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Good Teaching in Difficult Times: Demoralization in the Pursuit of
Good Work

Doris A. Santoro
American Journal of Education
Vol. 118, No. 1 (November 2011), pp. 1-23
DOI: 10.1086/662010
Stable URL:
Page Count: 23
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What happens when experienced teachers who are fueled by the moral dimension of teaching find that they can no longer access the moral rewards of the work? Consistent and persistent frustrations in accessing the moral rewards of teaching requires a new concept to describe teachers who feel they no longer can do good work or teach “right.” Too often, this phenomenon of frustration in the pursuit of good teaching is described as burnout. Although the terms “burnout” and “demoralization” have been used synonymously, it is better to consider the two phenomena as related but conceptually distinct. Burnout may be an appropriate diagnosis in some cases where individual teachers’ personal resources cannot meet the challenge of the difficulties presented by the work. However, the burnout explanation fails to account for situations where the conditions of teaching change so dramatically that moral rewards, previously available in ever-challenging work, are now inaccessible. In this instance, the phenomenon is better termed demoralization. Through an empirical case study and philosophical analysis, this article shows that accessing the moral dimension of teaching is not only about cultivating individual teachers’ dispositions toward good work but structuring the work to enable practitioners to do good within its domain. In this model, teacher attrition does not necessarily reflect a lack of commitment, preparedness, competence, or hardiness on the part of the practitioner. Rather, teacher attrition is analyzed from the perspective of whether teachers find moral value in the kind of work they are asked to perform.

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