly a much more serious issue that’s a lot harder to address and resolve. I added a post today in which I link to this article and discussion. Here’s the series on burnout:

    http://siobhancurious.com/triumph-over-burnout-how-i-saved-my-teaching-career/

    …and here’s today’s article on demoralization:

    http://siobhancurious.com/2012/03/15/demoralization-vs-burnout/

    Thanks for this timely and thought-provoking post!

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  9. I don’t care about teacher bashing or if people think that teaching is not a real profession or whatever. Most people are soulless and ignorant anyway. For example, most people don’t read books but watch American idol and Oprah. Look at our politicians! They represent the majority of the people. And finally, I am not a dead-soul, conformist member of the American consumer culture. So, if anybody tells me that teaching is for those who can’t do, I just feel sorry for them.

    If you want to be happy for a few hours, go get drunk.
    If you want to be happy for two weeks, go get married.
    If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, go help someone or plant a garden and take care of it.

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  10. Clint says:

    I was a teacher for the past 6 years. The last 3 were in junior high. My problem with demoralization stems from the politicization of the public education system to get teachers to become automatons. Teachers are encouraged to conform to strict finite policy that doesn’t necessarily improve teaching. Even though test scores for my students improved every year, it still seemed to not be enough unless I was jumping through every one of their standards based policy hoops. For example, I had a very unruly class with a good number of the students being diagnosed with ADHD. During this time, I was working through the State’s required Pro-Cert program (extra burden), and an administrator completed an observation for review. Although I explained the situation prior to the observation, and told the administrator him I could use some help with this group of kids, during my post-observation he questioned my ability as a teacher. After deliberation in which I told him that I didn’t care what he believed because not only did I have the evidence showing that I help kids improve every year, but none of my other classes behaved in this manner. I also told him that the kids in this rowdy class were probably some of my most improved learners for the year. After the evidence, the administrator backed off and gave me a new observation. He found and wrote that what he saw was evidence of a good teacher. The students in all of my classes improved for the year as evidenced by their test scores. In closing, I left teaching and I don’t think I am going back because of issues like this and more issues stemming from the politics being shoved down teachers throats from politicians who many probably couldn’t even pass the state’s 8th grade test requirements. We need to get back to a time when teachers could just teach well and not have Big-Brother constantly looking over our shoulders waiting for one little mistake to rip us on. Teachers are highly intelligent people who only want the best for their students. The system needs to develop help and mandate ways to help teachers improve not belittle them. Until this happens, I am afraid that making teachers become automatons will only take away from the individual and creative learning that made America the best country in the world. As you can see I could go on with this forever. I will always have the utmost respect for all in the teaching profession.
    Sincerely,
    Clint

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  11. C. L. Palmer says:

    I’ve gotten to the point that I’m looking to change positions. In fact, I happened onto this article while checking Yahoo to see if any of my applications had resulted in an interview. I just can’t take teaching anymore! With Indiana’s RISE evaluation system, our principal does “drive-by” visits (our lunchroom euphemism) randomly every day for about one minute, types an evaluation into his iPad, and moves on. Then, he walks in (again randomly) for one full 54 minute period four times each year, does the iPad thing again for the whole period, and if students misbehave he just sits back and watches. I was marked as “Needs Improvement” for lesson planning because I had my middle-school Spanish students make a picture dictionary of the human body parts in Spanish (which activity only lasted @ 20 minutes of the class). This comes about six months after our district’s teacher of the year (an awesome lady) had presented activities she uses for her ELL students, one of which was making picture dictionaries! I guess it’s good enough for ELL students learning English, but not for English-speaking students learning another language. I went home after reading the evaluation and beat up a punching bag for ten minutes or so. (I highly recommend a large body-bag as a form of catharsis.)

    Now I’m going to have to register my lesson plans with the building “coach” to ensure they are rigorous enough. This after my sixth grade students can conjugate verbs and form complete sentences in the language!

    I’ve had it; I need to find a new career. Maybe the NEA should hook up with the Longshoremen’s Union. I hear they are extremely effective!

