How Bad Education Policies Hurt Educators
Our educational system struggles to hold on to educators. A 2012 research found that of 100% of educators who were originally zealous about their profession, just 53% could maintain that passion by 2015. Another 2012 survey found almost a third of educators they surveyed were thinking of leaving the profession. Washington Post’s Ellie Herman says a majority of educators are troubled by anxiety and constantly worry if they’re “bad” or “good” educators. But why are educators feeling excessively burdened? According to surveys, the answer is demoralization.
Demoralization vs. Burnout
Demoralized: Why Educators Leave the Profession They Love and How They Can Stay – a book written by Doris Santoro, explores demoralization in educators. While researching the topic of teacher burnout, Santoro interviewed both present educators and those who left the profession across experience levels and the duration for which they are or have been active. These interviews helped her realize a more secret enemy affecting educators: demoralization.
Firstly, it’s important to differentiate between burnout and demoralization. Burnout refers to an individual’s stress-handling ability. Santoro highlights burnout being related to how and if educators are managing their energies and themselves suitably. Thus, it depends on individuals and if they are focusing on self-care and keeping professional commitments separate from their personal lives. However, educators experiencing burnout are likely to find teaching an extremely personal profession. A teacher may have the appropriate technique for work-life balancing but may falter when on campus. School environments are significant contributors to burnout due to negative communication with other teachers or administrators or obsolete facilities.
In contrast, demoralization happens when teachers feel their job doesn’t involve anything positive. Santoro calls the reason a lack of “moral rewards” where educators aren’t satisfied anymore with their work – be it building student-teacher relationships, crafting lesson plans, devising ways to handle student difficulties or their overall commitment to student success. The morality of teaching is driven by educators’ aspiration to ensure the education they impart to their students goes beyond academics to cover all other aspects of life. For teachers, moral rewards are the driving force to feel passionate and satisfied about their jobs.
Demoralized educators are still passionate about teaching and show a desire to continue. But they have to battle restrictions enforced by the educational bureaucracy, particularly as morality and academic achievement go hand in hand. Typically, educators want to see their students do well academically. This feeling is closely related to “moral rewards.” However, since the definition of academic success is persistently amended and monitored, educators feel conflicted.
Demoralization is present in teachers across all schools, irrespective of their access to or lack of test scores, resources, rankings, or programs. Predictably, it’s higher in educators working with needy, lower-income students. Primarily, three things trigger demoralization: lack of support, lack of resources, and policy.
First, teachers lack adequate support due to the educational system’s nature that keeps the hands of administrators and educators full. Teachers start feeling lonely and disheartened between preparing the curriculum, pursuing academic milestones, and handling whatever comes up during the school year. That’s why Ellie Herman emphasizes the presence of a mentor in all teachers’ lives to guide and push them, understand their specific struggles, and support and corroborate them.
Even teacher training falls short as it fails to equip teachers, especially those employed in underprivileged schools and neighborhoods, with techniques for handling classroom realities and compels them to learn on the job.
Second, teachers lack resources. Some teachers might consider a fully stocked computer lab with Smart Boards and iPads as resources. However, several teachers find it difficult to secure the most basic resources like adequate chairs, books, or desks in their classrooms. Some schools may even lack a reasonable number of computers or a steady wireless connection. These things, Herman says, make it hard for educators to execute their duties and serve their students effectively.
Policy is the last nail in the coffin and the principal stressor causing teacher demoralization. It spreads through the classroom in different ways. For instance, prescribed lesson plans obstruct teachers’ ingenuity in constructing lesson plans and restrict what they can do for struggling students. Additionally, policy-dictated testing and test scores, constant criticism, and bureaucratic assessments and expectations of every teacher performing equally despite evident gaps make teachers stressed out and lose their way.
When every school year ends, districts are likely to review the year through report cards. Santoro believes these report cards to have a teacher-oriented questionnaire focusing on what lets them teach optimally, why, when, and how they find value in their work, and what holds them back from teaching well. These answers will lay bare the ground realities before the higher-ups and their related departments and offer useful insight, particularly how policy is either serving or obstructing teachers and students.
You can’t reduce demoralization to burnout. It should be recognized as a response to the educational system’s working conditions. Though some educators have turned to social media to find support and community, they just offer temporary relief. Though apparently impossible, until the education system creates a teacher-centric policy, teachers will continue to feel demoralized.