The news is replete with stories of worsening stresses on teachers and intimidating working conditions: for example, the increasing focus on teaching as test prep, and reading through the lines that standardized test cheating scandals could reflect wide patterns of administrators' creating conditions that foster cheating out of desperation. From Atlanta came a story that a teacher had to crawl under a table at a faculty meeting because her test scores were low: " . . . at Fain Elementary School, the principal forced a teacher to crawl under a table in a faculty meeting because that teacher’s students’ test scores were low."
Add the media trend of teacher-blaming, and more college students will recognize that teaching is a low-status profession, whose instability does not make it a reliable career path.
(Thanks to Chaz for the above cartoon.)
So no surprise that we see these stories:
From Murfreesboro [Tennessee] Post, January 3, 2012: "Teacher evaluation system to be evaluated"
The evaluations are adding to teachers' already high stress level, [George] Fitzhugh [a member of the Tennessee House Education Committee] said, causing early retirement of some valued educators and possibly even turning away potential excellent teachers.
"I know from talking to administrators at colleges that they've had sort of a dip in their enrollment," he said. "One particular president indicated to me that he thought it had to do with some of those folks who wanted to go into the education field and were having second thoughts."
From the Los Angeles Times, April 3, 2011:
National University, a nonprofit, multi-campus school that offers mainly online credential classes, reports that enrollment in its teacher training courses has dropped about 30% since 2006. The school's monthlong class terms make it vulnerable to headlines; education dean Carl Beyer said he noticed a small uptick in enrollment in the fall, followed by a decline as word spread of state budget cutbacks.
John Rosales in NEA Today, "How Bad Education Policies Demoralize Teachers", February 7, 2012
--with reference to Doris Santoro academic article abstracted below.
This added piece from Ed in the Apple blog, January 27, 2012:
Teacher Evaluation is Wack! We Will Be Driving Dedicated, Caring Teachers Away from the Schools and Kids That Need Them the Most
And on May 31, 2011 the New York Times published this composition by veteran elementary school teacher, Francesca Burns:
Driving Away the Best Teachers
My View: When did teacher bashing become the new national pastime?
By Sam Chaltain, Special to CNN
NEAToday's Rosales cited Doris Santoro's (Bowdoin College) article which distinguished regular stress and the realization of increasing-"reform"-driven changes in the profession:
American Journal of Education, Vol. 118, No. 1., 1, November 2011, Good Teaching in Difficult Times: Demoralization in the Pursuit of Good Work
The abstract of Santoro's article follows:
In these difficult times of reform/bashing, teachers find it difficult to find moral worth in the work that they do.
What happens when experienced teachers who are fueled by the moral dimension of teaching find that they can no longer access the moral rewards of the work? Consistent and persistent frustrations in accessing the moral rewards of teaching requires a new concept to describe teachers who feel they no longer can do good work or teach “right.” Too often, this phenomenon of frustration in the pursuit of good teaching is described as burnout. Although the terms “burnout” and “demoralization” have been used synonymously, it is better to consider the two phenomena as related but conceptually distinct. Burnout may be an appropriate diagnosis in some cases where individual teachers’ personal resources cannot meet the challenge of the difficulties presented by the work. However, the burnout explanation fails to account for situations where the conditions of teaching change so dramatically that moral rewards, previously available in ever-challenging work, are now inaccessible. In this instance, the phenomenon is better termed demoralization. Through an empirical case study and philosophical analysis, this article shows that accessing the moral dimension of teaching is not only about cultivating individual teachers’ dispositions toward good work but structuring the work to enable practitioners to do good within its domain. In this model, teacher attrition does not necessarily reflect a lack of commitment, preparedness, competence, or hardiness on the part of the practitioner. Rather, teacher attrition is analyzed from the perspective of whether teachers find moral value in the kind of work they are asked to perform.
