Tuesday, September 2, 2014

How Bad Education Policies Demoralize Teachers

February 7, 2012 by jrosales  
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By John Rosales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doris Santoro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also:

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

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

Comments

86 Responses to “How Bad Education Policies Demoralize Teachers”
  1. Charlotte Holtry says:

    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.

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  2. dez says:

    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.

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  3. D says:

    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!

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  4. Stephanie says:

    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?

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  5. Tzvi says:

    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 http://blog.friendshipcircle.org/2012/02/01/the-top-10-challenges-of-special-education-teachers/

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  6. Susan Hammond says:

    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.

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  7. Elizabeth Miller says:

    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.

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  8. Pam Clark says:

    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.

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  9. Clint says:

    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….

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  10. Jesse says:

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  12. Scott says:

    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 !

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  13. Brandi says:

    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.

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  14. Bill says:

    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.

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  15. Charlotte Holtry says:

    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!

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  16. vivi says:

    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.

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  17. Suzanne says:

    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.

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  18. Eileen Buckingham says:

    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.

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  19. 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.

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  20. Mike says:

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  21. David says:

    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. (http://www.metlife.com/about/corporate-profile/citizenship/metlife-foundation/metlife-survey-of-the-american-teacher.html?WT.mc_id=vu1101) 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.

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  22. Michelle says:

    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?

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  23. 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.

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  24. Terry says:

    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….

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  25. Theodore says:

    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.

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  26. James Wintermote says:

    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.

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  27. Mark Bachinski says:

    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.

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  28. Larry M says:

    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.

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  29. Kyle says:

    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.”

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  30. 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.

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  31. Sam says:

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  32. Tom says:

    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?

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  33. Sam says:

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

    Poorly-rated. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 16

  34. Still Awake says:

    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.

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  35. DE says:

    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?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  36. Kate Kelley says:

    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!

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  37. Victor Bian says:

    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.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  38. Elizabeth Carlin says:

    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.

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

  39. Still Awake says:

    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?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  40. Jason W says:

    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.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  41. Nani says:

    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….

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  42. Sharon Gytri says:

    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.

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  43. 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.

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  44. Mary says:

    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.

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  45. 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.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  46. Mr. C. says:

    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!

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  47. Victor says:

    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.

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  48. Pat says:

    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.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 4

  49. Renate says:

    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.

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  50. Justin says:

    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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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