Jean Hunter can't say exactly when teaching turned sour for her.
"I really love what happens between me and those kids in the classroom," says Hunter. "But (last) year, I felt just desperate. It was rather alarming because I thought, 'What do I do now?' I never wanted to do anything as desperately as I wanted to teach.
"If that's burnout or disillusionment, I don't know what the difference is."
Hunter teaches English at Hammond Junior High in Alexandria. She began teaching 20 years ago and has been in Alexandria 12 years. But the last few years have been frustrating, she says, and she has begun to realize that the frustrations may never end.
"I'm a good teacher and you get nothing for being a good teacher," said Hunter, who earns about $21,000 a year. "If I were a good lawyer, I'd get more for that. If I were a good businessman, I'd get a promotion or I'd get more business for that. But when you're a good teacher, you Don't get anything."
Hunter has two major complaints about public education: the changing responsibilities of teachers, which she contends having nothing to do with teaching, and the lack of economic or career rewards.
"I resent that you can stay in a career and whether you're bad or good it doesn't seem to matter," she says. "You know it does, that it matters to the kids your're teaching. But it doesn't matter in terms of your career.
"You could have just sat back and done the minimal things and the same thing would have evolved."
Hunter is critical of education requirements for teachers, from basic undergraduate courses to the ones they are required to take for recertification every five years.
"You can pick up any Mickey Mouse course you want," she says of the recertification requirements. "The only thing that forces you to get (an advanced) degree eventually is the need for money. The only way you can get that next salary increase is to get a degree -- not because I need it to be a better teacher, but because I need more money."
On the subject of undergraduate courses in education, Hunter says: "Too many teachers come out of college who don't know how to teach. And it's not the teacher's fault."
It would be more logical, she says, to institute a program that tests teachers' ability to teach, just as professionals in other fields are tested.
But Hunter's major complaints go to the heart of teaching, that teachers now have so many othr duties that there is little time to teach.
"Teaching isn't as much fun, but let me make clear where the fun has gone. They constantly pile more and more things on you to do without taking anything away."
For instance, Hunter said, paperwork brought on by many local and state policies is beginning to overwhelm some teachers.
"Finally last year, I walked into my principal and said, "Now here it is -- you want me to do this and this and this and this and I can't do it all. So what are you going to take away?'
"And, bless his heart, he said, 'You left a couple of things off that list.'"
Hunter believes public education must get back to its basic goal of teaching or teachers -- and students -- will suffer.
"I'd like one day to have a school system where the top priority is teaching, is what the child learns. I'd also like (the administration) to have the organization to check and see what the child has learned, to pinpoint where the breakdown in learning is and then to do something about it."
When Hunter begins work on her master's degree, it will not be in education, but in business or law. "If I'm going to have to spend that much time and money on an advanced degree, it has to be something that will return something to me. And an education degree really won't. It's not really geared to improving your teaching."
Still, despite her frustations, Hunter is reluctant to leave teaching.
" . . . When I first started teaching, I realized I could teach kids," she says. "You turn on to the fact that, 'By God, I think I can make this clear to this kid.' And that's a neat feeling.
"When I think of leaving teaching, I think I'd have to give that up, and that's the part I don't want to leave."