A recent article in NEA Today, a publication that I confess to rarely reading, draws an important distinction between teacher burnout and demoralization. I suspect that much of what is uncharitably chalked off to burnout is upon closer examination better understood as demoralization. Burnout we learn is when one is overwhelmed by the demands of his teaching assignment, his psychic resources used up, when the job sucks the marrow out of one’s bones. Demoralization, while often carrying with it the same symptoms of fatigue, depression, anger etc., stems from an erosion of the pleasure one gets from his work, when what the article refers to as the “moral rewards” of the job are no longer attainable.
The remedy for burnout is a psycho-therapeutic regime of some kind. While this article in a union newspaper ironically doesn’t offer a remedy for demoralization, it seems to me the clear magic bullet is power, power to control one’s work, to collaboratively make decisions about what constitutes the good practice of teaching. That power is what unions have historically offered.
Either our teacher unions will stand up to those who are demoralizing our nation’s teachers by increasingly mechanizing their work with corporate developed programs and technology, or the moral rewards of a teaching career will continue to vanish. Just this morning, I have spoken to two more teachers who are seriously talking about packing in their distinguished careers because they don’t recognize themselves in their own classrooms anymore. “I don’t feel like a teacher any more.” And that’s happening in a school district with a union that continues to fight back. Imagine what’s happening in too many other places.