"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Surviving Demoralization

There's a crisis in education...and it's not that schools are failing. The crisis is the damage caused to public education and public school teachers by federal and state education policies resulting in a shortage of qualified teachers and teacher candidates.

Why are young adults hesitant to enter Education? Why do teachers quit?

Around half of all teachers quit within their first 5 years. The reasons they give are varied (see also HERE).
  • difficulties with the administration and/or lack of support
  • unreasonable workloads
  • poor working conditions
  • too much responsibility for student achievement (tests) and/or too much testing
  • Lack of satisfaction with teaching
  • Low salary
  • student discipline
The most common reason by percentage for teachers leaving the profession is lack of job satisfaction. How did it happen that in a career where job satisfaction has always been high has it suddenly changed...and the very satisfaction which teachers gave as the reason they continued to work for low pay and long hours is now the reason teachers are leaving?

I used to think it was burn-out...a common enough occurrence under normal circumstances. Teaching is high stress. Students come from varied backgrounds and discipline can be difficult for a lot of teachers. Excessive paperwork, high workloads and demands on a teacher's time have always been part of the job. However, there has been a fundamental change in what it means to be a teacher over the last two decades. It's not just burn-out. It's wide-spread low morale.

Teachers are tired of being bullied by administration, corporate reformers and the media. Teachers' professionalism is patronized, ignored or denied. Legitimate reasons for low achievement are denied and called excuses. Teachers unions are being blamed for the low achievement in high poverty schools (not to mention the current economic crisis). The external pressures on teachers, which used to be minimal are now overwhelming.

In How Bad Education Policies Demoralize Teachers by John Rosales, we read how external pressures from the so-called "reform" movement are demoralizing teachers.
...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...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...the work of teaching has changed and it is therefore up to school communities and policymakers to help restore the “moral rewards” of teaching.
It's not burn-out. Burn-out is personal. Demoralization is systemic.
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.
Demoralization is the reason for the lack of job satisfaction. Teachers are told how to teach in a micromanaged system not experienced in any other profession...a system being promoted by people who have little or no expertise in the field of education...a system increasingly funded and controlled by billionaires and "edupreneurs" looking for a way to profit by sucking the money out of the public schools.

So teachers are left unable to do their jobs because they are being restricted, watched, and followed at every turn. It's no surprise that morale is low...and teachers, sometimes the best teachers, are leaving.

Articles dealing with how to survive the current de-professionalization of the teaching profession and destruction of the public schools abound, such as Fighting the Stress of Teaching to the Test.
Legislation like NCLB has raised the stakes for testing, potentially tying student performance to teacher salaries and job stability, and dictating what teachers teach.

This lack of control over their professional lives, their classrooms, and the test scores of their students has teachers unnerved. McCloy, a principal staff scientist for the Human Resources Research Organization in Louisville, Kentucky, notes that because feeling a lack of control is a major stress factor, it is predictable that teachers would be experiencing high stress levels.
What should teachers do who are fighting demoralization?
The NEA Health Information Network (HIN) website recommends a number of steps to take to fight stress—be physically active, eat healthy food, avoid overusing alcohol or other drugs, and practice relaxation exercise.

The American Psychological Association offers tips on stress reduction for new teachers (PDF, 1.4 MB, 3 pgs.), while the U.S. Health and Human Services website offers a “Quick Guide to Healthy Living.”

Most educators know the basics of a healthy diet—eat lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. But during times of stress it’s all too easy to turn to fast food or comfort food that is high calorie and high fat, says Ruth Frechman, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
I have some additional ideas...
  • end the privatization of the public schools
  • stop the de-professionalization of teachers
  • let teachers do their jobs

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