Overcoming learned helplessness: why young people go to work in schools

People who study to become educators very often face the common problem of finding a job after graduation. Someone simply goes freelance and becomes a paper writer or copywriter, for example. And someone goes to work outside of their specialty just for the sake of a good salary.

After all, there is a stereotype that working in school today is not as prestigious and honorable as it used to be. Together with the union “Teacher,” we talked to several young teachers about why they chose this profession, why they love it, and what the real problems are in today’s schools.

Before school, I worked in a factory for three months (blowing bushings), then – seven years in the banking system. Despite the fact that at some point in my work in the bank it seemed to me that I could not achieve better, I permanently felt out of place. I have a close friend who is a model for me in terms of building my life. All key decisions of her life were not supported by the environment, and she always reasoned: “I feel so, I want to try, I am ready to suffer a failure”. And she ended up being right.

And one day I thought, “Why not try my hand at school?” I know the subject, I understand the system, I want to talk to kids from a mentoring position. Most importantly, I hoped that I could contribute in a painless way to change something for the better in this country and in this system. At the very least, I would use my chance to ensure that my views and beliefs (I am not so much talking about political views now, but rather about liberal humanist ideas) would not die somewhere in the fringes of social media, but would resonate and live on in new generations. Eventually I decided to give it a try.

I sent in my resume and have been working at the school for six years now. And with one hundred percent confidence I say, “Yes, I am in my place and I will fight for it and for the ideals I would like to see in my country.”

Teachers in schools have to do a huge amount of difficult and unpaid work, often objectively meaningless, needed only for the check mark. So it turns out that young professionals, having worked in school for two or three years, decide to leave education in principle, because they are not ready either to bend to the system or to defend their rights. If in this situation a young teacher has older people nearby, with a practice of defending their rights, with a deep understanding of the situation and with knowledge of how not only to survive in school, but also to organize effective learning activities, they have a chance to succeed professionally and not to collapse personally.

The school administration and the teaching staff are often at different poles. The areas of interest of these two groups lie on different planes. My school colleagues and I joined the Teacher’s Union because it works to protect teachers’ rights, to create a comfortable professional environment for teachers. The work of the union as a whole helps teachers to achieve professionalism, while preserving themselves as individuals. And these are aspirations and desires that we fully share.

Once there was a woman who wanted to study science and didn’t think about going to school. Then she became disillusioned with the exact sciences and wondered what to link her choice of profession with. At that time she had already for a long time with great pleasure went hiking, passed a lot of different routes, visited many places, loved the nature, maps, forests, mountains, plains, rivers and lakes – all that. So she decided she would be perfectly suited to work as a geography teacher in a school. “I wasn’t afraid of working with children either: in tourist groups we often went with younger children, so I had quite a lot of experience with them.”

That’s how the woman ended up at the Pedagogical Institute, of which she has absolutely no regrets. “I like to share what I love and know very well, to open up to children our huge beautiful world, to teach them to see and understand its significance, greatness and beauty. I have a lot of interaction with students and outside of lessons, I see how they grow and change before my eyes, become thoughtful and enthusiastic, and I am very happy about it.”

Teachers consider the process of interaction between teachers and school administrators to be the biggest challenge in their work at the moment. Teachers are quite disenfranchised in the current educational system, and administrators have their own tasks that often directly conflict with the interests of teachers. In this reality it is difficult to survive. 

“We can do a lot at the individual school level.”

The teacher of mathematics shared his thoughts with us that the work of the teacher today – a huge workload, a lot of meaningless reporting, absurd activities and complete defenselessness before the state in the face of any official. The most acute angles can smooth out the school administration, but not all and not always. As a result, we get a job to which people go either for ideological reasons – and such are few, and they, alas, quickly burn out – or out of despair.

To avoid burnout, you have to create a comfortable working environment for yourself. Not to put the problems and tasks of other people above your own. Not to overwork, to find time for rest and hobbies. I understand that under current conditions this is not always possible. That is why I work in the Teacher’s Union. I believe that our union is necessary for educators. To stand up for their rights when they are violated. To discuss and propose changes in education. To bring people together and to overcome both the atomization of our society and the learned helplessness inherent in many teachers.

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