How Bad Education Policies Demoralize Teachers

teacher demoralizationWe 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.

Doris Santoro

Doris Santoro

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.

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


  • Charlotte Holtry

    I am a retired teacher now substituting in all grades. Something is wrong but I am not able to put a finger on exactly what. I do know that since my teaching days, discipline has nearly disappeared. We spend so much time in every class disciplining and not teaching. There is a definite attitude, especially among the poor of our country which keeps each student from any achievement at all.
    I wish we could zero in on this problem and not waste so much time with those who disrupt the class. This has been going on for years now and we act as if we are “afraid” of the students and their parents. We are providing a valuable resource to students who don’t even value themselves or most anything else. This has got to be changed! It is the main problem in our schools today.

  • dez

    Interesting article! I must have said, “It’s not the kids or even my administration that I dislike so much, but all the “stuff” I have to do that makes me want to get out of teaching after 21 years.” I even think I see my principal looking “sadder” because she isn’t as joyful a leader as she was 10 years ago. I was just googling “other jobs teachers can do” before I wandered over to NEA to find this.
    I am definitely one of the demoralized.

  • D

    There is a teacher that I am specifically thinking of that has had some of these complaints that you mention here in your article.(i.e.:testing students that are not even able; due to lack of vocabulary, or preparedness)I see now, through your article, that she is not a burnt out complaining teacher…she is demoralized! We know our kids, but we are only able to do the curriculum handed down to us and to work within the system set up for us and not able to help them individually or personally…where they need it! We are more interested in how our school looks on the outside to the outsiders. It’s all about numbers…no numbers…no school…no job! Nothing personal!

  • Stephanie

    After 6 years in low peforming school and 1 year in a high performing school, I have walked away from teaching. I love the kids, still do. I hate the way that teachers are treated. Administration doesn’t stand to blame for most of this, it is the policies put in place by the governors and legislators who don’t have a clue what is going on in a school. (Their only experience is their own…) I don’t know one teacher who went into the profession for any other reason than to help kids learn. We have students for one year of their lives, in middle and high school, for as little as 45 minutes per school day. But the teacher is held accountable for all that child’s performance? Go figure?

  • Teachers have enough stress working with children who have special needs they do not need their job to become even harder. Some great examples in this post. The Top 10 Challenges of Special Education Teachers

  • Susan Hammond

    I know what demoralization feels like. My school district likes to move or threaten to move teachers who’ve reached early retirement age, thinking that they’ll leave rather than move to another assignment. I made them pay me for two more years after I made the move since I couldn’t afford to retire when they were hunting for ways to cut the budget. My last two years were not happy ones. I felt like (and was treated like) a first-year teacher. It was a real bummer. Evidently my district is not the only one doing this.

  • Elizabeth Miller

    After 9 years in a school that I used to love, I walked mid-year this year. Leaving my students nearly killed me, but I had to save my sanity. What Susan speaks of is going on everywhere; I’ve been observing it ever since our current administration arrived. Experienced teachers are “targeted,” and I am totally convinced it’s about money. I loved my job until the last two years when our principal just turned the environment toxic. The current year has become a glorified Salem Witch hunt. I couldn’t take the lies, the manipulations, or the backstabbing that was rampant. The latter will just get worse next year when our state begins its version of “teacher pay for student pass.” The handwriting is on the wall for how ugly it will get. Demoralization is systemic and getting worse; it is the modus operandi in too many school systems today. What happened to the day when teachers were judged based on being the loving, caring, going the extra mile educators that most of us started out to be? How can any thinking person base a teacher’s value on one day and one test? Crazymaking = demoralization. I couldn’t watch things deteriorate or colleagues be harassed any longer… I’m OUT; I’m poorer; but I CAN BREATHE and SLEEP again now. My future will likely no longer include teaching, as I know I am more valuable than the current system allows me to feel. Those who have set out to destroy public education in this country are winning. God help my grandchildren.

  • Pam Clark

    I have been teaching for 13 years in special education. I’ve been in the same high school for the past eleven. I no longer love coming to work, I hate it. My health has suffered the past three years from the stress and anxiety I feel about my job. It is a job. No longer is it my career. I went to college late in life hoping to teach history. I’m highly qualified in that subjeect area but I’m also highly qualified in special ed. I have requested a transfer every year for the past ten years. My admin told me once that I had those special words (special ed) attached to my name and I wasnt going anywhere. Due to my newly acquired physical disability, I was moved from a floating English inclusion/co-teacher to a self-contained MID teacher. I have 9 preps including Math and Biology. I feel as if I have been set up forfailure. I cant quit. But I’m afraid this is killing me. I’m not meeting the needs of my students nor am I fulfilling my need to share and teach something that I love and enjoy.

    • Hard Working Teachers

      First, if you do see this, please know that you are not alone. I hope that your situation has improved, if not resolved in some way that works for you. If not, I highly encourage you to get legal and retirement advice from someone who can advocate for you, as well as support for the anxiety and stress.

      The same thing happened to me the last two years. After 11 years of positive evaluations and documented success for my SPED kids, I was transferred to a SC class with the majority being Intellectually Disabled. I was expected to teach all five core subjects to 7th & 8th grade students simultaneously, using the regular curriculum. I did not meet the standard for being Highly Qualified in two of the core subjects, but did not receive any support in those subjects, nor with how to most effectively help my students be successful in such a setting. Although no other school had the same level of expectations, I worked almost non-stop in order to help my students be successful (15 to 20 hours a day, including week-ends, several all-nighters) but it was an impossible situation. When asking higher level district personnel for advice, most also said that it was “impossible” to teach two different grade levels at the same time or to prepare for the number of content areas assigned. When asking other teachers (who taught the content areas for which I was not qualified) for suggestions, most said that, “They really set you up for failure.”.

