March 15, 2022

Barth Keck: Teachers Increasingly Feel the Threat of Moral Injury

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Writing for the CT News Junkie, teacher Barth Keck considers the problem of teachers who are asked to work against their own values.

Earlier this school year, I wrote an op-ed whose title sums up its message: “Teachers Are Feeling More Stress Than Ever.”

That was back in October, and I explained how even as the issues kept piling up – dealing with the pandemic, attending to students’ growing social-emotional needs and, yes, planning lessons and grading papers – it wasn’t enough to shake my confidence in teaching.

“I still love teaching,” I wrote, “and I remain absolutely willing to put in the time required to do the job effectively. I love helping kids grow, learn and achieve.”

Fast-forward five months. It hasn’t gotten any easier, a fact highlighted by the mid-year exodus of many Connecticut teachers, including Sheena Graham, the state’s 2019 Teacher of the Year.

“My concern for the profession is going to be, if there isn’t a way to address [the challenges], we’re going to see a lot more educators leave,” said Graham.

A recent entry in Peter Greene’s “Curmudgucation” blog pinpoints the dilemma for teachers, many of whom are feeling “moral injury,” a term Psychology Today defines as “the social, psychological, and spiritual harm that arises from a betrayal of one’s core values, such as justice, fairness and loyalty.”

Teaching, in other words, is more a calling than a job. When external factors hinder a teacher’s ability to attend to that calling, frustrations follow.

Teaching was not my first choice of careers. I embarked on a job in hospital public relations after graduating college with a degree in mass communications and completing an internship in Yale-New Haven Hospital’s public information office. My PR career lasted six years until I realized I was becoming a hospital administrator – definitely not in my wheelhouse.

My gut told me to pursue teaching. I had always enjoyed supervising the college students working in my office as PR interns, and I loved coaching youth hockey. So, I quit, earned a Master of Arts in Teaching and got certified. That was 31 years ago. I’ve been teaching ever since.

During my entire time teaching, I have never questioned my decision to change careers. I’ve always known I belong in the classroom, working with teenagers. I simply connect with them. I’ve also enjoyed the freedom to develop original, creative lessons that follow the curriculum. Lately, however, I fear the current atmosphere in this country is changing that situation.

Read the full op-ed here.

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