Opinion
Education Opinion

Slave, Masochist, or Just a Teacher Burning Out

By Marilyn Rhames — December 24, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This is a follow-up post originally published on Dec. 19, 2012 on the Education Week Teacher blog “Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable.” Please Click here to read what other panelists have to say about teacher retention, and add your voice to the discussion on how to stop teaching’s “revolving door.”

Slave. Masochist. These are the words two teachers used to describe themselves at the end of a school day last week.

“I don’t know why anyone would want this job—I have no life,” one teacher said.

“We seriously love pain, that’s why we do it,” added the other, stretching her body across a group of desks as if it were a bed.

Their words, though tongue in cheek, echoed in my ears. These are strong, hardworking teachers. They come to school an hour before it starts and leave two hours after it’s over. They have master’s degrees and hefty student loans that seem to never go away.

It’s clear that they love their students. Still, I wonder how much longer they will work in the classroom. They work so much that they put their health at risk, not getting enough sleep, not participating in enough self-care. Why? Because the needs of the classroom are so great, and if they don’t step up to the plate to help their students learn, then who will? Luckily for them, they work in a school where almost everybody is working just as hard, and knowing that somehow eases the pressure ... a little.

Will these teachers still be in the classroom in 10 years? Probably not. I imagine they will be working in administration or consulting or in policy or in nonprofit work. With experience, the three-to-seven-year span, they are not brand new to the profession but not exactly veterans, either. They haven’t started a family yet and are always amazed that I am doing the same job with two children to raise.

The expectations for teacher performance continues to rise as students get needier. It takes hours outside of the classroom to even get close to meeting those expectations. So we work and work and work—in the middle of the night, on holidays, and on weekends. That’s what “highly effective” teachers do.

I wrote in my last post that a good principal can keep teachers in the classroom longer than they thought they would stay. I truly believe that. But even with the support of a great principal, the question remains: How long can a good teacher continue to live like this? What is the ideal number of years? A life-long career or just for a season?

One way to minimize teacher turnover would be to add a co-teacher, or at least an assistant—I’ll even take a part-time assistant!—to every classroom. Yes, this would be an expensive fix, but it would be an effective one. If we are serious about stopping the “revolving door,” we will have to put our money where our mouth is by giving teachers adequate support.

The multifaceted role of a highly effective teacher has become too weighty for just one person. I’ve had an assistant in the past—someone to help grade papers, make phone calls home, make my copies and posters, pull small groups for re-teaching—and it freed me up to do the heavy intellectual work of differentiation, data analysis, and curriculum planning. I am all for having high expectations and accountability for teachers, but only if there are the necessary supports in place.

Those two teachers are not slaves or masochists, though they feel like them at times. They are talented teachers who care deeply for students and are on the verge of burning out. Sometimes, one must look closely to see the difference.

The opinions expressed in Charting My Own Course are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP
Education Massachusetts National Guard to Help With Busing Students to School
250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans, as districts nationwide struggle to hire enough drivers.
1 min read
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass.
Michael Dwyer/AP