The past few years in education have not been what you thought you were signing up for. There’s been volatility, racial unrest, political turmoil, and growing concerns over students’ mental health. Sprinkle in a pandemic, raging debates over masking, virtual classrooms, and quarantines, and there’s little doubt why teachers are feeling strained, discouraged, and disillusioned.
A recent survey by the American Psychological Association revealed that 49% of teachers want to—or are actively planning to—quit or transfer jobs. Teachers and others in the “helping professions” have long been vulnerable to burnout, but in recent years, discouragement is surging.
In researching the book The Gift of Disillusionment, we discovered a journey that seems common among many who want to do good in our world. They identify a problem and courageously step out to do something. These helpers have ambitions of making a difference—but, inevitably, after only a few years, the reality is messier and more complicated than they imagined. Navigating relationships with parents can be difficult. Conflict with coworkers is inevitable. Paperwork seems to crowd out time for teaching. As their experiences collide with their expectations, teachers grow disillusioned.
For many, this leads to an existential crisis. Did I choose the wrong field? Am I resilient enough, smart enough, or patient enough to confront the challenges in my path? This crisis can’t be remedied by a week of teacher appreciation or all the self-care in the world. So, is there any hope for our discouraged hearts?
The answer is a resounding yes. As we interviewed and learned from leaders who have persevered in their calling—confronting some of the greatest challenges of our day in sectors including education, medicine, and community development—we unearthed stories of tremendous hope. We learned that the question isn’t whether challenges will come but where we will turn when they do.
As followers of Christ, we are invited to remember a simple truth: On our own, we do not have what it takes to endure through this season of trial. We can’t employ the power of positive thinking, or look within, or tighten our laces enough to work or will our way out of this valley. But our insufficiency is neither a design flaw nor a surprise to our Creator; it’s an invitation to root our hope in the God who called us to a life of service and sacrifice.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians of facing troubles far beyond what he could endure, then concluded, “But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God” (2 Corinthians 1:9, NLT). You don’t have what it takes—but that doesn’t mean hope is lost. Your students and their parents, too, are struggling—and perhaps your greatest impact in this season will be in modeling where Christ’s followers turn to find hope in times of trial. You can teach us what to do when we come to the end of our abilities. Will you look within and try to muster enough grit to grind it out another day or will you, like Paul, testify, “On him we have set our hope” (2 Corinthians 1:10, NIV)?
May you discover that even in the most difficult days, Hope is not lost.
Author’s Note: In this difficult season, many nonprofit leaders are also feeling disillusioned and discouraged. In response to their own discouragement as nonprofit leaders, Peter Greer and Chris Horst co-authored the book The Gift of Disillusionment, which looks to the prophet Jeremiah and more than a dozen contemporary leaders from 10 countries around the world for insights on living a life of enduring hope.
About the Author
HOPE International is a global, Christ-centered economic development organization serving several continents. Prior to joining HOPE, Peter Greer worked internationally as a microfinance adviser in Cambodia and Zimbabwe and as managing director for Urwego Bank in Rwanda. He received a B.S. in international business from Messiah College and an MPP in political and economic development from Harvard’s Kennedy School. As an advocate for the Church’s role in missions and alleviating extreme poverty, he has co-authored several books, including Mission Drift, Rooting for Rivals, Created to Flourish, and The Gift of Disillusionment