      The school’s atmosphere became toxic after having a new principal assigned to our campus, which was when this change took place. Nearly all teachers requested a transfer at the end of the year, and several teachers walked out mid-year. One half to three fourths of the teachers left during the summer. I was personally insulted, demeaned, and criticized in front of subordinates, peers, off-campus personnel and parents. The effects on my physical and mental health resulted in a medical leave for much of the spring semester, and beginning again after a very short period of time into the fall semester. There was also a significant effect on my family life.

      I don’t think I’ll ever be able to return to teaching due to the stress of unrealistic expectations, paperwork, lack of support and time allowed to do the best job possible, not to mention the narrow focus on “the test” in lieu of making sure students are prepared for the work world and have the ability to function in life. If I could have had half the amount of time spent doing paperwork to work on providing my students with appropriate quality activities and lessons, I might have been able to finish the school year and my students would have been more successful. In addition, I would not be facing the prospect of the end of a career that I loved, that gave me a sense of purpose and the joy of helping students be all that they can be in life.

      I love teaching, I love my kids, my parents and I love it when a student “gets” something that has really been a struggle for them. There is no greater moment than when I get to celebrate with a student and their parents, because he or she passed a state test that they have NEVER passed before. Not just because of the test, but because I get to say, “I TOLD you could do it ! You just have to work hard, BELIEVE in yourself, and DON’T GIVE UP !” Most importantly, I get to see them start believing they can do more than they thought and see their growing self-confidence, self-esteem, and pride.

      In many cases, communicating both smaller and large successes also helped parents believe and have higher expectations, become more supportive and involved with their child’s education (both at school and at home), provide more encouragement to their student, as well as to consistently express their belief and pride in their son or daughter. I love it when a student comes in so excited because their parents were proud of them and I get to watch their motivation increase over time because they want to enjoy the feeling of success for themselves.

      Unfortunately, the ability to teach in general (particularly SPED) is made more and more difficult due unrealistic expectations, the lack of support and often respect, the amount of paperwork required, the amount of instructional time lost testing, and the loss of preparation/conference time for such things as IEP meetings, “mandatory” training, etc. Even if I were medically able to continue teaching, I could not, in good conscience, put myself back into a situation where I would not be able to maintain my own standards for providing the best (in every way) for my students. It has always been my opinion that teachers do not have the “right” to continue teaching if they are not willing or able to do the best job possible. The same concept would apply to any job that directly affects the lives and/or success of other people.

  • Clint

    I am a demoralized teacher. 10 years of teaching with kids I still really enjoy. We are harassed to the verge of quitting by administrators only interested in what the “state” wants. Forget what the kids need. I now teach so much material to my classes I am forced to go on when I can see before I start its too much and they wouldn’t have time to even memorize… Curriculum terrorists in all of our districts. I can’t stand doing this to kids, I do need income and health insurance, but dang. Why should I teach when were being told what to do incorrectly every step of the way. Its like being a front seat passenger in a ride of terror with state education driving into easily avoided obstacles. If I can’t help steer I might as well jump for it!
    Maybe I can sell necklaces….

  • Jesse

    I am a demoralized teacher, but, unlike the rest of you, I recognize that this is a profession that has dug its own grave through poor training, low standards for continued empolyment and a resistance to changes that would have preserved the esteem of our profession (lead by a whiny, crooked union and its members). Stop being victims, stop blindly supporting each other and start embracing initiatives that improve the quality of our work. Teaching is a job and needs to stop being an adult daycare.

  • How Bad Education Policies Demoralize Teachers is an article that reminds us that educators are business professionals. They require resources to continue advancing their education in an academic environment to establish their credibility and integrity. Dr. Seuss writes about the A B C alphabet… Big A and little a … What begins with the letter A?
    Teachers who are happy, healthy, prosperous, and peaceful in the
    New Year 2012!

  • Scott

    These are the things that happen during economic downturns. My hometown is going through tough times we can’t even fathom here in Idaho. It is on the East SF Bay. This isn’t the first time we have been through this nor will it be the last. We will weather the storm and hopefully replace some people in our legislative branches and it will get better and more progressive. Until then we toughen up and fight against those who would have us all jobless if it padded the 1%. Hang in there folks !

  • Pingback: Education Policies Erode Moral Rewards of Teaching, Says Prof : Information Technology Burnout Project()

  • Brandi

    This is my third year teaching, and I am already looking toward options for other employment. I love to teach, but I don’t know what else I can do when the behavior problems are coming from 3 or 4 students in each class. I’m talking defiant, disruptive, obstinate, loud, disrespectful children with major entitlement issues. I am exhausted from 12 hour days, and I am so over parents saying that their students are not receiving the help they need from us, the teachers. I want more than anything to balance a profession that I feel led to do and my family. I am not willing to sacrifice me and my relationship for my job… especially since what is making me miserable is a few kids that refuse to learn. Shame on them and their parents. Shame on a system that blames teachers for “classroom management” issues. Some of these kids need to be somewhere other than a classroom setting. I want to believe that every child can succeed, but some kids are making this impossible.

