This is the weekend edition of Culture Study — the newsletter from Anne Helen Petersen, which you can read about here. If you like it and want more like it in your inbox, consider subscribing. “Demoralization occurs when teachers cannot reap the moral rewards that they previously were able to access in their work. It happens when teachers are consistently thwarted in their ability to enact the values that brought them to the profession.”
Gut-wrenching read, and yet an articulation of problems we have known existed for a long time. There are so many layers and levels of why we keep failing to address them, and I am perennially confused as to why parents are so ready to blame teachers for a whole crop of problems yet so unwilling to get involved in state-level education policy and/or create a massive movement for fully funding public education--stop penalizing teachers and kids for stupid standardized tests, and start giving them the money they need to actually support public education's ability to thrive.
The only complaint I could hand to my kids' school district this entire time was their insistence on continuing to administer all standardized tests (including horribly designed snapshot ones like STAR, which aren't even required for Common Core) throughout this time, including last spring when everything was still new and shocking and an everyday scramble. Other than that, the district has done an incredible job with what they've had and wouldn't want to be in any of their positions.
This is just heartbreaking to read, but something I've been hearing from the people I know who are teachers. The entire system is broken, badly, and was even before the pandemic. Returning to the status quo and sweeping everything back under the rug while the pandemic still rages isn't doing anybody any favors - yay capitalism? Not yay. A similar thing is happening amongst library workers across the country who are also undervalued and viewed as expendable, and are being pushed to reopen (or worse, never closed in some cases). Thank you for naming it - demoralized. Career change seems like the only way out for so many people, and that's not an easy thing to do.
It breaks my heart to see how these demoralized these dedicated teachers are, although I certainly can’t fault them for feeling that way. I was really struck by Doris Santoro’s comment that teaching has become “a less compelling career choice for people who are motivated by contributing to their communities, engaging meaningfully with young people, or sharing the beauty of their subject matter.” That is such an incredible loss for our country, but a very real one: at several points in my life I have considered going back to school to get my teaching certificate, as I love history and I love teaching kids, but I know far too much about the realities of our current educational system and I hesitate every time.
The distinction you draw between burnout and demoralization is an important one, I think, especially as we’re seeing so much of the latter in so many fields: teaching, health care, child care, elder care, you name it. Anne Murphy mentioned librarians below, and I would also add arts workers to that list: so many of my colleagues are incredibly disillusioned both with our field’s leadership and our society’s complete indifference to the economic devastation throughout the industry. The fact that most of these fields are dominated by women is probably not a coincidence.
I’ve been disappointed to see so many ostensibly liberal people with significant platforms engaging in teacher-bashing: they could have been vocal advocates for giving schools what they need, both now and in the future, but instead they keep blaming teachers for everything that’s gone wrong during the pandemic, from slow job growth to children’s mental health. It’s nothing new, but that’s doesn’t stop it from being highly frustrating.
Thank you so much for this piece.
The history of the right-wing attacks on our schools, teachers, and students dates back to the Brown v. Board decision, with the capitalist class coming on board after the Ronald Reagan years. Our most recent attacks on these public institutions have come from Bill Gates and the Wal-Mart Family Foundation, who have perfected the strip-mining of our children's educations through very profitable charter school companies. Veronica touches on this, but it's worth pulling the string a little further. In order for this to work, parents have to be convinced that there are problems with our public school systems and that those systems aren't worth fixing. The biggest obstacle to these capitalist machinations are unions, but this also means attacking public school teachers as a whole to the marked detriment of the children. And in places without teacher's unions? That attack falls squarely on the shoulders of teachers who are already having to navigate a multitude of Herculean tasks.
Tldr; it doesn't have to be this way, and shame on the people who are doing this to our teachers, students, and families.
I didn’t start following this Substack until just recently, but happening upon this article and realizing nothing has changed in the past two years in the realm of K-12 education has made me realize just how demoralizing the current situation is for educators.
The point where I knew I was at a breaking point came about two weeks ago. We had a snowstorm. It was bad enough to mess up the roads, but not bad enough to cancel school.
I ended up in the following social media exchange, roughly outlined.
Facebook Friend (FF): My boss just said I can work remotely tomorrow due to the snow.
Me: I’m hoping I get a snow day tomorrow. I’m really behind at work and I’m hoping to catch up just a bit.
FF: I have two important conference calls tomorrow. I’m hoping school stays open. Do you know how hard conference calls are with a second grader around?
Me: It sounds like the roads will be terrible. Aren’t you worried about getting your kid to school?
FF: No. The school is two blocks away.
Me: What about the staff? They need to get to school.
FF: They’ll be fine. They’re adults.
Me: But you are working from home tomorrow due to the roads. I think it’s really selfish to want others put themselves at risk for your benefit.
This whole exchange highlights one of the harsh truths about teaching in a COVID world. Many people literally demand that others put themselves at risk just for the sake of convenience. There’s a contingent of parents who don’t seem to care if their kid’s teacher gets very sick from COVID, or ends up in a ditch driving to work in a blizzard as long as they aren’t inconvenienced by a disruption of schooling.
One of the grossest feeling of teaching in person during the 2020-2021 school year was the idea that I was at risk for the convenience of others. I can’t seem to shake how awful that feeling was.
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Amused by the Cocaine Chic article because now instead of Millennials being nostalgic for childhood in the 80s we're nostalgic for adulthood in the 80s, but, like, ironically because of course.