Passion Atrophy in Teaching

by | Jul 9, 2018

Passion Atrophy. Have you heard of it?

Well, most likely you have heard of atrophy. And, if you have ever broken a limb only to have your smelly, dirty cast removed weeks later revealing a smaller, weaker version of what was once there then you have personally experienced atrophy. You see, atrophy is the wasting away or the decline in effectiveness of something due to underuse or neglect.

So you can imagine that Passion Atrophy, when applied to teachers, is the decline of passion that once fueled their purpose.

I read a quote from Eli Wiesel a long time ago, I believe it was in his book “Night”, that goes “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” I believe this is true, and I have unfortunately witnessed that truth in the tragic home lives of some past students. When you hate something you are still giving it energy, acknowledging it, putting forth attention, albeit horribly negative. However, indifference doesn’t offer anything, it gives no energy, no value, no acknowledgment – in this hope is lost.

The reason I bring this up is because this quote entered my mind the other day when thinking of education, and teachers, and passion and it got me wondering.

What is the opposite of happiness?

If the opposite of love is indifference wouldn’t it be fair to say that the opposite of happiness is boredom?

I think so – to be happy is to feel. To feel joy, to be engaged with something that gives you energy and makes you smile. In unhappiness, you still are feeling, reacting to something – you still are giving and getting energy from whatever is causing the emotion, be it sadness, anger… But, boredom. Well, boredom is a lack of reaction, a lack of interest.

So what does this have to do with teaching?

Well, when I interviewed for my doctoral program I was asked: “How long have you been in the classroom?” At the time, the answer was 9 years. The professor responded, “Yep, that’s been enough. It’s not as much of a challenge anymore. You are probably getting bored.” I was taken aback. I had never thought of teaching as non-challenging and I definitely didn’t see myself as bored.

But it stuck with me. And as the years went on, I moved schools, picked up adjunct positions, and TA positions, taught online, shared more classrooms, moved to more schools I realized that what my advisor was talking about during that first meet-up was “Passion Atrophy” and that it was really, really real.

How it Happens

It’s not that teaching loses its challenge. I am pretty sure every teacher everywhere would agree that teaching is always challenging. It is more that it loses its spark. There is a certain grind you feel after years of living life by the bell. You start to know what is coming, which can be great for planning but can be exhausting when what you see coming isn’t positive. If you start to see your career as having to jump through hoops and keeping up with a performance (you can read more here) rather than really digging in and reaching students the way you know you can and should it gets tiring. It becomes a chore. A chore that repeats itself each August like your own personal Groundhogs Day.

What it looks like

Passion Atrophy is different than burnout (you can view a burnout scale here). Whereas burnout is a product of stress, frustration, and overwhelm. Passion atrophy is a product of dissatisfaction, of an unrequited restlessness. It looks less like anxiety and more like the personification of a sigh. It’s someone going through the motions of a career they once were incredibly passionate about. And, it can be tragic to once a purposeful and inspiring teacher.

What we can do now

So if we agree with Eli Wiesel that the opposite of love is indifference and we think that the opposite of happiness is boredom where does that leave teachers teetering on the verge passion atrophy?
Not in a good place at all.

Here’s what can help:

  • A focus on teacher resilience.
  • Open conversations about occupational stress in education.
  • An encouragement of self-care.
  • The development of authentic support systems
  • Meaningful professional development opportunities that connect
  • Inspirational & actionable resources to empower teachers

Here are some articles that may be of interest next:

What’s All This About Teacher Resilience? And, Why It Should Be A Priority In Every Single School.

The Warning Signs and Symptoms of Teacher Burnout

The Importance and Impact of Teacher Well-Being

Also, make sure to check out the Joy in Teaching Books available now on Amazon. Click here to find out more.


The Resilient Teacher's Timesaving Guidebook

Do you want to join the growing number of educators who believe in the power of resilience?

Download your FREE copy of The Resilient Teacher’s Timesaving Guidebook
Get inspirational and actionable resources to help you reclaim the joy in Teaching

You have Successfully Subscribed!