  • Bill

    I was laid off from a charter school in Tampa,Florida because of budget cuts. It had nothing to do with testing we earned “A”grades two years in a row. The board decided they wanted to get rid of all the experienced teachers and hire inexperiencd teachers to cut the budget. Too bad for the students, good for the board.Prior to becoming a charter school teacher I was a public school teacher for thirten years.I had to move to Tampa for my wife’s job.I had to take the charter job because the local board has so many displaced educators their is no room for outsiders.Florida is a disaster for education and teachers in general,no protection from unscrupulous administrators or parents.Teachers are blamed for the bad behavior of the students and parental failures.Public education in the United States of America is dying. Our politicians are killing it because they want to control the population and an uneducated population is easy to control.We need to take back our schools from the politicians and rebuild our nation before it is to late. I am changing careers because there is no future in the classroom. I went to a job interview in a neighboring county and was told I would teach U.S. History their way or else, that is when I decided that their is no future for teachers. The politicians have decided they can teach children better than those who are trained to teach.God bless America and the American people.

  • Charlotte Holtry

    After reading these comments, I have very little hope that anything will ever change. The rest of the world is just as bad and until we have some really smart and understanding politicians who care about kids and teachers we are doomed!

  • vivi

    I am a French and Spanish teacher and I have taught for 16 years. This is my last year teaching as my husband is a sick OEF veteran and I will be taking care of him. Do I plan on ever getting back into teaching? It is very unlikely as teachers are not appreciated, respected nor taken seriously. The last couple of years have been particularly rough as teacher bashing was one of the main topic nationwide. I will miss teaching but I will not miss the politics which surround it. Plans for the future? I will become an organic farmer and care of my disabled husband in the mountains away from all the craziness.

  • Suzanne

    My county hasn’t received a raise in 4 years and probably won’t receive one next year. On top of that, many teachers such as myself in electives are having to teach outside of our content area to remain fulltime. This means longer prep times and longer days. This is an incredible demoralization for the teacher let alone a tremendous amount of stress. When will the public and especially the politicians get out of our schools ans let us teach? then perhaps the morale will go up. But first, raises along with public opinion will have to change. Teachers should be paid as much as sports figures.

  • Eileen Buckingham

    Thank you, Susan & Elizabeth-
    I too, am among the ranks of the demoralized teachers. After 28 years of teaching elementary, and receiving spotless reviews, suddenly my final review last June wasn’t so rosy. After the cutoff to retire last year, I was targeted for some drastic turnarounds in my review. My 6 page rebuttal to the district office fell on deaf ears. Several veteran teachers here were targeted, & I suggested they all write rebuttals. I wasn’t going to go home without announcing the deceit that was going on. Clearly our district has some severe budget issues, and decided that getting rid of the top paid teachers would make it possible for them to get two new teachers for the price of one(older one). Guess I should have left. Our 1st year principal last year set me up for more abuse, by her newly minted vice principal. This year I decided I would retire. It’s so not worth it anymore. I couldn’t help but think this V.P. must have been in diapers when I started teaching…. Nothing I do is going to ever please her, as her agenda has been set by the district. Complaints to our union have only gotten me this response- ‘it’s happening all over the district’. Our school has moved out of doing the state curriculum towards teaching “essential skills”, and weekly testing is the order of the day. No more science (I used to be a lead science teacher), no more social studies, no more time for clay, art, plays, music, or anything else that was a joy to teach. I have to pack up boxes of old costumes, glazes, and eight bookcases of my personal lending library. I used to brag that I had more books in my room than the library at the little school where I grew up. We have to work together with our grade level teachers, so we must all teach the same “curriculum” every day, lock step. Discipline is at an all time low, so the district can claim lower numbers of suspensions & expulsions to the public. This is the worst behaved class I have had in all my years of teaching. It is also the lowest functioning. Most of my 3rd graders are 1st or 2nd grade level readers. They don’t want to learn, don’t want to read, and have parents who don’t know what room their child is in, even if they do come. June 15th can’t come soon enough. It’s fair to say that NCLB was the death knell of our public schools. Young parents better wake up & shout for change. The private & charter schools will be able to refuse some of their little darlings. “Choice” schools really means the school has a choice to take or refuse your child’s entrance, not that you will have a choice.

  • I am retiring on June 2nd, after 31 years in the teaching profession. I can no longer take the 10 hour days and the 8 to 12 hours per weekend that I must put in to perform well on this job. In my experience, the complaints made by the other teachers in response to this article have all been true. The main reason I am leaving is that the joy has gone out of teaching. Everything I loved about it, like the creativity I could use and the fun in seeing kids succeed, is gone. Everything I hate (the politics, the paper work and the confrontational parents) has multiplied. The average work my students now produce is much poorer in quality than what I used to receive. In the struggle to improve student learning, We won the battle, and lost the war.

  • Mike

    So called “burnout” or “demoralization” are only your state of mind, which you are ENTIRELY IN CONTROL OF.

    Toughen up people. Resistance is futile! There is nothing you can do to combat the government-sponsored absurdity we encounter on a daily basis, except to NOT INTERNALIZE IT. If your students do not achieve what you have built up in your mind that they can achieve OH WELL. You did what you were told.

    Give it your very best, comply, be thankful to be employed, and above all else take care of yourself by enjoying your time off. That’s ALL you can do, and that’s all that I do as a veteran teacher. At least you’re not sitting in gridlock half of the year or getting your legs blown off in Iraq!

