Navigating Teaching’s Mixed Messages

by | Aug 13, 2023

Navigating Teaching’s Mixed Messages

Teaching is filled with mixed messages about work ethic and mindset.

Educators are told:

  • To be a dedicated and successful teacher they must “do whatever it takes”.
  • but take care because burnout is common within the profession.

Educators are told:

  • They must deal with the reality of trauma and challenges that students bring to school in order to focus on academics and growth.
  • but are given toxically positive messaging that is proven to be counterproductive to success.

The Identity of Teaching

We know that education today lives within dualities. We even have an article on that.

Beyond that, the expectations placed on educators from so many angles – society, social media, admin., coworkers, ourselves, adds presure to the mixed messages that they receive.

Educators are shown that teaching is an identity and encouraged to put everything we have in into it. We see this reflected on social media posts from educators we don’t even know. We see it reflected in movies that are “loosely” based in reality. And we are set up to aspire to be the teacher who does “whatever it takes” no matter the cost to our own lives and well-being.

If our passion or joy in teaching dips, it then is a reflection on ourselves – be teaching isn’t what we do it’s who we are.

Mixed Message: Work Ethic and Balance

Teachers frequently find themselves confronted with conflicting messages about work ethic. On one hand, we are celebrated for our dedication to students’ success and their willingness to go above and beyond. On the other, there’s a growing expectation for educators to maintain a work-life balance. This paradox creates confusion and stress for teachers, often leading to overexertion. In fact at 2019 study (Smith and Johnson) found that 73% of teachers reported feeling pressure to work outside regular hours, contributing to heightened burnout rates.

We all are aware of teacher retention rates plummeting which has obvious and maybe non-so-obvious reprocussions. The obvious is that the teaching profession has become less desirable and therefore there are gaps left. The not-so-obvious is that those gaps left by the departing teacher need filled and if there are no professionals to fill them they will either be filled with non-qualified invidisuals further creating difficult conditions to be successful for those who truly are invested OR they will be filled with the remaining teachers further extending their already overflowing workload – eventually pressuring those who remain to consider leaving as well.

Woman with arrows in different directions circling her head confused

Burnout among teachers is a pressing concern, with its origins often intertwined with conflicting work ethic messages. The demands of the profession, coupled with the pressure to excel, can lead to emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment. A longitudinal study by (Martinez et al., 2021) revealed a strong correlation between mixed messages about work ethic and burnout, demonstrating the urgent need for consistent and realistic expectations.

Mixed Message: Morale and Toxic Positvity

Toxic Positivity is the overgeneralization of a positive dispostiion that has the ability to minimize and/or invalidate authentic feelings

– and the teaching profession is RAMPANT with it. We have an article on that as well.

While well-intentioned, this attitude can invalidate teachers’ genuine concerns, leaving them feeling unsupported. A qualitative study by (Lee and Thompson, 2020) illuminated how excessive positive messaging can silence teachers grappling with burnout, leading to a decline in morale and overall well-being.

Woman looking confused in front of plain blue background

Teacher morale is a cornerstone of effective education. It influences engagement, productivity, and ultimately, student success. The contradictory messages around work ethic and the effects of burnout and toxic positivity are deeply intertwined with morale. Research indicates a strong link between teachers’ perceptions of support and their morale levels, suggesting that addressing mixed messages could have a positive impact on teacher motivation and performance.(Johnson and Carter, 2022)

What To Do?

Addressing the mixed messages that perpetuate these challenges requires a multi-pronged approach. Along with systemic reflection, the education systems must provide clear guidelines on work expectations, encouraging a balance between dedication and self-care. Professional development programs, such as Joy in Teaching and the corresponding books, can equip educators at all levels with coping strategies to manage burnout, while acknowledging its prevalence. By acknowledging these contradictions of mixed messaging and embracing realistic, supportive approaches, we can pave the way for healthier teacher well-being and, consequently, better student outcomes. 

Looking for more research-based resources on teacher resilience and retention? Make sure to sign up for emails, check more free articles and explore all that Joy in Teaching has to offer including the courses, PD, and books available to help educators building resilience, fight burnout, and reclaim their joy in teaching.

Smith, A. L., & Johnson, K. S. (2019). Exploring Work-Life Balance Perceptions Among Teachers: The Impact of Gender, Age, and Marital Status. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice, 19(6), 17-35.
Martinez, E. M., Chen, H. L., & Kincare, M. A. (2021). Teacher Work Ethic and Burnout: A Longitudinal Analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 113(2), 385-398.
Lee, S., & Thompson, J. (2020). Toxic Positivity and Its Effects on Teacher Well-Being. Educational Leadership Review, 21(2), 126-143.
Johnson, R. M., & Carter, L. T. (2022). Teacher Morale and Its Relationship to Perceived Support. Journal of School Leadership, 32(1), 45-62.

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