Teaching is an intellectual and moral practice fraught with contradictions, impediments, and challenges both quotidian and extraordinary. Despite the long-standing challenges inherent in teachers’ work, current federal policies in the United States have affected public school teachers and their classrooms in ways previously unimaginable (Kukla-Acevedo 2009, 450–51). This federal oversight affects high-poverty schools most significantly where policies are tied to essential funding and sanctions that include possible reorganization and school closure (Valli and Buese 2007; Valli et al. 2008). Recently, the Los Angeles Times published an investigative report that included the names of individual teachers and their “valued-added” ratings based on the newspaper’s analysis of standardized tests results (“Los Angeles Teacher Ratings” 2010). The New York City Department of Education is currently in a court battle with the city’s teachers’ union as to whether it can release teacher ratings to the press (Otterman 2010). Federal funding mandates require adoption of “scientifically based” instructional strategies that frequently involve curricular materials with scripted lessons that teachers must follow (No Child Left Behind Act [NCLB] 2001). “Fidelity” to the mandated scope and sequence of commercially produced curriculum is often accompanied by school-based administrative oversight that can be as picayune as ensuring uniform standards of bulletin board design. All professions periodically go through periods of crisis, or difficult times, and teaching is in the midst of one now. This article provides new vocabulary to describe a phenomenon made visible in this crisis that is too frequently attributed to the weakness of individual teachers or is accepted fatalistically as a symptom of teaching in high-poverty schools. It renders a conceptual distinction between “burnout” and what the author terms “demoralization.”
Through analysis of research on the moral dimension of teaching and its relation to teacher recruitment, retention, and attrition, a case of one teacher, and philosophical inquiry into the concepts of burnout and demoralization, this article addresses the question: What happens when experienced teachers who are fueled by the moral dimension of teaching find that they can no longer access the moral rewards embedded in the work? The moral rewards of teaching are activated when educators feel that they are doing what is right in terms of one’s students, the teaching profession, and themselves.1 The moral rewards discussed here encompass the moral and ethical dimensions of teaching. The ethical dimension involves teachers pursuing the good life in their professional and personal endeavors. In relation to the ethical, teachers might ask, “How is what I am doing bettering the world or my self?” The moral dimension harnesses sanctioned and prohibited activities. For instance, teachers might wonder, “Is this approach a good method for teaching my class given what I know about best practices?” The ethical and the moral are often intertwined. For instance, violating moral principles (engaging in practices that seem wrong to the practitioner) may affect one’s ethical life (the practitioner may sense a diminishment of his or her goodness as a teacher and a person).2 Although it is impossible to enumerate the goods that could be counted as moral rewards, when teachers find that they can answer in the affirmative to the questions—Is this work worthwhile? Am I engaging in good teaching?—they are reaping the moral rewards of the practice of teaching. How teachers elaborate on why the work is worthwhile and why they are engaging in good teaching may be inflected by personal factors, but the work itself is what makes these rewards available. These rewards are internal to the practice of teaching rather than the possession of individual teachers.3 This article puts forth an argument that the moral rewards embedded in the teaching profession are endangered in these difficult times.
Too often, the inability to access the moral rewards of teaching is misdiagnosed as burnout. This article shows that it is better to conceive of the foreclosure of the moral rewards as demoralization. Although Farber (1984) has used burnout and demoralization synonymously, it is necessary to consider the two phenomena as related but conceptually distinct. As will be examined below, burnout may be an appropriate diagnosis in some cases where individual teachers’ personal resources cannot meet the challenge of the difficulties presented by the work. However, the “burnout” explanation fails to account for situations where the conditions of teaching change so dramatically that the moral rewards, previously available in ever-challenging work, are now inaccessible. In this case, the phenomenon is better termed “demoralization.” Consistent and persistent frustrations in accessing the moral rewards of teaching requires a new concept to describe teachers who feel they no longer can do good work or teach “right.”
Difficult times in a profession provide an opportunity to articulate what is fundamental to the work. Although many researchers have focused on the individual attributes that contribute to teachers’ ability to tolerate the challenges of the profession, fewer have examined how the quality of the work itself—the practice of teaching—affects teacher attrition. Shifting the analysis of teacher attrition from individual teachers’ characteristics (burnout) to the practice of teaching (demoralization) provides a new perspective on teacher retention that relies less on individual teacher psychology and more on an analysis of the state of the profession. It shows that accessing the moral dimension of teaching is not only about cultivating individual teachers’ dispositions toward good work but also structuring the work to enable practitioners to do good within its domain. In this model, teacher attrition does not necessarily reflect a lack of commitment, preparedness, competence, or hardiness on the part of the practitioner. Rather, teacher attrition is analyzed from the perspective of whether teachers find moral value in the actual work they are asked to perform.