  • David

    I recently left the teaching career altogether after four years in an urban setting. It was my first job after college. I taught science to 9th and 10th grade students in Maryland and certainly felt the pressures of state and federal mandates. The biggest reason I left however, was no hope of increased pay as referenced in MetLife’s recent survey showing teacher dissatisfaction being at its highest point in decades. ( I think I had a combination of burnout and demoralization. I was in a situation where the challenges kept growing and the pay started to decrease. Salary caps have been frozen since I started working and state retirement contributions where going up. This year that equated to about $100 a month which was my budget expendable money from last year. To make ends meet, I started evening school but with two of my own children at home, the demands where heavy and I was starting to neglect the needs of my own health and my family. I kept seeking opportunities elsewhere until I found something. I now work in the private sector with better pay and equal benefits to teaching with much greater potential of pay increases. Since I left, I feel much less stress, but I do miss what I loved most about teaching: cultivating meaningful relationships with students. I hope one day to get back into teaching, but my family and personal long term goals just couldn’t be met if I stayed a teacher.

  • Michelle

    I too am a demoralized teacher…. What is wrong? I am 100% on board with being held accountable and the new teacher review system. What I can’t handle is how parents are not held accountable. How can I teach a child who does not have supportive parents at home? I can only control what happens to my students during the 5 hours a week I see them. If parents are not held to some kind of standard, how can my high quality teaching do anything but engage them for five hours?

  • I taught 30 years and just recently retired. I, too, am demoralized. I loved my students and enjoyed my job. This article is very interesting to me as I just returned from the doctor and am suffering from depression. She asked about my symptoms and I indicated that one of my problems is that I am very angry. She asked what I was angry about and I said that politics was the number one reason. I am so worried about the students that I worked with. Many of them were unmotivated and had difficulties at home. What will happen to these students when vocational education, art, business education, etc. are no longer available? These areas are where many of these students found a home and these areas often kept them motivated. In Wisconsin, these are the subjects that are at risk of being cut. I also have a daughter and son-in-law who can’t find teaching jobs in this state. What is going to happen to this generation of individuals who have graduated with these degrees? I had many students this past year who indicated that they were going to go into teaching but because of the politics have changed their minds. After giving 30 years of my life to this profession, this upsets me. Yes, I am demoralized and depressed.

  • Terry

    This article was right on. Congrats to Ms. Santoro for her eloquent and truthful analysis. Anyone involved in the Marzano Model??? Marzano’s The Art and Science of Effective Teaching is permeating the education world. Mr. Marzano and his cohorts are making big bucks on this “old tricks – new name” system. It is nothing more than learning by prescription… such a shame….

  • Theodore

    I have been teaching Industrial Art for 30 years. It was a fun for both me and the students and I think that my kids learned valuable and practical skills and information. It was one of the most popular classes in school and I literally had to kick the students out at the end of the day. Recently my shop was replaced with a modular lab. I spend my days now monitoring students as they “learn” on computers. Student interest is way down and discipline problems are up. It’s demoralizing to be sure.

  • James Wintermote

    I spent 15 years as a secondary Language Arts teacher. I ended up fighting a losing battle with the school district regarding the most ridiculous grading policy I had ever seen. Accountability was thrown out the window. I dealt with parents who accused me of being racist because I taught the etymology of the “N” word while teaching the novel “Of Mice and Men.” I weathered the storm of an incompetent administrator who one year praised me for the results of high scores on the writing proficiency exam, and the next year lambasted me for low scores. I tried to explain that I didn’t change my teaching style, but perhaps the low scores MIGHT have been a result of my students having excessive absences and a reluctance to complete all of my writing assignments. I left the profession during my 15th year and now have a job with the VA as an education manager and make $10k more than I did with my Master’s degree in teaching. Oh…and I wrote a book about my frustrations in the profession: Failing Mr. Fisher. It details why schools fail the teachers, not the students.

  • Mark Bachinski

    Regarding: How Bad Education Policies Demoralize Teachers

    This phenomenon happens at my school on a frequent basis. In one of the many roles I fill here, I have looked in this. A close approximation is called “change fatigue” in some articles. But, no matter what you call it, it still hurts the soul to live through it.

    Thanks for a good affirming article.

  • Larry M

    Excellent article. I’ve witnessed this directly. My parents were both in education and they got out early. I have friends who’s spouses were teachers and quit early. My wife had to get out of the regular classroom because of this and I think she’s even becoming disillusioned with her current position in the Gifted area. We sent out kids to private high school because the public system failed them. It’s no wonder so many folks are for private school vouchers. Uninformed and know-it-all legislators have begun to ruin the public education system.

  • Kyle

    This article was apropos for me. I just minutes ago wrote my resignation letter to my Human Resources department. I was thinking that I was burning out after only 14 years in the profession; however, I think that demoralized is a better name for the feeling I have. Now I feel a bit ashamed that I have told close friends that I feel burned out. I’ll need to mend my words.

    I give all every day, yet maintain a considerable balance in my life. I love planning, teaching and (even) grading. And my students do well on state testing. I’m happy with most things that happen with my students and within my classroom walls. That’s not what a burned-out teacher says. The hard thing for me over the last five years has been the constant change in mandates, laws, paperwork requirements, changes in leadership, total shifts in schools’ focus, etc. I think it comes down to non-educators telling me more and more what I have to do as an educator. I live in Ohio, and last year’s legislative attack on our profession was particularly demoralizing for me.