    I’ve got a few years’ worth of comments about this and other issues on:

    theuseofreason.blogspot.com

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  12. DEmoralized says:

    Feeling pretty DEmoralized right now, and some of that is because I fear to even comment due to the fact that someone may see my comment and figure out it was me, and I’d get in trouble. You all pretty much know what I’d say anyway because you’re feeling it too…..God love us, we just want to teach kids! :(

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  13. Means says:

    Burnout versus Demoralization: Semantics are Vital in Toxic Environments!
    (Abridged Response)
    After reading over many of the response entries, it appears that Santoro has given voice to the nebulous “je ne sais quoi” that educators have found so elusive. For that, I am truly grateful. Yet I give pause to at least two points presented in the section of the article entitled “How does teacher demoralization differ from teacher burnout in terms of cause and effect?” True, I split hairs over the use of words in the article but I insist that it is necessary, considering that, apparently for policy makers and enforcers, what seems merely their bread and butter is for true teachers our lives and livelihoods. With that in mind, I respond to the piece “Burnout versus Demoralization.” The purpose of this essay is to further examine the definitions in play about the syndromes defined as “burnout versus demoralization.” I further interject that neither condition is exclusive to any group.
    Santoro declares that, “Burnout is characterized as a failure of individual teachers to conserve their personal store of resources.” I require a definition that does not reduce or categorically denigrate fledgling teachers’ passion, zeal, and determination; albeit, it is advisable to engage reflective teaching and self-nurturing as new blood and fresh perspectives energize us in the trenches. The truth here is that new teachers may very well be subject to demoralization processes and not recognize it. Rookies, whether young or old, may indeed possess the necessary resources for the pace of teaching but, because they have no frames of reference to which to compare their work experience, are easy prey for the carnivorous acts of demoralization. Similarly, seasoned veterans are not immune to burnout because burnout and demoralization can and do present concurrently, but veterans may speak up.
    On the other hand, Santoro asserts that, “Demoralization occurs when the job changes to such a degree that what teachers previously found “good” about their work is no longer available.” A cursory glance for “demoralize” in MS Word yields the following: to dishearten; to undermine somebody’s confidence; to deflate; to discourage; to depress; and to deject. Gliding over any of these first tier words yields even more shades of meaning descriptive of demoralization. I am convinced that game players who wish to engage demoralization tactics do so in such a way as to escape cognitive notice, but our intuition does not lie to us about what we experience in toxic environments and we become physically ill, even as we rally to the cause daily with valiant efforts to resurrect. Fighting what intuition knows but empirical evidence denies, intoxicated workers are stagger into a state of palpable confusion. Working in a toxic environment is like entering a war zone where “tension is so thick you can cut it with a knife.”
    While I appreciate Santoro’s imagery of reaping embedded rewards, I am reminded that such rewards remain forever embedded except the worker actually performs the work (expends the resources/energies) necessary to extricate said rewords and to turn them into yet more resources. In teaching, however, we are constantly commanded to everything but teach! As for me, I did not seek state certification to mine morality from my work: the state only validated what I have always known to be true: I am an educator.
    I refute demoralization as being primarily about extracting morality from our work and suggest, rather, that what was once good about my work is now and will always be good, whether or not I am the person performing the work. In the ever-decreasing times when I am left to truly DO my work, I am inspired and all is right with the world. When game players in power, however, demoralize me by politicizing my work, my students, my very being, I am devalued in the eyes of stakeholders (including administrators who should by all rights serve as my mentors and students whose respect I am trying to cultivate), and in my own eyes. Still, I am a workman whose work is to teach and I am worthy of my hire. I give more than an honest day’s investment by way of work and I expect high, measurable returns in the form of mutual respect and tangible application of my instruction. I want to SEE that my work is good and I would rather not see that my work is stymied or stripped of its value, of its goodness.
    Basically, what I am saying in the preceding paragraphs is that burnout is the result of the worker putting in more resources than he can truly afford. Regardless of the reason for the overextension, resources are depleted. Demoralization, however, is a calculated, systemic, mainly covert (to escape detection while convincing the subjects that they are themselves to blame) operation that occurs in toxic environments. No matter what industry, no matter the location, bad trees will manifest rottenness from root to fruit. We have only to examine any district, regional, or national educational scandal to discover this truth.
    When all is said and said again, I thank Santoro for giving recognition and VOICE to what so many educators are at a loss to express. When a populace cannot adequately or succinctly define their being and/or plight, marginalization is assuredly on the horizon for that group. In cultures the world over, it has been the voice of the educator that resounds prophetically throughout the ages. Today, in the face of public opinion shaped largely by private interests and biased media, teachers are losing their voices and being silenced into accepting restrictive definitions concerning our profession, and these threaten to strip away our precious and prophetic mantles altogether.

