Ask a handful of teachers why they chose the field of education, and you'll quickly hear a variety of personal stories of discovery - the influence of a life-changing teacher they had as a student, a desire to impact the lives of youth through education, and the list goes on. Aside from congruence, or compatibility, between the individual's strengths and interests with the job requirements and workplace environment, what contributes to the long-term professional success and fulfillment of teachers? What distinguishes teachers who burnout professionally from those who overcome adversity and maintain passion for the profession?
It just so happens that I am married to a teacher, which means I am privileged to hear a firsthand account of the joys and challenges that accompany the day-to-day experience of the profession. I asked him to reflect on this question from his nearly eight-year tenure. His response is best summed up in a question: What are you in it for?
According to him, two types of teachers are more susceptible to burnout: those who put too much stock in current teaching methods and those whose true passion is in the content they teach. Yes, these are critical aspects of teaching. Supporting and implementing the methods used by your employing district is certainly an important and necessary goal. In fact, this often requires a substantial amount of work and time. Teachers pour themselves into perfecting the methods of delivering education ... and then they change. Teaching methods may change to reflect new trends, research findings and evolving student demographics. This requires flexibility and a willingness to meet new challenges and roll with the punches. In addition, some teachers choose the profession based primarily on a passion for their content area. They quickly experience frustration when their students fail to appreciate something about which they are so passionate. This continual frustration is a tried and true recipe for burnout.
In his experience and observation, the heart of good, sustainable teaching lies in serving students and their diverse developmental needs. While it's critical for learning outcomes and daily "to-do's" to be met with quality and intentionality, from this teacher's perspective, the most fulfilled teachers seem to care more about the lives and growth of students than the art of teaching or their subject matter. In many ways, this is a nuanced, intangible quality that isn't easily measured by existing metrics. However, if this is a priority, teachers are more easily able to manage their expectations and self-interests in other areas.
Ask your teaching mentors about their secrets to long-term professional success and fulfillment.
Christy Hanson, Director of Career Development