Disengaged Students, Part 19: Lack of Support for Teachers

In this 20-part series, I explore the root causes and effects of academic disengagement in K-12 learners and explore the factors driving American society ever closer to being a nation that lacks intellectualism, or the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

New teachers enter the job with a certain amount of naive enthusiasm.  Experience discourages them rapidly. This is likely true to some degree in every profession, but teachers seem particularly vulnerable to burnout. Compare the attitude of first-year teachers to that of teachers who have put in two or more decades on the job. Perhaps you know people in both groups firsthand. The veteran teachers are likely to lack enthusiasm.  Even if they have a little excitement left, they have generally stopped voicing new ideas or looking for ways to innovate their classrooms and schools. Some of this is the natural consequence of time and fatigue which take their toll on people in every career. But this weariness is intensified by working in a highly demanding job that comes with little support and with much adversity caused by students, parents, administrators and the community at large.

Under Appreciation of Teachers Underestimated

If you think that it is inaccurate for teachers to be painted as martyrs, consider these facts. The National Center for Education Statistics found that the average teacher’s salary was only 3 percent higher in the 2010-2011 school year than it was in 1990-1991. At the end of the 2012 school year, the number of days teachers took for stress-related time off was 10 percent higher than four years earlier. American teachers make only 67 to 72 percent of what a person with a bachelor’s degree should make over the course of a career.

Some professions may be able to implement measurable and reasonable benchmarks for higher compensation. Teaching has too many intangible outcomes that are not valued by the cut-and-dry American policymakers and public. While teachers who demand better working conditions and pay are often portrayed as greedy or uncaring, most educators say that their gripes are not about their paychecks per se but about the value society places on their work. In a culture that shows appreciation through financial rewards, teachers are clearly undervalued.

Teaching Performance and Pay

This issue is further complicated when pay-for-performance rules are implemented. Such rubrics compromise the teaching experience.  They reward teachers for teaching to standardized tests instead of encouraging critical thinking skills that provide a long-term foundation for educational betterment. Performance-based incentives for educators are flawed because they turn students into assets that have an impact on the earning potential of teachers.

Teachers need accountability, but their work rightly includes many immeasurable goals of that fall outside of testable material. All occupations have their own forms of review and feedback, but the constant testing culture of contemporary education leaves many teachers feeling inadequate and under-appreciated.

For teachers to truly lead students out of a state of academic disengagement and into a state of thirst for knowledge, they need to believe that there are people who believe in the value of their vocation. It’s always been understood that children may not naturally cling to intellectual initiatives but if enough adults in their lives do, it can have positive results when it comes to academic engagement. It is a teacher’s job to impart an academic rigor and a love of learning which go far beyond outcomes which can be measured on a standardized test.  Without encouragement from outside forces, that job becomes nearly impossible.


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