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  14. Sorry, one thing I forgot to add to my opinion piece above was that a final straw for me was when an assistant principal asked me to pass a student with a 15 percent average! Again, I understand and was tolerant of students who needed extra help, were abused or homeless. But this student now a student, though he had some rough times, had squeaked through my class the year before, and I was having major problems in class with him talking back (other teachers who had him were sick of it too and advised I fail him), and at one point I almost wrote him up for sexual harassment because of some of his comments, but I was just trying to get through the day and help my on-task students. I was told by the new principal I had to take his late work. He never did it. He then never showed up for the final exam, even on the day he asked to take it late- his final chance. Can you believe an administrator would say to a teacher ‘Oh, he’s been through so much – can’t you pass him?” I have this documented. After working on grading essays and papers until midnight the Friday before, I looked at her and said, “No, I can’t”. Who knows maybe they changed his grade- that is happening!
    This is why we are having major problems in some public schools there is no accountability- students not all again, only a minority feel they are now entitled to pass classes or just skip the work and they can pass. Now administrators (at least some in major positions I’ve tried to work with feel the same way.) I think they need the numbers up and are more worried about that then whether the students get a very good education. When will this stop and sanity return to the MPS system?
    However, I can’t praise my former on task students enough, and those who really put forth effort despite all the interruptions. I learned so much from them. My wory is what will the world be like five to 10 years from now with students who disrupted were entitled and have no education out on the streets? And who are their role models? Certainly not the leaders at the schools i was at and it is not my intention to put anyone down, only to let the public really know what is happening in these schools God help us all! Cindy Crebbin P.S. I apologize for the typos in my last comments. I’m still catching up on sleep and doing work now as I substitute teach and start work on a Masters in English/Creative Writing/nonfiction. Also, teachers will always be my heroes and heroines- the ones who really give well worked out lessons plans, take homework home at night and don’t show videos. Thank you.

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  15. Rebecca says:

    I have been a high school English and reading teacher for 26 years. I completely understand what this article is expressing. This last year, I was diagnosed with stage 2 breat cancer and I had to undergo a full bilateral mastectomy. Demoralization doesn’t begin to explain my recent experiences in teaching. Let’s begin with the heavy work load and nearly impossible tasks we have been required to undertake with inadequate training and little to no support. For the past eight years my paycheck has decreased yearly, while my duties have increased. I have had to sell my prep period each year to maintain our school’s only reading literacy program which, I must add, I need a minimum of ten functioning computers to facilitate student learning–this means I get only a 15 minute snack break to decide if I should use the restroom or eat something, my lab seldom works with its outdated equipment, I trained myself on how to operate all of the technology that most teachers let gather dust in their rooms, I had to fight to maintain our reading program each year while in and out of the hospital and enduring chemotherapy, I also had to partition my sick leave bank three times for days of life saving treatment to which two of the three times they responded “your condition isn’t catastrophic enough to warrent the use of your sick days”, and as if this wasn’t demoralizing enough, and though we endure these impossible situations for the sake of our students, our district forbade issuing fours (a superior mark on our evaluations) to anyone. That was the final straw for me. I work my patootie off each and every minute of each and every day, my students think I’m incredible, but the one time a year when I get recognized by my administrators for going above and beyond has been stripped for us…why? It’s actually a “free” form of appreciation. Just really saying, I see you and the extra you do everyday. That’s demoralizing…that’s the straw that broke this camel’s back. I’m a former soldier and I have been serving my country in the battlefield and the classroom for the past 26 years; it was never for the pay, it was for the children, but now it feels as if it’s for nothing.

