Teacher disaffection grows

I’m not a therapist, but I submit that the difficulty in recruiting and retaining the best and the brightest to the classroom has little to do with the distinction between burnout and demoralization (“Many Frustrated Teachers Say It’s Not Burnout – It’s Demoralization,” edsurge.com, Nov. 19).  I say that because the net effect is the same.

When students are in college working on their bachelor’s degree, especially today with the cost of tuition so steep, they are highly attuned to news about the career they are considering after graduation.  They know from their friends just a year or two ahead of them that teaching is not what they thought it would be.  Idealism quickly fades, as the reality of the classroom takes hold.

Trying to make a case that burnout is different from demoralization seems to be largely a matter of degree.  That’s important to keep in mind, but it does not do much to solve the problem.  The military has long made troop morale a high priority.  It does not try to parse the difference between burnout and demoralization.

I see little hope that today’s college graduates will choose the classroom as a lifetime career.  Why should they when they can make far more money with far less stress in other fields?

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14 Replies to “Teacher disaffection grows”

  1. Agree that recruiting new teachers and retaining current teachers are major problems for many/most school systems. Somewhat surprised, given that teaching offers relatively stable employment + decent benefits at a time when the “gig” economy means that many relatively talented people find it difficult to obtain stable employment with decent benefits.

    Perhaps the more-talented people (recent grads as well as current teachers) can beat the odds and find good non-teaching jobs with stable employments and decent benefits (or a very high salary that adequately compensates for instability and mediocre benefits). That suggests that people who are average-talented or less-than-average-talented are the ones who will be looking for teaching jobs or staying in current teaching jobs. That would make sense. But, from the little I’ve read re the “teacher shortage”, the “experts” are not citing poor quality of applicants/current teachers as a problem but rather — as your post indicates — suggesting that the problem is not enough people applying and/or current teachers staying, period.

    My opinion — the main obstacle (to recruiting/retaining teachers who are talented enough to get other decent jobs) is the depressing amount of student misbehavior that teachers have to deal with in all but the highest SES school systems + even in some of those high-SES school systems, teachers get a lot of grief from students (although the kind of misbehavior might be different than in the lower-SES school systems) and particularly from parents.

    In the DC suburbs, it’s actually pretty hard to get a job teaching in the schools — particularly the high schools — that have the strongest academic reputations. The teachers in these schools rarely leave their schools for other jobs, but instead stay to retirement or leave due to family decisions. As a result, there are relatively few teacher vacancies in these schools and when vacancies occur in these schools, they are usually snapped up by extremely well-credentialed applicants (often well-regarded experienced teachers at schools in the same system that have weaker academic reputations). Conversely, it’s relatively easy to get a job teaching in the schools that have the worst academic reputations — that is, the schools were minor misbehavior is endemic.

    Likewise, my personal anecdotal experience is that virtually every teacher I have ever spoken with (except those who teach in the very-strong-academice/high-SES schools) complains bitterly about how the kids are “out of control”, how they have to devote so much effort to just maintaining order in the classroom, and — often — how the school administrators don’t support them re misbehavior issues (or, worse, how the school administrators side with the misbehaving kids or the misbehaving kids’ parents against the teacher).

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  2. Labor Lawyer: Although salaries have increased, thy have not kept pace with what talented grads can earn elsewhere. That’s particularly the case for those in science and math. There was a time when teachers acted in loco parentis. But that era is gone, replaced by students who don’t respect authority. The student rights revolution of the Sixties has created an entirely different atmosphere than what existed in the past. Exacerbating matters is constant pressure to boost test scores. There are still a few exceptional high schools where teaching takes place. Too often, however, maintaining order is t he top priority.

