Yes, Teachers Do Need Freedom, But Few Feel They Have It

I just read an excellent article by Ashley Lamb-Sinclair in The Atlantic. It is entitled, “Why Teachers Need Their Freedom,” and she describes how she and her co-teacher used some of the techniques offered in a book called Teaching Content Outrageously by Stanley Pogrow. I applaud Ashley for being willing to take a risk. I am sure her students enjoyed the lesson that she described in the article, and I do not doubt that engaging them differently make an impact.

I agree wholeheartedly with the premise that teachers need their freedom when it comes to deciding how to teach effectively. They have been trained, after all, to do just that. The dilemma, of course, is that few teachers feel they have any freedom or autonomy at all.

For them to feel “free,” they would have to break the chains of restraint that most districts are imposing upon them.

 

I talk to teachers every day who feel the restrictions upon them in such a way that they feel chained–strangled, even–by the uncompromising demands made by their administrators.

I have to wonder if Ashley and her co-teacher would have used the lesson described in her article if it had been a day that they were being observed by the principal for evaluation. Perhaps they would have. It would have been instructive for the administrator to see, but somehow I doubt that they would have felt the “freedom” to be that innovative on observation day. I hope I am wrong about that. But even though they might have been bold enough to offer that lesson for administrative observation, I know many teachers who wouldn’t feel that kind of confidence.

In fact, the teachers who call me are talking increasingly about their profound sense of burnout with their jobs. They talk about feeling overly restricted by the demands of the administration to comply with rules that don’t make a lot of sense to them.

Just this week, a teacher who cares deeply about her students said to me, “I feel that I am out of integrity with myself because I am doing things that I don’t even believe are in the best interests of my students.”

She was referring to the endless round of tests that she is required to administer. Learning is taking a back seat to testing. It doesn’t seem to matter to the people in charge of schools these days if any authentic learning is taking place. Everything hinges on how well the students do on their various tests.

 

Student filling out answers to a test with a pencil.

People, in general, like to feel that they have some control in their lives including how they conduct themselves on the job. When you feel that every move is prescripted and every decision is made by someone else, it tears at the individual in a fundamental way. I believe that this is a cause of the rise in teacher burnout that I am witnessing just anecdotally.

The teachers who call me say without exception, “I still love my kids. I love teaching, but it’s all the other stuff I don’t want to do anymore.”

I know how they feel. Part of the reason I left education and started this business is that I could not bring myself to participate in the teaching of arbitrary standards and administering tests that have little real meaning. I long for the days when I was treated like a professional. And most of the people I talk to feel the same way.

I wholeheartedly agreed that teachers DO need their freedom. I wish they had it. I wish they felt like they could declare it for themselves. Few feel that they have that freedom, however. And the result is teacher burnout on the rise.

BURNOUT

 

If you happen to be one of those teachers who feels that your job is causing you undue stress, the first order of business that you should address if your stress level. I invite you to download a free PDF on stress management that offers some simple but effective strategies for managing your stress and becoming more resilient. To get the free report, click here.

 

And if you think you might be suffering from symptoms of teacher burnout, you may also download another free PDF that offers 7 questions that will help you determine if you are burned out and your level of burnout. Get that PDF by clicking here.

 

If you have questions, please feel free to contact me.

Until next time.

Career Transition & Job Search Coach

Kitty Boitnott, Ph.D., NBCT, RScP is a former educator who now helps burnt-out teachers and mid-career professionals find new fulfilling career paths that are satisfying & fun. Check out her website at TeachersinTransition.com website for more information.