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  16. Means says:

    I COULD NOT FIGURE OUT A WAY TO DIFFERENTIATE YOUR WRITING FROM MINE IN THIS REPOST; SO, I AM CAPPING FOR THAT PURPOSE AND NOT YELLING.
    Pat says:
    March 14, 2012 at 5:27 pm
    Okay, I’ll start out by admitting that my view is probably unpopular. After reading through other responses I will be surprised if this is not closed out due to a high number of “dislikes.” But I’m going to say it anyway. WHILE I DO NOT LIKE THE SLANT OF THE ARTICLE, I THINK IT IS AN EXCELLENT LITMUS TEST FOR US TO REFLECT UPON TO DETERMINE WHETHER WE ARE CONTRIBUTING TO THE MALAISE OF THE TOXIC ENVIRONMENTS IN WHICH WE WORK.

    Am I demoralized? Perhaps. But mostly I’m angry. I’m angry at politicians who believe they know how to do our job better than trained professionals. I’m angry at Big Business that pays for political ads aimed at killing public education. I’m angry at an apathetic and uninformed public that mindlessly forwards viral messages stating “I checked it out on Snopes” when they clearly have NOT read the attached article from Snopes stating that the current “information” is outdated, inaccurate, rumors, or just plain old-fashioned lies. But I’m also angry at teachers who prefer to sit in the faculty lounge and complain rather than doing something to change the situation. Yes, things are not the same as they were 30+ years ago when I started teaching. Our clientelle has changed because society has changed. Opie Taylor has left Mayberry and entered the real world. So, you can sit around and mope, you can jump ship into a more financially lucrative job, or you can go do something about the problem. Here are a few ideas. ANGER IS AN APPROPRIATE RESPONSE FOR WHICH WE MUST NOT APOLOGIZE AND I APPRECIATE THAT YOU OFFER STRATEGIES FOR TRULY METACOGNITIVE TEACHERS TO APPLY IN ORDER TO BALANCE OUT THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF OUR PLIGHT. WHAT WE OWE OURSELVES IS TO FIGURE OUT WHY WE ARE ANGRY, AS YOU HAVE DONE AND TO SET ABOUT CORRECTING AREAS WHEREIN WE HAVE BEEN COMPLICIT WITH THE CAUSES FOR OUR ANGER.
    1)Notice the positives. Good things happen every day. Maybe it’s a little thing like that kid who sits at the back of the room and never talks smiled at you when he came in the door. Did you smile back? Or were you too wrapped up in your own issues to notice? Did an administrator notice something you did and have a good word? Or maybe he just didn’t bark at you about it. Celebrate the positives, share them with others, and hold them to savor when the day is going badly. IN A VERY ACCESSIBLE SPACE AT MY DESK, I KEPT A “PICK ME UP AND AFFIRMATIONS” FOLDER WITH NOTES FROM STUDENTS, COLLEAGUES, OBSERVATION INSTRUMENTS, UPLIFTING QUOTES, AND THOUGHTS, PERSONALLY HANDWRITTEN NOTES TO SELF STATING INDICATORS OF STUDENT SUCCESS FROM FORMERLY CHALLENGED/DISRUPTIVE STUDENTS…I STAYED FOR MY CHILDREN’S MUSIC AND ART TO SEIZE INSPIRATION. I MADE UP GREETINGS TO MAKE MY COLLEAGUES REFLECT AND LAUGH. I MINED THE WISDOM OF SENIOR TEACHERS FOR STRATEGIES. I TOOK BREAKS WITH MY CHILDREN TO SIMPLY BREATHE AND TO LISTEN TO THEIR JOY. DURING PARTICULARLY DISTRESSING TIMES OF TOO FEW (STOLEN, REALLY) PLANNING PERIODS, I ALLOWED MYSELF TO SIT IN THE DARK AND TO WEEP OVER WHAT I SAW HAPPENING, TO HUG MY FAMILY’S PICTURE TO MY BREAST, AND TO RECALL OUR VERY POSITIVE AND VERY REAFFIRMING LIFE TOGETHER.
