Once a teacher, suffering from battle fatigue, reaches the tipping point on the depression scale, and there are few if any administrators able, or willing, to provide them with support, it is especially discouraging to hear about the new crop of Teach for America recruits who are arriving in droves with idealism!
To hear the ed. reformers talk, idealism is all that is needed to manage a classroom. They know how to use that word to demoralize real teachers who are low on the idealism scale. The fact is, teaching takes a whole lot more than idealism, and when the Teach for America types figure that out, they are ready to move on.
Idealism is important to teachers, and most start their professions with plenty of it. And then a whole lot of problems crop up that can get in a teacher’s way of doing a good job. Idealism begins to fade. Teachers burn out. Teacher morale has never been addressed well, if at all. Consider how teachers are treated. Here are just a few reminders of what drives teachers to become less enthusiast about their positions. If I have left some out please let me know.
- Teachers work long hours, often with few breaks and way past the end of the school day.
- Teachers are paid little and often struggle to make ends meet during the year and especially over the summer.
- Teachers are currently forced to administer tests they know are wrong for the students or they risk losing their jobs.
- Sometimes teachers lack parental support.
- The media often criticizes teachers and the general public might condemn them as well.
- The teaching profession is no longer respected.
- Teachers today lack control over what and how they teach.
- Teachers know what they are being made to teach might not work, but they fear they will lose their jobs if they speak out.
- The media sometimes publishes the teacher’s student test scores. How does that work when students have learning disabilities?
- Students with special needs might be “included” in the regular class, but the teacher needs more assistance to provide them with the help they require.
- Second language students who do not understand English show up also needing extra assistance.
- Teachers might be forced to take inservice that serves no purpose and wastes valuable time.
- Or, teachers take inservice about the technology that will be used to replace them.
- The principal of the school might not be supportive of teachers.
- The school district administrators could be far-removed from the problems facing teachers at their schools, and they lack understanding.
- The school board might be run by outsiders who foist their ideology on the district schools.
- Teachers usually have no control over the insurmountable problems a child might face at home.
- Teachers might work in inadequate, even dangerous, facilities. Some studies show teachers would rather have less pay than work in rundown schools.
- A school may lack resources. Have you ever tried teaching 40 kids with only 20 books?
- Students who require psychiatric help might show up in class—they scare the teacher and the other students.
- The class could revolve around the behavior of a few students who act out, and the school might not offer support.
- There probably are fewer counselors to assist teachers with student difficulties, or the counselor is too busy working on getting students into college and test administration.
- Teachers might fear their school will arbitrarily close to make way for charter schools. When they are made to reapply they won’t be hired.
- A school district may judge a teacher’s performance based on unfair test scores.
And it is especially revolting to hear that Teach for America recruits have the kind of idealism that a teacher once had. TFA arrive at their school replacing teachers whose students didn’t do well on the test. TFA then knock on the veteran teacher’s door asking for help, because we all know idealism only goes so far when it bumps up to reality. Career teachers provide that help because ultimately they know it is best for the students.
These fresh, excited TFA recruits are willing to take on the world, and they have the backing of everyone, including the oligarchs who love school reform and the media, who not only praise their jubilance, but scorn the career teacher. They blame the veteran teacher for their lethargic attempt to survive the day-to-day challenges, or roadblocks, that they face as teachers.
Now, the dirty little secret, most of us know is that the idealistic new teachers don’t usually last too long. They either burn out themselves, after a year or two, three if they are lucky, and they move on. They either get shiny new careers in what they originally studied, with help from nice Americorp college support and/or loan forebearance, or, they might move on to educational administrative jobs where they can continue to promote the message of idealism and hold it over the poor burned-out teachers’ heads, if there are any real teachers left standing, struggling down at the classroom level.
If they are still employed, the burned-out career teacher stays back in the classroom, despite the continuing drone they hear about how they aren’t effective at what they do. Or they quit teaching because they can’t stand what the reforms are doing to the students. And a revolving crop of new, idealistic wonder teachers show up at the school with smiles and enthusiasm that they will change the course of schooling in their three year placement.
Idealism. A never-ending revolving group of faux teachers with “expert” unfairly attached to their name—before they give up or move on. Real teachers are idealistic when supported and respected, and they stay teachers because they really care about the students.