Burnout is not what you think is it. It is real, and it is not shameful to confess it. You are no less of an educator because of it…in fact, you might just be too much of an educator!
In her new book, Dr. Latoya Dixon tackles the issue of burnout and confronts the narratives and mindsets that cause it to happen.
I decided it was time to tell the truth. It was time to end the narrative of the superhero educator whose dedication and committment to positivity was everlasting and unbothered by the demeaning education narrative.
Confession of Burnout
She begins with a strikingly honest confession of her own burnout as a highly successful school principal. It’s a confession that is all too often looked upon as shameful and embarrassing. Educators overexert and overextend themselves and are shamed when they burn out, predictably.
Over the past decade or so, a mentality in education has developed where educators are judged solely upon one thing – a test score. This is demoralizing and ineffective.
And she’s right.
Schools and districts are given A-F ratings based on largely on test scores. Principals are asked to change test scores in 3 years or leave. Teachers are shuffled around based on test scores. Is this healthy? Is this a misuse and abuse of the No Child Left Behind era?
The narrative is clear (and clearly not working):
You and your efforts don’t matter, if students don’t pass the test.
A Demoralizing and Demeaning Narrative
It’s as if educators do not want to be seen as less caring for children, so they give themselves selflessly until there’s nothing left to give – then their value is determined a by a single snapshot on a single day.
Nobody goes to bed worried about other people’s children as much as educators do.
The narrative continues as educators are expected to quietly be underpaid while being among the most highly degreed and certified professionals, who often take up side jobs to simply make ends meet.
But it doesn’t end with misuse of accountability methods and compensation.
Policy Isn’t Someone Else’s Job
The current education narrative has roots back to President Nixon’s ESEA and Reagan’s A Nation at Risk. The message is repeatedly the same: education needs to improve – reform must happen.
Antiquated state funding formulas such property tax models fuel the inequities of every educational reform report. Dr. Dixon explains the need for educators to take command of policy-making.
She cites the constant comparison of American education to other nations like Finland. What often happens is teachers are told, “See, you need to change what you do.”
When in fact, educators need to take command of policy. Policies are real, and educators can no longer “close their doors” and do their own thing – the narrative is theirs, and they must take control of it.
She combs through numerous reports to make the case that those comparison countries don’t simply have better teachers. They tackle inequity head-on and take care of the whole-child and the whole-educator.
In those higher performing countries, education is a system embedded into a network of social support such as universal healthcare, extended paid leave, early childhood education for all, and numerous family support systems that simply are not a part of American policy.
Instead of designing policies that address school reform in light of equity and a larger support system, we have policies that place blame in a single place – the educator.
Our imbalanced approach has resulted in an imbalanced profession: a group of beaten up and burned out educators.
Dr. Dixon’s book is from a practitioner perspective filled with passion and based on facts. She ends each chapter with clear steps to take and a consistent affirmation – change is in your hands.
Policies have too long been about goals and consequences. Carrots and sticks only go so far, and that’s not very far at all. These policies have large gaps between aspiration and real practice.
Educators have allowed others to be at the decision-making table for too long. It’s time to fight back.
Other professions do not have non-experts making the policies. The American Medical Association shapes policy and practice in doctor’s offices and hospitals, but it’s an association chock-full of practitioners.
No matter how well-intentioned, highly consequential, or aspirational the policy, if educators aren’t involved at the ground level, it will not inform their practice, and thus not produce the results we desire for student outcomes.
The Final Call to Action
The book concludes with the clarion call – and actions steps – for educators to take control, be involved, and shape policies that work kids (and for professionals). She outlines 5 agreements that can shift the narrative and impact the policy-practice disconnect.
Dr. Dixon calls for an end of detachment, an end of imbalance, and an end to the demoralizing narrative – for the sake of students, educators, and education.
And I call for you to preview the book for yourself: Burned Out, Beaten Up, Fighting Back: A Call to Action for America’s Public Educators by Latoya N. Dixon, Ph.D.