    2)Keep the negatives to a minimum. Sure, we all have stress right now, salaries are low and respect for the profession is just about zero. But teaching has always been stressful and the more time you spend focused on all the bad stuff, the more stressed you will become. So, notice the negatives, share them if you need to, learn whatever you can from them, then let them go and move on. IT IS NOT THAT WE FOCUS ON THE BAD STUFF. WE ARE UNDER ATTACK. REMEMBER THAT DEMORALIZATION IS AN AGGRESSIVE ACT OF DISFRANCHISING (STRIPPING AWAY THE POWER OF) TEACHERS. NORMALLY, WE WOULD BE ABLE TO WARD OFF THE NEGATIVE IMPACT, BUT THE NEW NORMAL IN EDUCATION IS ANYTHING BUT NORMAL. AND IT IS NOT JUST IN OUR INDUSTRY: TOXICITY IS A GLOBAL OCCURANCE IN THE WORKPLACE AND WHEN WORKERS CANNOT BE SILENCED OR FORCED TO MINDLESS COMPLIANCE, WE ARE BULLIED.
    3)Support each other. If you don’t care for each other, no one else will. No one but teachers can understand what another teacher is going through. Listen to each other, comfort each other, problem-solve together. I CANNOT GAINSAY AGAINST THIS. IT IS VITAL TO OUR SURVIVAL. I DO CAUTION THAT TEACHERS DEVELOP THEIR SIXTH SENSE OF WITH WHOM TO SHARE BECAUSE MOLES ARE USED EXTENSIVELY IN TOXIC ENVIRONMENTS AND IT IS EASY TO CONTRIBUTE TO YOUR OWN DEMISE BY CREATING CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH YOUR SHARED COPING METHODS MAY TURN TO YOUR BETRAYAL. WHATEVER YOU DO, NEVER ACCEPT BEING THE HEAVY, THE PEER-BACKED SPOKESPERSON BECAUSE, JUST LIKE IN THE MOVIES, YOU WILL FACE THE FIRING SQUAD IN A SINGLE FILE LINE AND, WHEN ASKED WHO IS IN LEAD, YOUR PEERS WILL TAKE TWO STEPS BACK. REFUSE, HOWEVER TO ALLOW PARANOIA. BALANCING PERSPECTIVE IS DIFFICULT IN SICK WORKPLACES BECAUSE YOU MAY NOT KNOW WHOM TO TRUST. TRUST YOUR GUT.
    4)Interact with your kids. Give them as much responsibility for their own learning as they can handle and your administration allows. Become a “Guide on the Side” instead of the “Sage on the Stage.” Are they woking in groups? Great! Be sure you are circulating among them, asking probing questions, giving advice. Set timelines for them and make them stick to them. Give them as many choices as is reasonable for your grade and subject level. Today’s kids have different expectations than my first classes did; I’ve had to make a lot of adjustments along the way. But I still hold them accountable for a pretty high set of expectations, and they rise to it. If you and the kids see each other as a team instead of as adversaries, life in the classroom gets a lot less difficult. AGAIN, NO ARGUMENT HERE; IT SEEMS THAT YOU AND I HAVE THE SAME CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT AND INSTRUCTIONAL APPROACHES. RUBRICS, PROCEDURES, AND PROTOCOLS HAVE BEEN THREE OF MY CLOSEST ALLIES AND I AM SURE TO COPY IN ADMINISTRATORS ABOUT WHAT THEY WILL SEE WHEN THEY ENTER MY CLASSROOM. I HAVE MUCH EVIDENCE ON OBSERVATION INSTRUMENTS THAT I AM PERFORMING TEACHING TASKS AS CONTRACTUALLY AGREED AND THAT MY STUDENTS ARE ENGAGED AND ACHIEVING. IT IS MORE THAN WORTH OUR EFFORT IN THE LENGTHY TIME IT TAKES TO ORGANIZE RUBRICS, PROCEDURES, AND PROTOCOLS TO EXACTLY REFLECT THE EVALUATION INSTRUMENTS USED FOR OBSERVATIONS IN OUR DISTRICTS, STATES, AND NATION.
