I received a somewhat alarming email response last spring. It was a compliment after I encouraged a teacher. I spoke truth about her craft. She had absolutely changed lives in her school last year. She needed to hear it… to let it sink in.
She replied, “You always have a way of making me fall in love with teaching again.”
I’m sharing because it startled me. It’s positive comment on the surface…but it is shrouded in a sad truth: If she, even for a moment, did fall in love with teaching AGAIN, that means that she had fallen out-of-love with her profession.
I don’t know this colleague very well. I had only met her last year, but what a joy it was to watch her teach. She has such a complete respect for her students that it comes out in every interchange. Her words are covered in hope and she looks deeply into the eyes of each child as they try on new learning. She is the kind of teacher who makes you remember your favorite year in school and how it felt to be unconditionally supported and safe.
I simply had no idea that she was struggling – not even a bit.
I know I may be looking too far into one email comment. It simply made me wonder. Then I couldn’t shake the question:
How many of our passionate, skilled educators are slowly falling out of love with teaching?
According to one study, teacher satisfaction declined 23 percentage points from 2008 to 2012, from 62% to 39% who reported that they were very satisfied with their profession. This is the lowest level in 25 years. (https://www.metlife.com/assets/cao/foundation/MetLife-Teacher-Survey-2012.pdf , page 6)
This kind of data makes me curious. Actually, it is quite disappointing at first. But then I choose curiosity. I wonder about the 39% who are still very satisfied with their work as educators. How do they stay in love with teaching, despite the burnout projections?
It makes me go back to the data for more information. The same study found that less satisfied teachers are likely to be in schools with declining budgets, reduced time for professional development and reduced time for collaboration with other teachers. (p. 6)
So teacher morale is impacted by being able to provide students with the needed resources to learn at high levels AND being provided continued opportunities to learn and work with colleagues. These findings confirm that most teachers are devoted to continuous improvement for the benefit of their students. Working closely and creatively with others matters to educators.
Then I wonder about the 39% again. Do the teachers who are very satisfied seek ways to connect and learn together, despite a school’s ability to provide structures for official professional learning and collaboration? I would argue that this is the case for many educators who have found their tribe through social media. Teachers who are creating a professional learning network (PLN) through Twitter are finding consistently positive encouragement and collaboration. The energy is contagious. Some even say it’s breathing new life into their work.
But what about our local colleagues? As someone who has the joy to support teachers, it is a personal goal to speak up about their positive impact whenever possible. I try to notice and name their exact craft moves, shining a light on their teaching and naming how it impacts learners.
Earlier in the year I had visited the teacher from the beginning of this post. After an hour with her and her students, I left her a note on her computer keyboard. I often try to be very specific in feedback like this. This is not evaluative but closer to a letter from a friend. It is all about gratitude.
I try to follow the structure of a “compliment conference” but I also refrain from sounding pedantic. I am not my colleague’s teacher. I am a peer naming the truth that I have witnessed, from the lens of the learners in her class. My goal is simply to be a mirror when I write these notes. I count it a sacred honor to speak the truth in these little cards.
As educators, we got into this work because we love kids. We stay in this because we know we are still making positive impacts on lives. When someone we know is not living fully in that knowledge, how will we specifically notice and name her impact? It takes a few minutes, but it could be the nudge to remind her of her love again.
What about you?
How do you support and sustain yourself and your colleagues?
What goals might we set for ourselves as we enter this new year?
~ For me, I think it’s time to buy a new set of notecards for my bag. ~