    So, I’m becoming an entrepreneur. I’ll be teaching after-school programs, day camps and other programs that center around science, technology, engineering and math. And I’ll get to really teach and remind myself what it’s like to do so in the absence of those demoralizing outside factors. As for the Mike’s comment that said, “be thankful to be employed” and if students don’t meet standards, then “oh well”: I am always thankful to be employed, but I could never say, “Oh well.” So, I’m taking my career and destiny into my own hands I’m going to be thankful to be self-employed and never having to even think, “Oh well.”

  • Teacher’s Burn out vs Demoralization

    In my school students ignore the bells and do no walk to their classroom unless the administration screams at them through a blow horn. In my class some of the students think it is okay to talk in the middle of the lecture across the room as if they were in a party. And let me tell you about my credentials, I have had from the principal to assistant superintendent in my class and they all loved my class. The vice superintendent was in my class observing me and she told the principal that she loved my teaching because I was the teacher who interacted with the students the most. I have had many teachers from my school come up to me and say that they had never seen black students speak Spanish like my children do. I take my students surfing every summer etc. But the some of the children of today have no respect for the learning environment. I am not even saying,” Respect me because I am a teacher. Respect because I am a hard-working teacher and because I make my classes fun and interesting. I don’t even care what people have to say about teachers because most people are clueless about life anyway. But I have called the parents of the students that are disruptive, I have conferred with them and administration, I use differentiated instructions, and the disruptive students remain in my class nonetheless.

  • Sam

    One of the big demoralizers for me was the system of tenure and seniority that allowed ineffective and downright lazy teachers to remain in their classrooms AND earn double my salary. My test scores were 20% above the average for my department, I was awarded one of the top 10 teachers in my high school as voted on by the entire student body, advised two clubs including the largest one on campus (key Club), and was in charge of the yearbook. Despite all my dedication and hard work, as well as objective success in student achievement, the teacher next to me, who was there for 25 years, hated by most the students and taught very littler, was paid $30,000 more and given preference in every aspect from classes taught, summer school, you name it.

    A system that has absolutely no rewards for good teaching and basically no punishment for bad teaching is a broken system. One key step for improving educational outcomes is to stop protecting bad teachers with tenure, and start compensating teachers, at least in part, for education production and improvement in their students. I’m not say that standardized testing is the only way to do this. My solution would be a multi-part one:

    1. Use standardized tests to provide objective data, but while callibrate the data to each student so as not to punish teachers who teach weaker students. in other words, look and test for improvement not just overall data.

    2. Use administrator feedback. Allow for random drop-ins that count. Set up a system such that administrators own compensation is tied to progress and learning, thus creating the incentive for administrators to reward good teachers with glowing reviews (and higher salaries) and punish bad teachers.

    3. get rid of tenure. It started in college as a protection for professors who spoke about controversial topics and politically incorrect ways. I dont think a 1st grade teacher, or high school for that matter, needs protection from admin firing because they teach a controversial subject. Tenure has been warped from a valid protection of academic freedom into a guaranteed job for life regardless of effort or production.

    4. get rid of seniority as the way of deciding everything. Seniority can still count, but it should not be sole basis for salary, class choice, etc. Merit and best practices should be more important. A young teacher should get more than an old teacher if the young teacher is far more effective. Just because you have been there for a while should not guarantee anything. Private schools usually work on one-year contracts and are not afraid to deny a new contract to a teacher after 20 years if that teacher is failing her job.

    This is just a starting point, but as long as tenure and seniority, as opposed to actual skill or merit, are the basis for all decisions, the education system in America will continue to fail.

  • Tom

    The problem is the same in higher education. I teach Composition at a community college. I am a Part-time Instructor, even though I regularly teach 135% of a full-time load. I get paid 3/5’s of what FT faculty get paid (I still make less on a per-class basis than I did as a graduate TA 10 years ago), I am not guaranteed classes from one term to another, I do not have access to adequate facilities to teach my classes (computing resources, confidential meeting space for conferencing with students, etc.–there are 40 of us assigned to an office that seats 5; eight computers for 80 PT instructors in the division). I frequently think that I don’t have the time to innovate or reach out to students in the ways that I know are necessary to keep my teaching effective. I do have the time, but the rewards from students are few and far between–there is a strong sense of entitlement attached to paying for an educational experience–and many are only interested in checking the box of their writing requirement, not actually learning to write better. Couple this with a lack of adequate institutional support, and how could one *not* be demoralized?

  • Sam

    One addendum to my post above is that there is a myth that tenured bad teacher can be fired. Other than extreme cases like sexual abuse, that is plainly false. I have never once heard of a tenured teacher being fired for being a bad teacher as long as they obeyed their contract, came to school on time, showed up for classes, and attended all mandatory functions. I worked for a district with over 800 teachers and well over 10,000 students. I asked the super and other admin for an example of a tenured teacher being fired without such an extenuating circumstance, and they had none. Given that teachers are given tenure after 2 or 3 years, I find it hard to believe that among the thousands of teachers with tenure over the last several decades, not one has been fired without abusing a student or something like that. I am sure, like any profession, that some percentage of those teachers were wholly ineffective, or downright terrible. Yet, none were fired because the union prevented it or other bad teachers rallied in defense of tenure. I have seen a dozen GREAT young teachers, with energy and outstanding practices leave the district or teaching entirely, because of the fairly large number of bad apple teachers, earning more than anyone else, who basically call the shots. I even discussed with the principal, who is excellent, and he said his hands were tied completely. the previous principal went after one of those teachers, and faced a virtual rebellion, so much so that he was transferred to a different school.