    5)Get up, get out, and get involved. Look around you to see what you can do to make things better. Union not working? Attend meetings, run for an office, and start working from the inside to change it. Crazy anti-teacher politicians? Campaign for a pro-education politician. They are out there and would appreciate your support. Parents don’t come to school? Meet them on their turf. Not necessarily in their homes, that’s not always safe or prudent. But get out into the community and meet the people there. Go to the games as a fan instead of being there because it’s your turn to be the heavy, attend concerts your students are talking about, shop in the same grocery store. Let them see you as a person outside in the real world. You all may be surprised at the things you can learn about each other. WHILE I AGREE IN PRINCIPLE AND ACTUALLY DID SOME OF THESE SUGGESTIONS, I DO NOT AGREE THAT IT IS A PALATABLE STRATEGY TO A POPULACE ENGAGED IN A VERITABLE WAR WHEN SELF-PRESERVATION IS THE MAIN CONCERN. THE IDEAS ARE CERTAINLY APPROPRIATE FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE NOT YET COME TO THE FULL REALIZATION THAT THEY ARE UNDER NOT-TOO FRIENDLY FIRE. AS FOR UNIONS, I AM OFTEN AMAZED THAT SO MUCH TRUST IS PLACED IN THEM. I PAID DUES AND ATTENDED SOME MEETINGS, VOTED, AND OFFERED SUPPORT BUT I ONLY JOINED BECAUSE I FIGURED I’D RATHER NOT NEED THEM AND HAVE THEM THAN VICE VERSA. I MET FAMILIES IN THE COMMUNITY, AT RESTAURANTS AND LIBRARIES TO DISCUSS REMEDIAL/ACCELERATED PLANS WHEN I HAD THE TIME. STILL, IT IS NOT PRUDENT FOR PEOPLE WHOSE BUTTS ARE LITERALLY ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK TO GO LEADING CRUSADES. THEIR CONCERN SHOULD BE TO CONSERVE ENERGY FOR THE ROAD AHEAD BECAUSE, YOU AND I BOTH KNOW, ONCE THE DIE IS CAST, THEY’LL NEED IT.
    So, I’ve had my say. Go ahead and “dislike” this if you want to. You’ll say it’s too hard, administrators won’t listen, and you don’t have the time anyway. But no one else is going to advocate for us. If we want things to change, we are going to have to get out there and change them. And for the things that we can’t change, well, be a little flexible. Work within the system and make it work for you and your students. I LOVE YOUR SPIRIT AND TENACITY. I WAS ALSO IMMEDIATELY IMPRESSED THAT YOU SAY “US”. YOU REMEMBERED THROUGHOUT YOUR RESPONSE THAT WE ARE BROTHERS AND SISTERS “IN THE TRENCHES”, THAT WE ARE ON THE SAME TEAM AND OUR PURPOSE IS SINGULAR: TO EDUCATE THE NEXT GENERATION. WHAT I DO NOT LIKE THOUGH, PAT, IS THAT YOU SUGGEST THAT WE EXPEND ENERGIES TRYING TO SALVAGE THE WRECKAGE AT THE EXPENSE OF OUR SANITY. WHEN THE WAR STOPS ON OUR DOORSTEPS IN THE WAYS IN WHICH OUR COMPATRIOTS HAVE DESCRIBED, WHEN WE FEEL STUPID, HUMILIATED, BERATED, UNDERMINED, AMBUSHED…WE NEED OUR TOTAL SELVES INVOLVED IN SAVING OUR OWN SKINS, IN REASSESSING WHAT WE NEED TO DO, IN RETREATING SO THAT WE MAY LIVE TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY AND MAYBE IN (ON) A DIFFERENT FIELD.
    YOUR IDEAS ARE AWESOME, APPLIED PRE-BURNOUT OR PRE-DEMORALIZATION. WHAT I AM SAYING IS THAT WE SHOULD BE DISCERNING IN WHAT REMEDIES WE APPLY AND WHEN. SO OFTEN, WE ARE HAVING OUR LEGS PEED ON AND BEING TOLD IT IS RAINING. THIS IS AN INTELLECTUAL WAR BEING FOUGHT WITH WORDS AND CONFUSING “PEEING ON THE LEG” WITH “DEMORALIZATION” IS DANGEROUSLY DISORIENTING. WE NEED TO BE CLEAR ABOUT OUR JARGON BUT LEADERSHIP WANTS US CONFUSED SO AS TO DISORIENT US. DURING THE PERIOD WHEN WE MOST NEED OUR WITS AND DISCERNMENT ABOUT US, THE PERIODS OF THE HEAVIEST ATTACKS, OUR BEARINGS ARE OFF AND WE ARE DISORIENTED AND CONFUSED EVEN ABOUT THE VERNACULAR BEING USED TO EFFECTIVELY DENIGRATE OUR WORK. I CALL A SPADE A SPADE AND MOST LEADERSHIP POWERS I HAVE WORKED UNDER DO NOT LIKE THAT.
    IN ANY CASE, I HAVE ENJOYED CHEWING ON YOUR THOUGHTS. I WISH YOU AND ALL OUR OTHER COHORTS IN THE FIELD WELL.
    TO (Y)OUR HEALTH,
    MRS. MEANS

