Thursday, October 22, 2009

Disheartened, Contented or Idealists

I just read an article State of Mind from Education Week that talks about a study showing educators falling into three categories: Disheartened, Contented or Idealists. Only 37% of the educators studied were contented. I think that as educators we fall into all three of those categories at different times in our career. I’m afraid this article will discourage many new educators from continuing in their career. Why would I want to stay in a career where I had a only a small chance of being contented? We need to let new educators know that these are stages that experienced educators go through often in their careers and that it is natural. We need to let new educators know how to move on to a different stage rather than being stuck in one without hope of moving on.

There were many times I have felt disheartened in my classroom. Whenever I was overwhelmed with paperwork or new policies as well as new special education regulations, I would feel disheartened. But like real life, there will always be ups and downs. I don’t think that this is just particular for educators but I think this happens in every career choice. I believe that it makes your choice of career interesting and not stagnant. When I felt disheartened, I talked with others and tried to find inspiration to come out of this feeling. Everyone shouldn’t be so worried that educators feel disheartened as much as worried that educators don’t have the necessary tools to overcome this feeling.

Being an Idealist is a good thing as long as there is balance. Being a Don Quixote in the education world could be pretty misleading to our students. Yet, teaching them to dream big, think big, and hope big is not necessarily a bad thing. Years ago, I’m sure that many people thought inventors were idealists but imagine our lives if someone hadn’t invented indoor plumbing, automobiles, cell phones, or even computers. I believe someone had to inspire and motivate an inventor so why not a teacher? I have been an idealist when I have had a great idea for a new lesson that I wanted to try in my class. I remember when I first learned about vermiculture (worm composting) and I had big ideas for composting all of the food scraps from our school cafeteria. We set up a system in our classroom but then I found out that the cafeteria wasn’t allowed to give me the food scraps (something about the health laws prohibited this). So we had to revise our ideas and instead had to settle for a smaller system than we hoped for.

Being contented is good too but I’m afraid that it would leave me complacent. Would I strive to do better? Would I struggle to be a better teacher or would I become stagnant, which could lead me to feeling disheartened? I have felt contented though when my students were being successful, no parent was mad at me at that particular time, and my administration felt I was doing a good job. Unfortunately I was not contented for long because then I would move on to either being disheartened or an idealist when I tried new strategies in my classroom.

I am currently reading a great book called Educating Esme – Diary of a Teacher’s First Year by Esme Raji Codell which is fantastic to read. As I read, I have seen her go through all three of these stages but she does not give up. If you have a chance to read this book, I highly recommend it. During her first year of teaching, Esme has wonderful ideas but faces of wall of skepticism from her fellow teachers. Even though the administration doesn’t seem to support her, she makes a difference in her students’ lives. I can’t wait to read more!

The article goes on to state,

“The characteristics and specific views of each group raise important questions for the field. Are the Idealists the best prospects for high-needs schools and for reinvigorating the profession, and what do school leaders need to do to retain them in the field? Given the Idealists’ passion for improving their students’ lives, how can administrators ensure that they have the skills and support to fulfill that goal? More than a third of Idealists voiced a desire to move eventually into other jobs in education. How does the field respond to those aspirations? The Disheartened pose a different challenge. Some may be ill-fitted to the job and ready to move on, but how should the field encourage and support their transition? Others may be good teachers trapped in dysfunctional schools and, in the right environment, might change their views and become Idealists.”

Maybe educators need to stop on a regular basis and reflect on where they are at that point. I think this would be great for professional development or a faculty meeting. Have teachers figure out which category they fit in at that particular time. Then have them get in groups where each group has one of each category and have them discuss why they feel this way. Maybe this is one way that educators can support each other. Sometimes we don’t necessarily want solutions but instead we just want someone to listen. Maybe someone will come up with an idea that becomes a solution but if we don’t give people time to connect, we are doing educators a disservice by ignoring that these phases exist. If the administration allows this time for connecting, they would be showing that they value their teachers and are concerned about their feelings. This might be a way to encourage teachers to stay in the field. For those that stay disheartened and never move on to another stage, they may realize by reflecting and talking with others, that this career is not for them. For those that move to different stages, they may realize that it is okay to feel this way and that it is only temporary. I think this would be a successful way to encourage teachers and show them that they are valued.

What do you think? Do you have any suggestions or answers to the articles questions? Please share.

Original image: 'The Portland Nonprofit Career Fair'


Tamara Padfield said...

I feel like this blog can be very meaningful to educators in the field. Knowing that it's natural to go through all three stages helps us to know that we can't be content all the time! I think I might share this post with some first year teachers! We need to support them the most, because our jobs as educators is not easy.

Philip said...

Actually 37% seems, at first glance, a reasonable figure. How this number compares against other professions would tell us more.