    Tenure = lifetime guaranteed job. Anyone who argues otherwise is wrong. I would love to see some national statistics on number of tenured teachers fired across the US excluding major offenses like molestation or the like.

  • Still Awake

    There is a concerted, nationwide effort to strip classrooms of their humanity and replace it with an intense focus upon preparing young people to accept lives of calculated mediocrity. Administrators who draw large salaries doing this work are immorally creating the conditions of future societal collapse. When faced with a constant onslaught of administrative tinkering that steals valuable time and energy that would be better-spent caring about human beings in the classroom, a normal human teacher cannot stave off the phenomenon of learned despair (look it up). It is time for a revolution.

  • DE

    I’ve been teacher for almost 40 years. Several of my closest family members are in public education. We are no longer supervised by teachers. Most of my administrators have never spent a day in the classroom, or, if I’m lucky, they’ve taught for a year or two (just to get some credentials to move on). My chief financial officer, who makes most of the significant decisions, has not one day of classroom experience. In this state, our school superintendents have to go to superintendent school and play with the politicians to keep a job, but don’t need to walk the school halls or spend a day in the classroom–though they go to plenty of state conferences. Most of the good teachers that I know who would make capable administrators have no desire to take positions in which they will be forced to hold the party line, engage in meaningless paperwork and pontificate with edu-speak. I know a highly placed administrator who claims that good administrators don’t have to have any experience in the field in which he or she administrates as long as they’ve been to “administrator school” (more indoctrination). Accordingly, a good administrator can administrate anything. Students who decide they want to be educators spend more time in “education” classes than they do in classes related to the major in which they would like to teach. Several recent new teacher hires occurred with candidates who were known to have poor academic records when hired, then had poor first years of teaching, yet remained in the system because of close relationships to school board members or other well placed politicians. Similar things happen for hires of school principals all the time. Several recent principals in a nearby school district became principals as a perk so they could spend their last couple of years before retirement in a cushy and high paid job. We spend thousands of dollars on football fields and equipment and cut library budgets. I’m going to keep fighting as long as I can, but is it any wonder we are demoralized?

  • Kate Kelley

    Near the end of my 20+ years of teaching, my colleagues began to express concerns that I had “gone rogue.” Eyebrows raised because my science students were often out of their desks and actively engaged in learning. I decided it was time to leave the herd before I was driven out. I retired (early) and now work as a paraprofessional. Every day there’s another reason to be glad I’m no longer teaching.

    Best wishes to all of you still in the trenches, especially the rogues!

  • Victor Bian

    I have been an ESL-History teacher for the last 4 years. The main reason I chose this profession was my love for my subject area and my desire to help other people. The first 12 years of my profession were very satisfying and rewarding. The fact that my administrators were generally supportive and appreciative was a huge factor in my decision to remain in my career. I remember the days when I was not ok for a students to talk back or to act disruptively in the class room. It’s a wonderful thing when administrators are given the authority to discipline and to set standards of excellence that meeet the students needs. This trend has defnitely changed for the worse. I now work in a building where highly effective teachers are being evaluated as non-effective. A supervisor can walk in a class room and simply label you as an ineffective teacher over not writing an objective or bell work on the board, or failing in getting uninterested students engaged in a lesson. If we even dare lecture a little bit we risk the danger of being labeled traditional, which is now a bad word. Students are expected to engage in group work and by some miracle demonstrate critical thinking skills. All of the students I teach are recent immigrantsw from Latin America. They arrive here with poor reading and writing skills and yet we are still expected to prepare them for the state test. If not, well, it’s obviously our fault.Their parents have no clue what is expected of their children. The kids I teach are generally good humble kids. Unfortunately, they come from countries where standards are well below what is expected of a 15 or 16 year old adolescent. Many of my kids function at a 4th grade reading level. The task of acculturating them and teaching them a second language as well as content is monumental to say the least. Despite my best efforts, and my colleagues, their progress is ignored. If they fail 2 tests they are prevented from graduating. This is what it’s all about. Can you pass a test? Forget what I learned in the class room.We are now being micromanaged into writing lesson plans that fit the LAAD method. Creativity, and individual teacher personality are now meaningless. I truly wish I had chosen a different profession. The standards and guide lines that our politicians have set for us are designed to set up the students and teachers for failure. I have yet to see a state Senator or Congressmen visit my class room. I am convinced that this is more about the money then good effective teaching coupled with compassion and the obvious healthy relationship a teacher must develop with his or her students. So, I am now joining the ranks of the demoralized. I challenge these so called state government professionals to come to my class room of 28 – 30 kids and demonstrate good teaching and compassion. I suppose this is the reason I will never be a politician.

  • Elizabeth Carlin

    I am convinced that teachers are getting ill do to the stress of their jobs. They have high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and the list goes on. There are no bathroom breaks, students do not have recess. Students are tested at their grade level rather than their ability level includeing Special Education students that are in Special Education because they are generally two years behind their peer group.
    Teachers have curriculum changed midyear and they are expected to comply.
    At 68 I retired since I did not feel that I needed to battle a management that did not respect people old or young.

