Sunday, November 1, 2009

Idealistic, Content, Disheartened? (Or Burnt Out?)

"I don't know whether I believe in teacher burn out," my college supervisor Hilda A. Kring, Ph.D. said to me more than twenty years ago. She called herself a "realistic idealist" when it came to most matters, including the topic at hand. One of her proteges, I would say the same of myself, and as for her comment, ditto.

A recent comment by a reader prompted my consideration about this idea of "burnout." He suggested that I get out of teacher if I'm burnt out. Agreed, but I'm still not sure about the idea of burnout. (And if you're wondering, I don't think I am nor in denial.)

While I was thinking about this, I see a recent study by the Public Agenda has released a report on a related topic: Teaching for a Living: How Teachers See the Profession Today. The study sheds light on what makes teachers feel valued and less likely to quit. It mentions things like:
  • offering career paths in education,

  • ensuring technology is available to aid instruction,

  • and increasing teacher salaries to levels of other professional jobs such as lawyers and doctors.
More interesting to me, the study separates the 890 teachers surveyed into three groups: contended, disheartened, and idealists. When I heard the three monikers, I instantly thought this made sense. Don't we fall into one of the three categories?
Well, in the study 40% fell into the disheartened category, 37% contented, and 23% idealist.
I've already tipped my hand. You know I fall in to the minority--which brings me back to my wondering if there is burnout. Maybe there is such a thing--and dishearteneds are the best ones to ask about it, 77% of those studied who have been teaching for more than 10 years. But this realistic idealist can't see it.
Although I'm "way older" than most idealists teachers recorded in the study (77% of idealists identified by the study are Gen. Y'ers with fewer than 10 years in the classroom), I'll find a path for my career (36% of idealist teachers said this would be in education but outside of the classroom for them), a way to get the tech, and take whatever raise my union can muster.

1 comment:

Catherine Euston said...

Having taught for 13 years, I've thought a lot about the topic of teacher burnout, and the conclusion I've come to is that it's not as simple as placing teachers in a category--you're either an idealist, a realist, a burnout, etc. Any teacher, I think, who has been in the profession long enough flows between these categories.

It's easy for someone to say to a teacher, get out if you've lost your zest, but if we all left when we were overtaken by a sense of burnout, there'd be nobody left.

The truth is, depending on the state of our current school--how well its run, how much support teachers receive, class sizes, parent support, etc., our attitudes about teaching will change.

The other truth is that teaching is a much more difficult profession than outsiders realize, that is if we take it seriously, make efforts to constantly improve, experiment, learn, and grow. Teachers are forever battling the balance between work and home--how much can I give to the classroom and still have something left for my family?

Perhaps I'm wrong, but it seems to me that we ought not separate ourselves into the good guys who don't burn out and the bad guys who do. Rather, let us provide a network of support and an atmosphere of understanding that we need to weather the ebb and flow that naturally occurs for all of us. If we show a lack of compassion for one another, how can we ever expect society to?