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November 9, 2022
ASCD Blog

Let’s Stop Expecting Teachers to Love the Job

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An overwhelming response to an Educational Leadership article underscores a shared sentiment among teachers.
School Culture
Let’s Stop Expecting Teachers to Love the Job
Credit: Roman Samborskyi / Shutterstock
Since my first day in the classroom, the idealization of the teaching profession has been under my skin, like a tiny but pernicious splinter. Every time I hear “Teachers are such heroes” or “Teachers really have to love what they do,” I drag my nails over the splinter again, resisting the urge to tear my own skin off. How insulting, I think, to describe a high-pressure, high-stakes profession like an Insta-worthy hobby. How infuriating that our entire education system has gaslit teachers into thinking there is something wrong with them if they aren’t willing to sacrifice their sanity, money, and personal life for a job. And yet, it’s hard to say this aloud when society loves to depict teachers as selfless saints. 
When I saw that Educational Leadership magazine’s October theme would be “The Teaching Profession: Changing the Narrative,” it felt like the perfect chance to excise the splinter and say aloud what I had been thinking throughout my career. I wrote "It’s About Skillsets and Support, Not Sainthood” vehemently but submitted it timidly. Undoubtedly, I assumed, the article would be rejected outright for contradicting what people like to believe about teachers. When it was accepted for the issue, I went into a sweaty panic, realizing my employer would have to read and approve it. Surely, I’d be sabotaging my career by stating that teachers shouldn’t always have to love the job—and that altruism is not a job skill that should be expected of a professional. When it was published, I braced myself for the tsunami of hate mail I was sure to receive. Naturally, readers would treat me like a delusional street corner fanatic. 
I was wrong on every count. Not only did ASCD and my school district support my writing, but I was deluged with positive feedback from readers. The article seemed to strike a nerve: 
“I’ve been saying it for years, that educators are recognized for the extra things they do, or the virtues they supposedly embrace, rather than for doing their job well. It discounts their ability to actually educate and cheapens the whole profession.” –Andrew Wendle, Pennsylvania 
“I do not often track down the authors of articles I read but in this case I had to! I read your article, ‘It’s About Skillsets and Support, Not Sainthood’ and felt like standing up and cheering! Thank you for putting into words what I have been feeling for some time but have been slow to recognize because loving my job as a requirement for doing my job has, like you said, been so ingrained." –Anonymous  
“You voiced things that I have been feeling for years, and I am thankful that the message is being spread.” –Lauren Katzman, Illinois 
“I just read your article in ASCD and felt compelled to tell you how perfectly you captured the problems teachers face regarding ‘loving’ the job and the lack of compensation…. I was just offered a job at $50k after teaching 17 years and having two masters degrees so this really strikes a chord tonight!” –Lori, New York 
If you’ve ever had the sudden realization that you’re not alone after all, you will understand why I got choked up at every fresh email. More than the reassurance, however, I felt a sense of indignation that so many educators were pressured to live a dual life, feeling one thing but projecting another. People clearly fear repercussions if they state the obvious, yet taboo, truth: teaching is rough and requires more than feel-good appeals to altruism. I hate to confirm these fears, but I did receive one hostile note informing me that I have a terrible work ethic, which tells me that the “shut up and get on with it” mentality is alive and well in some circles.   

People clearly fear repercussions if they state the obvious, yet taboo, truth: teaching is rough and requires more than feel-good appeals to altruism.

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I think most educators, however, are sick of receiving praise when it doesn’t come with a change in working conditions or cultural expectations. As a point of comparison: my husband, a nurse, was actively angry at much of the hero worship his profession received during the pandemic. He didn’t want the free lunches, the window signs, or the social media accolades. He wanted a union, better wages, improved benefits, and for his administration to fix the daily working conditions that make his job not only challenging, but often degrading. You can bet teachers want the same things. Being worshiped for your presumed virtue means nothing. It doesn’t pay off your student loans. It doesn’t make your job more enjoyable. All it does is bind you to other people’s expectations. I suspect that if we continue to “show appreciation” for teachers through bagels and fruit plates, soon we won’t have anyone left at the buffet.  
Having “permission” to be more truthful is something teachers not only deserve, but desperately need. I hope this article brings an important conversation to the fore, and that, like me, teachers struggling to love the job realize they’re not alone.  

Elizabeth Dampf is the director of professional learning at Round Lake Area Schools 116 in the Chicago area.

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