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 7

  17. Agreed Absolutely says:

    Agreed 100%. I don’t have the ability to make decisions for my students as I have in the past. I am told to “follow the curriculum entirely” and “with fidelity” even if I see it is not working for my students. Then when students take standardized tests and they don’t improve, it will be my teaching that is called into question. I am an 18 year veteran with the respect of parents in my community, but not the new administration.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 1

  18. willwot says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Poorly-rated. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 16

  19. Elizabeth Carlin says:

    Has anyone thought that maybe the reason teachers are demoralized is the situation that many of them find themselves in is not moral? What is moral about having bullies in the classroom and as administrators? When teachers are respected and supported not expected to leave their classrooms to “collaborate” (or really to get brainwashed)then teching will again be challenging but fullfilling.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 2

  20. David A says:

    Teacher burn-out or demoralization, it doesn’t matter what you call it, the effects are the same-good teachers leaving the profession. It seems that all the ills that affect students are supposed to be remedied by teachers. Parents are let off the hook because it is the teacher’s responsibility to educate their child. Teachers cannot make up for societal ills and parental negligence. I recently retired from the teaching field after 30 years. Many times I would hear parents say “It is the teachers fault!”. I would remind the parent that they, the parent, is their child’s first teacher. Parents are sadly failing their children. Teachers are on a treadmill working as hard as they can with little to show for it, moral rewards nor economic rewards.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 1

  21. Mary Carter says:

    I am only a second year teacher, and I feel like I have been teaching for twenty years. Teachers are no longer able to show their talents. I teach in a high proverty area, so it is extremely hard to be a teacher. It seems to me that everyone has a solution to make test scores rise. They want to tell you how to teach, when to teach, and what to teach. On top of all that, they want you to continuously test failing students. I am looking for answers. I find myself tired of the unrelated strategies I have to implement to teaching. People (administrators) have forgotten the defintion of teaching. Good teachers are being forced out of the classroom because whatever they do, is not good enough. They want to pay teachers to be in classrooms, but they want others to tell the teachers how to teach. In this case, why is it important to pass a state teacher’s exam? You cannot teach what you have learned in your training to be a teacher or use your prior knowledge. The term burnout sounds better, but the truth is that teachers are much worse than burnout and demoralized.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  22. Alan says:

    Well, it’s hard not to be demoralized. Suddenly teachers are the “enemy.” We are responsible for America’s children scoring low on tests. No one who isn’t a teacher has a clue. Isn’t it funny how all of this reform never comes from a teacher? What does Bill Gates know about education? Nothing! He has money, get it? Do you think a billionaire businessman could waltz into Germany or France and tell them how to change schools? No way! But alas those countries are intellectual countries full of educated people who understand nuance and what they do and do not understand. Now they want to tie teacher’s evaluations to student performance on tests. In most countries of the world, they evaluate the “students” on results of their tests, but not here in the good ole USA. No, here they scapegoat the teacher. Like we can follow them home and make sure they do homework or go to sleep on time. It is a bunch of B.S. I am going to move back to Europe. America’s decline is hitting too close to home.
    And they wonder why America is going down. Auf Wiedersehen- Land der Idioten!

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  23. Janice Liptak says:

    Well written and stated article. Demoralization, I feel, began when “performance-pay” was introduced, as if teachers entered this profession for the money. How wrong they were! Until the public, politicians and “big-business” collectively decide that education is NOT-FOR-PROFIT and is a conerstone of our democracy, these insane policies will not change.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  24. Shirley Jo says:

