Classroom as Microcosm

Siobhan Curious on Open Salon
MARCH 15, 2012 9:09AM

Burnout vs. Demoralization

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Are you burnt out?  Or are you demoralized?

A colleague passed this on to me yesterday, and it fits nicely with my series on teacher burnout that wrapped up last week:  sometimes what we call burnout is actually demoralization. The difference is in the cause.

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?

Image by BlueGum

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