Addressing the Teacher Burnout Crises

by: Stephanie Camins, LPC

Causes of Teacher Burnout

Teaching can be a rewarding and inspiring job. It can also be incredibly stressful, thankless and overwhelming. Not only are our teachers responsible for teaching integral skills to their students, but they also manage parents’ expectations, try to meet the often-unrealistic demands of administration, and support the mental and emotional health of every student in their classroom.

Teachers are responsible for developing curricula for an ever-increasing range of abilities and learning styles as staffing shortages place higher needs students in general classrooms and special ed classrooms have higher staff-to-student ratios than ever.

Teachers are tied to standardized exams and mandated curricula that all but eliminate teacher autonomy. They are often required to attend meetings before, during and after school which eliminates crucial planning time to prepare for the next day. Most teachers will tell you they take a majority of their planning and grading work home using much of their personal evening and weekend time just trying to stay caught up.

Students spend much of their day with teachers. As such, teachers are often the first to notice signs of child abuse in a student. They act as front-line interveners for students with tragic life experiences which can ultimately cause secondary trauma in teachers.

All this and then let’s add the impact of COVID. Teachers quickly adapted all their lesson plans to a virtual format, taught kids and parents how to access the virtual learning platforms, fielded student and parent emails, and continued to meet district standards for performance.

Teacher Burnout Facts:

A recent Gallup poll reports that 44% of K-12 employees say they are “always” or “very often” burned out at work, including 52% of teachers. Higher education employees in colleges and universities also report feeling “always” or “very often” burned out at work, making K-12 and higher education the two professional fields with the highest rate of burnout. Read that again, our teachers rate the HIGHEST in ALL professions for burnout.

Statistics show:
• Roughly half a million teachers move or leave the profession annually, costing the United States up to $2.2 billion per year.
• 17% of educators leave the profession within their first five years.
• Two-thirds of teachers who leave the profession do so for reasons other than retirement.
• Turnover rates are higher in Title I schools and schools serving the largest concentration of students of color, widening the achievement gap.

Why is all this important?

Educator wellness is associated with child and student wellness (Harding et al., 2019).

Educators who provide emotional support and establish positive relationships influence children’s and students’ health, overall mental wellness, and life satisfaction (Stewart & Suldo, 2011).

Educators’ wellness is an important component to ensuring a healthy school climate, and educator wellness programs are associated with greater workplace satisfaction and lower rates of absenteeism (Lever et al., 2017).

Signs of Teacher Burnout

Psychology Today defines burnout as “a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, detachment and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.”

The World Health Organization describes burnout as an occupational phenomenon characterized by three main attributes:
Exhaustion. When teachers experience burnout, they can feel depleted of energy and too exhausted to continue with their work.
Cynicism. Teachers who have reached a state of burnout can begin to feel mentally detached from their jobs. Their feelings about the profession can turn negative and cynical.
Inefficacy. Teacher burnout also leads to feelings of incompetence or ineffectiveness.

Untreated burnout can lead to serious physical and emotional problems. If you recognize the following symptoms reach out for support.

o Constant Fatigue
o Self-Doubt
o Loss of Inspiration
o Withdrawal from activities and collaboration
o Feeling Irritable or quick to anger
o Increased complaints
o Insomnia
o Changes in appetite
o Brain fog
o Cynicism
o Ineffectiveness

How to Prevent Teacher Burnout

  1. Prioritize Wellness
  2. Set Clear Work Boundaries – That might mean you won’t check your emails after dinner or you’ll only grade papers until a favorite TV show starts, or you’ll never work on Sundays. Whatever schedule you set for yourself, stick to it to ensure balance in your life. Pushing yourself to do too much will set you up for failure. You know it’s too much when you feel out of synch when confusion or chaos begins to seep into your daily activities. Know what you just can’t do and don’t do it.
  1. Build a Sense of Community – make the teacher’s lounge a fun, positive, collaborative place to be.
  2. Know When to Move On – a different grade or a different building may be the change of scenery you need. Rethink your situation. Ask yourself: Is this worth it? Can I move forward in this position, at this school? If it feels temporary, then look elsewhere. Staying may be the source of your stress.
  3. Focus on Success – take an inventory of what you do well.
  4. Create a Sanctuary – in the car, in the classroom, or in your home make a space that brings you solace and peace and give yourself time to rejuvenate.
  5. Collaborate with other teachers – Use each other for support.
  6. Take mental health days – sometimes you just need a day!
  7. Practice regular self-care
    Take a walk
    Read a chapter of your favorite book
    Talk with a friend
  8. Practice Self-Regulation
    Slow down your work pace
    Take breaks when needed
    Make a list of tasks and prioritize
    Try new time-management strategies
    Leave work at school
  9. Try something new whether its classroom management or a new lesson.
  10. Problem solve what went wrong rather than ruminating on a bad day.
  11. Set achievable daily and monthly goals and reward yourself.
  12. Communicate clearly with administration about your needs and limits.
  13. Build coping skills¬ that help you reframe issues and compartmentalize difficulties.

How Can Parents Help

• Volunteer
• Provide extra supplies
• Write letters advocating for teacher support to the District
Support the teacher’s role in your student’s life
• Respect teachers as professionals with advanced knowledge in instructing students
• Organize teacher appreciation events
• Bring a coffee
• Send a note of appreciation to your teacher and share it with their principal
• Join the PTA
• Be Involved

How Can School Leaders Help

“Instead of looking at teacher burnout as an individual problem, leaders in education must shift their focus to assess the problem as a systemic, institutional, or policy-based issue.”

Consider the following approaches to promote wellness and de-stress staff: {Some parts taken from the U.S. Department of Education Supporting Child and Student Social, Emotional, Behavioral, and Mental Health Needs Report}

  1. Eliminate ineffective or redundant efforts such as non-instructional administrative duties and non-critical meetings so educators can direct their attention and energy toward better and sustained implementation of high-quality practices for all children or students, especially those with high risk.
  2. Establish a realistic workload, child or student-to-teacher ratio, and a manageable approach to teaching an aligned and integrated curriculum for academics and social-emotional, and behavioral health instruction.
  3. Feeling competent is part of wellness. When educators feel like they have the skills, resources, and supports to do their job well, they feel less stressed and are able to better meet the needs of their children, students and families (Grayson & Alvarez, 2008; Shackleton et al., 2019).
  4. Provide time for debriefing after stressful days (Miller, 2010). Provide quiet space for staff to regroup and reset (McIntosh et al., 2018).
  5. integrate wellness into professional development approaches by providing adequate planning time for staff that includes opportunities for collaboration, training, peer coaching, and supportive performance feedback.
  6. Prioritize collaborative planning time for delivery of instruction.
  7. Ensure wages and benefits are competitive, including by ensuring those professionals serving children birth to five are compensated competitively with kindergarten educator peers, when similarly qualified. Additionally, para-educators, who are integral in supporting teachers and students should not make less than they would at a fast-food chain.
  1. Offer a range of mental health literacy interventions at the community level (e.g., wellness campaigns, embedding services within educational programs, and providing information on websites) can empower families and community members to take action for better mental health (Jorm, 2012)
  2. Increase teacher autonomy

Educators do their job out of a love for teaching and for their students. By working together as a community, we can help make certain teachers continue to love what they do.

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