Combating Demoralization Among ESL Teachers

Combating Demoralization Among ESL Teachers

by Jeanne Beck

Recently the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) conducted a survey of certified teacher members to determine the extent to which national trends in teacher attrition were affecting teachers statewide. With 2,212 responses, the survey revealed that “six out of 10 Missouri teachers have seriously considered leaving the profession in the last three years,” and that some of the most common reasons for considering leaving included “low pay, stress, student behavior, and lack of support from administrators and parents,” (MSTA, 2019).

In regards to teacher attrition, talk of teacher burnout seems inadequate, if not inappropriate, to describe the feelings affecting teachers. It’s not that teachers are burning out – that their energy and resources are finite and aren’t being conserved – nor do teachers need more resiliency training, rather their teaching environment is affecting their ability to teach long term. The term demoralization, as well as its counterpart, re-moralization, not only seemed most apt to describe this situation but are absolutely necessary for educators and administrators to understand in order to retain experienced teachers.

Demoralization, as defined by Doris Santoro in her book Demoralized: Why teachers leave the profession they love and how they can stay, is “rooted in discouragement and despair borne out of ongoing value conflicts with pedagogical policies, reform mandates, and school practices.” For the ELL context, demoralization may stem from issues including when the systems in place inadequately serve our students, when new educational initiatives do not consider ELL needs, or when ELL issues are put on the back burner or fully ignored by administration.

5 Strategies to Articulate Moral Concerns

Santoro, seeing teaching as a moral practice, defines re-moralization as the ability for teachers to access and conserve the moral rewards of their work and finds five broad and overlapping strategies that teachers can utilize to articulate the moral concerns of their profession.

  1. Student-centered action – apply for a grant, teach an ESL summer school class, find ways to humanize the system
  2. Teacher leadership – advocate for ESL student inclusion with colleagues, develop new courses, support good teaching practices
  3. Activism – research, connect with activists, teach at a university
  4. Voice – utilize social media, create a teacher blog, write for media outlets
  5. Professional community – mentor new teachers, utilize professional development, connect with allies

Teachers can choose the re-moralization strategies that suit their personality best. Professional community, which can be conceptualized as the center of the other four strategies, is found to be effective only when combined with another strategy. For me personally, connecting with the professional community of MIDTESOL and utilizing my voice helped me work through my own demoralization. While I will be leaving teaching to pursue a doctoral degree in the coming months, my hope is that any teacher, ESL or otherwise, can find the support network needed to stay.


Santoro, D. A. (2018). Demoralized: Why teachers leave the profession they love and how they can stay. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

State of the Education Profession Survey Results. (2019, March 01). Retrieved from

Jeanne Beck is an ESL and technology teacher at California Middle School in California, Missouri. Jeanne received her M.Ed in TESOL from the University of Missouri, as well as a B.A. in International Studies and B.S. in English Education from the same institution. She is currently working on her Ed.S. in administration at William Woods University. She has taught ESL and Language Arts in a variety of K-12 contexts in the US and taught in EFL at two Japanese high schools via the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. At the college level, she has taught English and TESOL teacher training courses in Seoul, South Korea at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies’ Graduate School of Education, TESOL Professional Education Center, and Department of International Studies. When she’s not studying up on ESL related topics you can find her cooking up new tech projects for her students or planning her next trip overseas. 

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