  • Still Awake

    In September 2011 we had a faculty association meeting at which we discussed the revised Collective Bargaining Agreement, which included a discussion of academic freedom. Our college’s Vice President of Instruction had asked our bargaining team to include new language in the agreement (the pertinent portion of which is included below). During that meeting, four of my colleagues and I were vocal in our opposition to the inclusion of such language, as it is nebulous and general enough to allow an administrator to threaten an instructor’s job by citing “controversial matter:”

    ****** Community College /Faculty Agreement
    July 1, 2011-June 30, 2013

    “Academic Freedom.
    Academic freedom is the freedom to teach, both in and outside the classroom; to conduct research and to publish the results of those investigations; to create, display and perform artistic expressions and to address any matter of institutional policy or action as a member of the campus community. Such freedom is conducive to the College’s mission when it is accompanied with the appropriate restraint of not introducing into teaching of curriculum controversial matter which has no relation to the course’s content, or the expression of thought without critical assessment of its intent to disrupt rather than to promote learning. While controversy is at the heart of free academic inquiry, civility is the standard for professional conduct of college faculty and staff.”

    Our objections to the language were overlooked, and the Association decided to accept the new language. I went to the Vice President after the meeting and asked him why he had felt it necessary, given that our faculty is composed of dedicated and thoughtful people, to include language which could have a chilling effect on our ability to engage in the free flow of ideas. He said he felt that this new language would actually “broaden” academic freedom. I have read George Orwell’s novel, 1984, several times, and I am familiar with the concept of doublespeak, so his response was not entirely surprising. I wondered at that time if I had created danger for myself by objecting to the language.

    Now, perhaps coincidentally, the four colleagues who spoke up and and I are completing our last term of employment. We are laid off sue to “budget considerations.” We have tried in established and appropriate ways to voice our objections to our layoffs and the disruption to our programs, but we have been met with a stone wall. Our college president has refused to discuss our situations, either individually or collectively, and appears to have taken his cues on layoffs from the Vice President, who has gone on to become president at another community college.. Our very real and justifiable concern for our students’ ability to complete their programs and to have access to a variety of college coursework has been ignored. Pardon me if I seem to be sensitive about this subject, but from my viewpoint, it appears as if we were let go because we dared to disagree, and our students will pay for it.

    It has been a great and rare pleasure to call myself a faculty member at my small college. The town is lucky to have a group of professional and caring people working for it and its children. Now that is over, and my situation is very similar to that of thousands of instructors around the U.S. Is it any wonder that we are not cheery?

  • An interesting read. I think one thing that was not mentioned that is a huge cause of the demoralization is a lack of support from home. Increasingly I see my students with “problems” coming from single/split parent homes or raised by grandparents. It is our culture that is telling us that education is not a priority, but rather not doing wrong to “my child.” It makes it hard to want to be a positive role model and teach how to be a good student and a good person when everything is undermined at home.

  • Nani

    Im a new teacher… 2 years now… But Im also a mother of 3 grown children who I homeschooled for a few years. Mainly because I did not want my girls in public education. But I changed my mind for their sake and thought perhaps I could make a difference by being a teacher. Now that I am in…. I feel duped and taken advantage of… Blame, extra low pay, overworked, teaching to the test, unnecessary training and meetings, undisciplined and rebellious kids, apathetic parents, paying for our own supplies… and more. No wonder I feel like crap….

  • Sharon Gytri

    I retired 3 years ago after 37 years at middle school – Language Arts. My husband says after retirement, I’m getting younger every birthday. It took a year to stop having school nightmares. I sub at times in the town I live in (not where I taught). The kids are really nice as are admins. Such a contrast to low socio-econom area I taught at. Principals allowed students to use the F word at them when they came into classrooms and did nothing. Suddenly, good teachers who tried to have consequences for bad behavior were the “bad teachers” and the “good teachers” were those who had totally chaotic classrooms. I’m so glad to go on to a productive, happy life. I’m paid to do research and index a series of WWII books. I’m talent manage SAG actors and am a Casing Director for films shot in our mountain town near LA. People like to hear what I have to say now. People don’t want to hear teachers’ comments about teaching since everyone thinks of themselves as education experts since they went to school once. I believe that any politician or reporter/writer who discusses education needs to get out in the classrooms of today to see what’s really going on. It would be especially nice if they had to live the life of teachers teaching special ed classes where teachers are never backed up when they try to discipline students.

  • I’ve been teaching for 22 years and this article is dead on the money. In my school system students are now being referred to as “data points”. Data points! Enough said.

  • Mary

    I taught for 10 years before leaving to stay home with my children right before NCLB took effect. I returned to teaching three years ago and I am so saddened to say that nothing is the same. I love my students, I love most of my coworkers and I love teaching. However, I am now constantly pressured about the growth of my students. I teach elementary Level 1 Special Education and instead of celebrating the growth that each of my students show, and yes, they show growth each year, amazing growth, it is just never enough. Some of my students, because of their disabilities, will never be at the same level as their general education peers and quite frankly, they should not be judged because of it. I have a principal who taught for four years, most of them teaching foreign language, who knows nothing about special education but tells me what and how to teach my students.

    I had to fight to stop teaching my students just plain old reading comprehension because well, they couldn’t read, so of course they can’t comprehend. I had to fight to teach decoding and anything phonics based because in my district, comprehension is king. No one listened to me for the first two years I was there that my students needed comprehensive phonics taught to them since all of them couldn’t read anywhere near grade level. At one point the principal told me to “throw away” a very expensive phonics curriculum once used by the teacher who was there prior to me. Throw away thousands of dollars of research-based curriculum. I was appalled and was lucky enough to be able to donate it to the other special education rooms in my district who were still allowed to use it. This year I finally had a consultant fight for me and explain the importance of teaching basic reading strategies to these struggling readers and man, oh man, the growth I’ve seen is amazing. It’s frustrating though, that it took a consultant and not just my word or our reading teacher’s word, the importance of what was needed taught, was not listened to.