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  3. When I got into teaching, it was after multiple jobs, some leading to greater opportunities, but I decided after completing college to get the teaching credential (I had a couple of teacher friends, and they helped in this decision.). It was an interesting walk. Being involved in summer camps, I saw how easy teaching could be. And while teaching, I saw the importance of teaching to understanding, and over time, tried a myriad of lessons and projects, finding what worked with each class.
    I’ve had friends and colleagues that died within a couple of years of retirement, but also a couple who died within two years after retirement, and have met others since. Later, I heard the numbers are everywhere. Perhaps not death, but strokes, heart attacks, other medical problems related to stress, and many entering mental health facilities for help (due to their work).
    Early in my career, teaching was the easiest thing I’d ever done. It wasn’t that I didn’t do much. On the contrary, I really knew the material (sometimes working 60 hours), researched on my own, attempted a variety of lessons, and really knew my students, reading everything they wrote. With time, my goal was to provide a quality education, ensure good writing skills and math skills, but get them to really think for themselves with information I provided, but also information from their own lives outside school. I literally could teach falling out of a chair. It was second nature.
    But times are changing and all too many teachers who have a natural love of teaching are leaving the profession. They realize they no longer can do what they love. Perhaps there are some places, but the majority, as we see it, are experiencing what you are sharing. It shouldn’t be that way.
    For teachers who truly know how to teach, have a good education, and want to prepare the youth for opportunities they choose, they are leaving the profession. One shouldn’t have to fight each day to get to the next, no matter what some movies say. For those who do, all too many wind up in the E.R. or unable to fully retire when the time comes, still thinking about all they could have done. What is needed is a return to the values and understanding that existed when we and our parents were growing up. Teachers worked hard, and the good ones were given full reign to teach. New teachers looked up to them. And when a teacher retired after 30 or 40 years, in the same district, often the same school, the parents applauded them, former students coming back to shake their hands, and share a few words of where their lives are. This is as it should be. Not dreading Mondays.
    I had an old saying with my students: TGIM. Thank God it’s Monday.

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    1. You make excellent points. Teaching today is far harder than it was when I began my career in 1964. I see more evidence of burnout now than before. I don’t have the answer, but I know that teachers like you are desperately needed.

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      1. Well, thanks for the complement, which we return for your work. I’m not sure it’s possible any more, for the last several years was butting one’s head against the wall, metaphorically. Everything a friend did well in his class was turned around by other faculty, parents, and regulations. We keep looking, hoping.

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      2. dolphinwrite: Teachers today face criticism seemingly from all stakeholders. As a result, morale suffers. The military has long known the importance of keeping morale high. Too bad, the same thing doesn’t exist in teaching. Just remember that you are doing the very best you can. Take care of your physical and mental health. I salute you. Walt

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  4. This will be some time in returning to simplicity, which is quality teachers teaching and young people doing their work in preparation for adulthood. There will have to be a movement of sorts to return to what works, responsibility and accountability.

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    1. dolphinwrite: I’m afraid those days are gone forever. Everything today in education deals with unequal racial outcomes and racial diversity. Of course, they are important, but they serve as a distraction from students taking responsibility for their own work and from teachers doing their job.

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      1. If you told my high school buddies I became a teacher, they would laugh and laugh, probably on their backs, grabbing their bellies. I tried everything else before becoming a teacher. As a teacher, I wanted the kids to think for themselves, so I had to have experience and a quality education (in college an on my own). I saw it as them eventually leading their own learning while I provided as much basis for understanding. This is not encouraged anymore. The ones who really want to make a difference don’t see the opportunity.

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  5. dolphinwrite: There are some people who are what I call “natural teachers.” You sound like one of them because you went into teaching with strong convictions about what a career in the classroom should be like.

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    1. Actually, I really didn’t know. It’s just that the summer camp experience taught me a valuable lesson in learning through understanding, and how well an instructor communicates can cause the child to realize for himself, deeply, to where they start seeking answers for themselves. I noticed that when I determined to learn anything, I learned much faster than when I relied on someone else to show me the way. Yes, I utilized “the ones who know,” but engage my own resources so things happen faster, out of interest. * * So when a student explains they don’t understand something I’ve already explained to the class, I ask what they remember to find out if they were listening. Then guide them through their own understanding. So they see it.

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