Education Policies Erode Moral Rewards of Teaching, Says Prof

Originally posted: February 8, 2012

santoroBowdoin Assistant Professor of Education Doris Santoro recently was interviewed by NEA Today about her provocative new article in the American Journal of Education about the demoralization of teaching.

Santoro argues that many teachers are finding it difficult to experience the “moral rewards” of their profession in a new era of rigid curricula, high-stakes testing and reduced classroom autonomy.

In the interview, Santoro makes a distinction between “burnout,” in which teachers fail to conserve their personal cache of resources, and the demoralization that occurs when the moral rewards of teaching erode.

“Demoralization occurs when the job changes to such a degree that what teachers previously found ‘good’ about their work is no longer available,” she says.

“Examples of policies that may demoralize teachers are scripted lessons that divest teachers of using their talents in planning, mandated curriculum that allows no space for teachers to respond to students’ academic needs and interests, and testing practices that make teachers feel complicit in doing harm to their students,” Santoro observes.

These policies, in turn, lead to feelings of frustration and hopelessness that are too often misdiagnosed as “teacher burnout,” she says.

“Demoralization is not a personal problem, so it cannot be avoided individually,” says Santoro. “Teachers can ask themselves, colleagues, school leaders, policy makers, parents, whoever will listen: How are we able to access the moral rewards of our work? What do we need to do to ‘remoralize’ our teaching?”

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