December 11, 2019

Many frustrated teachers say it’s not burnout — it’s demoralization

A few years ago, Chrissy Romano-Arribito began to experience something that may sound familiar to a lot of teachers: burnout. Or not burnout, exactly, but demoralization.

Romano-Arribito is an EdSurge columnist and has spent about 27 years in the classroom teaching everything from first grade to middle school in her home state of New Jersey. But while teaching middle school a few years ago, she began to feel the squeeze from high stakes testing, administrator turnover and battles over curriculum scripting. It was making it hard for her to do good work. Worse, it began sapping her love of teaching.

“I did get to a point where I saw that the kids were coming in and their love of reading and writing was just slowly going out the door,” she says. “They were just coming in and sitting down, reluctantly opening up their books. But I felt the same way.”

Experts like Bowdoin College education chair Doris Santoro, author of the book “Demoralized,” define the concept in moral terms. According to Santoro, almost all teachers have moral reasons for getting into the profession. But systemic pressures, such as top-down initiatives or punitive evaluation systems, can deplete teacher autonomy. As a result, teachers may feel they can no longer tap into what “makes their work morally good,” she says. They can start to feel frustrated or ashamed of the work they’re doing.

In short, they no longer feel like they can be good teachers.

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