At the beginning of the new school year, some of us feel refreshed and eager; others, not so much. If you’re filled with dread at the thought of vacation’s end (not the ordinary oh-I-wish-I-could-read-novels-on-the-deck-forever dread, but the more acute why-am-I-doing-this-with-my-life dread), then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate: is teaching really what you want to do?
For a while, I wasn’t sure. I started this blog as a tool to help me wrestle with this question. Seven years later, I’m still teaching, but my perspective on the profession has changed.
In 2009, Sarah Ebner, then of the Times UK’s School Gate blog, asked me to write a series of guest posts; I chose to write about my journey through burnout and out the other side. A few years later, she gave my permission to re-print those posts here on Classroom as Microcosm, and those posts are among the most shared in CaM’s seven-year history. I collected them on this page; you will also find the links below.
Are you burnt out? Demoralized? So was I. I did some stuff. It helped. Now I love my job again. Maybe you can too!
I have been lucky enough to work mostly in contexts that value and support good teaching and effective learning. Recently, though, there have been some administrative developments at our college that prioritize bean-counting over student achievement and teacher sanity. So far, resistance has been strong, and no sweeping changes have been made, but it is possible that, within a year or so, we will be inundated with a lot of time-consuming paperwork in a perhaps futile attempt to keep our remedial English classes to a manageable size. If this happens, I can foresee serious consequences for our morale. And even now, before any concrete changes have manifested, there is tension and hostility between administrators and teachers the likes of which I haven’t seen at the college before. This is definitely demoralizing, and threatens to be much more so.
I hear a lot of stories from teachers who are, not burnt out by the real demands of teaching, but demoralized by the conditions they have to battle against. Doris Santoro (in the article linked above) describes demoralization as follows:
Demoralization occurs when the job changes to such a degree that what teachers previously found “good” about their work is no longer available. Moral rewards are what bring many of us to teaching: finding ways to connect meaningfully with students, designing lessons that address students’ needs, using our talents to improve the lives of others. [Demoralization] is a sense that the moral dimension of the work is taken away by policy mandates that affect [our] teaching directly.
I would be interested to know about your experiences of demoralization in your job, whether it be teaching or something else. In particular, I’d love to know how you’ve successfully battled demoralization. Have you triumphed over policies or infrastructures that were compromising your ability to do your job? Or have you learned to adapt, or adapt to, such policies to meet your needs? Have you ever left a job because it demoralized you so that there was no turning back?
I’ve received some comments and missives recently from discouraged teachers who have stumbled upon my blog and have found it helpful. This makes me very happy. However, there’s a place I want to send them, and I can’t. So I’m going to try to fix this problem.
A few years ago, I published a series of posts called “How I Saved My Teaching Career” in the TimesOnline’s education blog, School Gate. Those posts have long since disappeared behind a paywall, and so I am no longer able to link you to them, or to send teachers to consult them in hopes of alleviating their burnout hell.
Sarah Ebner, the lovely and generous editor of School Gate (which is still alive and kicking if you have a Times subscription), has given me permission to repost “How I Saved My Teaching Career” here on Classroom as Microcosm. Accordingly, over the next four weeks or so, I will present you with a revised version of that 8-part series, in which I outline my journey: miserable teacher on the brink of quitting to rejuvenated teacher full of inspiration and hope. (That’s what the movie trailer would look like, anyhow.)
Monday will bring you a brief introduction, and will be followed by posts on curing burnout in seven not-so-easy steps.
STEP 1: Take stock. Is it worth it to stay?
STEP 2: Take time off.
STEP 3: Find and appreciate your (educational and other) community.
STEP 4: Face your fears.
STEP 5: Keep learning: get more training.
STEP 6: Take up meditation (or another contemplative practice).
STEP 7: Start a blog.
I hope that those who haven’t read these will find some solace and support in them somewhere. And if you were around in 2009 when they were first launched, I hope revisiting them in their updated form will remind you of some of the things that I find I often need reminding of!
In the meantime, I would love to hear from any of you, either now or along the way, about moments you’ve felt that teaching was too hard to be worth it. What did you do to get past that feeling? Or did you decide that teaching was no longer for you? I’d love to hear your stories.