    Our country and communities need to recognize that there is no one best way to educate every child. We need to realize that it is contradictory to expect the exact same lesson in the exact same way in all three classes of the same grade level, maintain fidelity to multiple systems, and yet still differentiate and meet the needs of each and every one of the 20 + students in our care. Administrators need to recognize that the very nature of the nitpicking that occurs in an evaluation just to show that there is room for improvement (duh, no one is perfect and we are our own worse critics and constantly self-evaluating anyway) is counter-productive. For shame if we were to treat our students the same way. We cannot create identical, sterile environments with 100% student engagement as perceived as students who sit up straight with eyes on the speaker and never speak and expect to see great test scores. Learning can be messy sometimes. Engagement may look different in different learners with different needs. Rigor is not the problem, demotivation by the top-down approach to learning is. True learning comes from internal ownership for one’s own effort and hunger for knowledge. In my classroom, this may look a little busy, sometimes loud, sometimes student directed… It seems that charters, home-schooling, private schools, and other alternative learning systems may be the answer to our learning dilemma as public schools are turning into these monstrous, encumbered, burdened, straight-jacketed, and rigid institutions. Empower the student, by empowering the parents and the teachers, not the administrators and politicians. Hold me accountable for the outcomes, by all means, but only if I am the one deciding on how the learning is acquired. Tell me the what, but let my students, parents and myself determine the how. Give me a measly $320 a year for my classroom needs, but let me use it how I see fit. AND one person should not be the only person to have the power to determine how beneficial and effective I am. I teach in a climate of fear. Instead of my old feeling of others getting to see some unique and interesting approaches with maybe some constructive suggestions, when THE evaluator walks in, I fearfully look at every student to make sure they are appropriately looking engaged, second guessing my instruction or activity and wondering what will be wrong THIS time… There is more, oh so much more…

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  25. Kim Werner says:

    Dear Demoralized Teachers,

    I invite you to check out a different NEA article about the pervasive bullying of teachers. That article has almost 450 responses. Those 450 responses and these almost 80 responses….add up to many burnt out, demoralized and bullied school teachers and counselors.

    Here’s the link:

    http://neatoday.org/2012/05/16/bullying-of-teachers-pervasive-in-many-schools/

    I have alerted those of us who are “bullied” to those of you who are “burnt out and demoralized.”

    Kim Werner
    kimwerner@apiecefulworld.com

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  26. Chris Cantwell says:

    I can’t imagine that under the current educational system that many teachers feel satisfied with public education in the United States. Therefore, I find it equally unimaginable that teachers do not stand up to the administration and do something proactive. When things began to take a turn for the worse at our school about five or six years ago, no one spoke up but me. When the administrator was bullying, dishonest, and even stealing, no one spoke up but me. Elementary school teachers, especially, are very passive, very duck and cover. They manage what is passed down to them, even when they know that it is not helping students. So why, why, why, do teachers always complain and do absolutely nothing about it but complain?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Mick says:

    Burnout is more politically palatable than demoralization as it fits in nicely with blaming the misgivings of the education system on its workers, not the people who run it!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. Alejandro Escude says:

    Another source of demoralization, which is not studied yet, is the fact that private and religious high schools are differentiating themselves in this tough economic climate by putting too much emphasis on student activities; aka, marketing. This demoralizes teachers forced to teach classes where half the students are missing because of involvement in school activities which require they miss class. This, on top of, increased truancy, is hard to keep track of for the average five class-load teacher. The noise and chaos level increases exponentially every year, and teachers are left to fend for themselves in an overly extroverted and hyper school-hype culture. All this in the service of “selling” the school. This subject needs scholarship and attention.

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  1. [...] Assistant Professor of EducationDoris Santoro recently was interviewed by NEA Today about her provocative new article in the American Journal of Education about the demoralization [...]

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  2. [...] A colleague passed this on to me yesterday, and it fits nicely with my series on teacher burnout that wrapped up last week:  sometimes what we call burnout is actually demoralization. The difference is in the cause. [...]

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  3. [...] How Bad Education Policies Demoralize Teachers, By John Rosales  Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. | Tagged NCLB, State Testing [...]

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  4. [...] The NEA has an article posted on their website that speaks of teacher burnout versus teacher demoralization. How does teacher demoralization differ from teacher burnout in terms of cause and effect? [...]

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  5. [...] little rabble-rousers). This was a woman who had been teaching for thirty-five years and had seen educational initiatives come and go every three to five years, sometimes being adopted and modified to reality, but most of [...]

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  6. [...] How Bad Education Policies Demoralize Teachers [...]

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  7. [...] How Bad Education Policies Demoralize Teachers January 11, 2014 [...]

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  8. [...] at students being overtested, concern about the narrowed curriculum, and anger at seeing teachers quitting the profession because they’re told to teach to the test has led to a broad-based, bipartisan public revolt [...]

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