    Standardized testing time rolls around and my students try so hard, but it’s an anxiety-ridden time for them and some shut down out of frustration. I know what they can do and standardized tests certainly do not show the things they know. I cringe each year as we go over state testing and I feel the judging eyes of the principal on me because my students lack of growth brings down our school’s ratings. It’s such a shame and I miss the days when standardized tests were not the end all, be all of student progress.

    I love teaching, but I truly do wish I could just get in my classroom and teach my sweet students the things that I know they need in the way that they need it, without being told that data says this or that about what is done. Something is very wrong with the system when teachers can’t walk into the classroom and teach anymore.

  • The elite that controls everything doesn’t want a population that have critical thinking. The elite wants ignorant obedient workers who won’t complain about the increasingly shitty jobs with no pension and extra hour for no pay. Read the book “Dumbing Us Down” by John Taylor Gatto.

  • Mr. C.

    Although I often read articles related to education, I rarely choose to respond; however, this particular article hit rather close to home. After five years of teaching Language Arts to at-risk students (drugs, weapons, violence, etc.), I found myself in a battle with my district over contract violations on their part. The result was that I won the battle and they were forced to comply, but I lost the war, meaning that I had stepped on some pretty high-level toes. The following year and a half was nothing short of a nightmare. I was constantly evaluated and torn apart for every little thing that could be imagined (a.k.a. “Drummed-up”). One administrator was even brazen enough to tell me to my face I had better start looking for another job because the “District” had already made up its mind. I “toughed it out” for another year and a half before I just couldn’t take it anymore.

    I am in the private sector now, but in the best possible way. I now train teachers and administrators around the country. I get to stay involved with education, but I get to avoid all the other garbage that comes from the state and district levels.

    Hail to all passionate teachers! Maybe one day our country will learn to value us as much as we value our kids!

  • Victor

    Dear Mary, Your point is well taken. I also agree that reading skills and comprehension are the key to learning. Students progress is never measured on state tests. Our kids are being set up for failure. I teach ESL students. The progress they make is amazing! The state test completely ignores this!The state’s consultants say kids must work collaboratively and be engaged in a lesson. While I completely agree with these methods, they cannot be done everyday. As you stated, we are being told how to teach, despite the fact that we know our kids much better than these professionals. Our opinions do not count! This is demoralizing and disconcerting.

  • Pat

    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.
    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

  • Renate

    Words cannot express how deeply touched I’m feeling after reading this article. I feel as though a heavy weight that I’ve been carrying has just shifted. I say shifted, and not lifted because, although reading this piece has just fully explained and given a label to the “thing” that I’ve been feeling for the past several years, the reality is that identifying the problem and giving it a name doesn’t make it go away. As the writer states, “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.” And therein lies the problem for the demoralized. We are not the powers that be. In most cases, we are veteran teachers, who have chosen to stay in the classroom because of the very love of, and committment to TEACHING and that “moral dimension”. We are, indeed, frustrated by the changes that have taken place right before our eyes, and we have fought tooth and nail (or at least, I have) to maintain whatever semblance of the moral dimension we can in our classrooms. But, our efforts are met with constant pressure from those who are “in charge” to mold to the cookie-cutter method, although evidence shows that our schools are falling apart, and our children are losing out in the process.

    I am so thankful that this article was written, and that the writer is researching this issue. I only pray that the predictable results, when published, will reach the right eyes and ears, and that something will be done to save our schools, and our children, before it’s too late for our nation.

  • Justin

    I’m glad I will no longer be teaching after this year. 3 years was plenty for me I’m ready to leave this broken system and work for myself now as an entrepreneur. My customers appreciate me a billion times more than most of my students do, and I don’t have bosses who have no teaching experience telling me what to do. I feel bad for the students but at the same time, I only have 1 life to live on this planet, so I’m not going to spend it miserable. Good luck everyone else who’s brave (or maybe crazy) enough to stay in the teaching profession!

  • 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.

  • Susan Davis

    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! 🙂

  • Michael Harper

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

  • Beverley Pearce

    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.

  • Aaron

    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.

  • Jennifer A. Smith

    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!

  • 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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  • 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:

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

    Thanks for this timely and thought-provoking post!

  • 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.

  • Clint

    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.

  • 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:

  • DEmoralized

    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! 🙁

  • Means

    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.

  • 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.

  • Rebecca

    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.

  • Means

    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.
    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.
    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.

  • Agreed Absolutely

    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.

  • willwot

    Through out the article and the readers comments one thing is apparent all are willing to point out the problem, none are willing to bring solutions to the table. Moralize yourself no one is going to do it for you. Difficult class?, find the means to teach them and move forward with their lives. Enable your students to find solutions for themselves rather than relying on some entity to do it for them. Same goes for you the teacher, get busy living or get busy dying, but stop crying about it. I have been in the business of teaching from substituting to my own classroom for fifeteen years, and at times felt demoralized, when given the pink slip because the budget would not allow me to do what I want to do, teach. I am a Teacher, my life is in the garden as one writer suggested. We are not zombies taking from the student we are the brain builders.

  • Elizabeth Carlin

    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.

  • 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.

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  • Mary Carter

    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.

  • Alan

    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!

  • Janice Liptak

    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.

  • Shirley Jo

    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…

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  • 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:

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

    Kim Werner

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  • Chris Cantwell

    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?

  • Mick

    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!

  • Alejandro Escude

    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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