Teachers’ Moral Injury

I recently came across an article from STAT that discusses the moral injury experienced by physicians – injury commonly misclassified as “burnout.” It argues that burnout is a wrongful diagnosis that speaks to a lack of resilience or resourcefulness, while in reality there’s a far deeper source of their struggles: the health system’s failure to meet patients’ needs.

Teachers, like physicians, get stuck with the label.

“She’s a burnout . . . he’s lazy . . . they don’t have what it takes . . . they aren’t up to the challenge . . . they’re giving up on their students. . . .”

Again, the reality’s entirely different: teachers are suffering from profound moral injury. It’s caused by their desire to do what is right in the throes of a system that’s wrong for their kids.

Most teachers choose the profession for similar reasons. They want to help. They want to contribute. They want to make a difference in the lives of their students. And when what they want for their students is undermined by the system, the result without question is a lack of well-being. Understandably, the injury often forces them out.

If the education system wants to keep teachers in – by helping them meet all the needs of their students – its focus should shift to contributive learning, so that self-understanding, knowledge, competency, and connection are developed and used to improve others’ lives.

Contribution is the heart of professional well-being, and the heart of success all throughout people’s lives. We all feel meaning, fulfillment, and well-being when the way that we live truly adds to the world.

It’s the reason that teachers started teaching in the first place, and the cure for the wounds that the education system is inflicting on teachers and students alike.