Addressing Teacher Burnout: Causes, Symptoms, and Strategies
Teachers in the United States have a very restricted time budget to teach their students than educators in other countries. During the regular school day, they have far less time to assess their students’ work, collaborate with colleagues, and prepare lessons. They are left with a huge gap between the amount of time they spend with students and the amount of time they can use to prepare activities and materials that are necessary for effective teaching.
Currently, teachers in the US spend on average an additional 90 minutes each day collaborating with peers, attending staff meetings, and providing after-school help for students. Then they spend another 95 minutes from home grading, doing work-related activities, and preparing classroom activities. All in, most teachers are working at least 11 hours each day.
Successful teachers know that time management is absolutely essential. Because of this skewed distribution of time, there is growing pressure on teachers to meet the needs of their students, as well as attempting to meet personal and family obligations. Exhaustion is the inevitable result of too many responsibilities and too little time.
In addition, other stressful conditions like not having enough money for personal purchases make it difficult for teachers to maintain positivity. Many teachers find their jobs overly stressful and are beginning to become unhappy. Prolonged stressful working conditions lead to burnout and have become the major reason many teachers quit. Educators must confront teacher burnout head-on to prevent this growing crisis.
What is Teacher Burnout?
Teachers are being forced to confront significant challenges beyond those they have had to endure in the past. They are responsible to adopt new curricula that cover a wide range of learning styles, attending to students with special needs, teaching in virtual classrooms, manage to shift education policies, and even juggling administrative work. Not to mention tackle many of the greatest social changes to hit classrooms in decades. So, where does that leave teachers, who already contend with so much, but are also doing all of this with unsupportive work environments?
Many, begin to experience teacher burnout. They burn the candle at both ends all morning, hit their limit each day before the work is finished, and then just burn the candle from the center as well. If they continue operating at such a high level without proper perspective to maintain good mental health, they will eventually burn out.
Consequences of Teacher Burnout
Teachers who experience burnout will react in a variety of ways. Some may become depressed, feel trapped, become irritable, and some will even give up on their job, which was once their passion.
According to the World Health Organization, burnout is an occupational phenomenon characterized by three attributes.
- Exhaustion- experience both physical and emotional
- Cynicism- become so negative they can mentally detach
- Inefficacy- experience feelings of incompetence or ineffectiveness
What Causes Teacher Burnout?
Burnout as well as its symptoms are as unique as the teachers that experience it. However, there are some recognizable signs to watch for that include the following.
- A lack of personal autonomy- professional teachers are unable to make critical choices about curriculum in their classrooms.
- Student behaviors- including disrespect, inattentiveness, and sociability
- Lack of support from administration- dangerous and ineffective teacher management
- A frenzied work environment- rushing from place to place, duty to duty, with limited time
- Strained relationships- poor communication with parents and school administration
- Lack of budget- to provide appropriate and needed materials
- Too little time- for lessons and segments of the day
- Limited prep time- for lessons; requiring choosing between teaching unprepared or family time/self-care
- Transferred mental trauma- from working with students who suffer abuse, neglect, and trauma in the home, foster care, or other setting
- High emotional demands- educating students in subject matter, social skills, and emotional needs
- Challenging teaching situations- in-person, virtual, and hybrid teaching
Teaching situations are becoming increasingly more difficult and lead to burnout. These challenges range from district policies that tie teacher evaluations to standardized tests that don’t accurately reflect student learning to the challenges the pandemic has increased such as distance learning.
For example, with distance and virtual learning, many teachers are bombarded with frantic parent emails trying to direct students who can’t navigate online learning platforms. As a result, teachers often feel obligated to work all hours of the day and night, finding themselves unable to find a healthy work-life balance. Additionally, challenging student behavior has become more severe and frequent, leaving teachers to manage increasingly difficult situations.
Teachers are left trying to navigate attempts to boost morale, such as advocating for programs and policies regarding standardized exams that affect teacher evaluations. Teachers are asking for the district to set boundaries on their behalf, such as by communicating clearly to parents what teacher work hours are and putting limits on teachers’ obligations.
Signs of Teacher Burnout
Teachers often do not recognize they are on the road to burning out before they hit a wall. This is often the threshold of no return. However, early identification of symptoms is the key to overcoming teacher burnout.
Teacher Burnout Prevention & Solutions
Teacher burnout prevention is one of the most pressing needs in the education sphere today. Teacher burnout requires that administration, teachers, support personnel, and aides all work together to create a more nurturing environment for educators.
The goal is to entice and keep qualified educators in schools. The difficulty is doing this with widely publicized parts of the job like low pay, low recognition, difficult classroom management, and other off-putting elements in the media.
The solution is to start by helping teachers already in the trenches. Then extend widespread support that embraces new teachers as soon as they step into the classroom.
These Solutions Should Include:
- Giving teachers more control over their daily lives
For nearly a quarter-century, teachers have had a limited belief in their ability to effect meaningful change in the classroom. Ongoing discussions by teachers and administrators on the importance of teacher autonomy indicate it is still an ongoing issue.
- Help teachers modify their reactions
Most teachers come into the field with a brightly burning passion and a field of high hopes. Only to watch those hopes get squashed from overwhelm, frenzied school environments, towering expectations, student trauma, and more. Leading to feelings of hopelessness, despair, emotional drain, and other symptoms of burnout.
Hearing the district heartlessly say “teachers need to adjust their attitudes” cuts like a knife. Yet, this may actually be the secret to preventing teacher burnout. Studies indicate that changing your perspective and modifying your reactions to stress that leads to burnout, can be the difference between burning out and burning brightly in your passion.
- Watch for early warning signs
The causes and most importantly the signs and symptoms of burnout need to be much more easily recognizable. So much so, that teachers can see if their peers are beginning to suffer from it. This will require training for teachers to help them recognize the signs and symptoms of burnout in themselves and others. If teachers know what to look for, they’re more likely to report on themselves and others with compassion, rather than judgment, and are less likely to stay quiet.
However, it is not just the teachers who need to become better at detecting burnout. Education administration needs to take a more active role as well. In fact, they should set up routine meetings with educators so they can genuinely inquire about teachers’ wellbeing and try to spot early signs of burnout.
Whatever the case, we all need to be sure to avoid attaching a stigma to teacher burnout. Because there is already associated with common burnout symptoms such as depression. If there is a negative stigma it will drastically decrease the likelihood that teachers will self-report or help in reporting symptoms about their peers on their behalf.
- Offer mental and physical health amenities
Teachers have notoriously tight budgets. Especially considering that nearly 94 percent of teachers spend their own money to outfit their classrooms. We can’t expect teachers to spend the money on commonly suggested self-care solutions like yoga, counseling, or hobbies.
Teachers should become aware that utilizing things such as mindfulness, self-compassion, self-image redefinition, and intentional perception adjustments, they can reverse the effects of burnout, as well as in most cases depression and mental fatigue.
How to Prevent Teacher Burnout
Solving the teacher burnout crisis cannot be reduced to requests for added resilience or simply encouraging self-care for teachers. This is demeaning to the teachers who are experiencing the symptoms and effects of burnout and implying they somehow lack the fortitude to persevere in the fight against it.
Truthfully though, most teachers are living testaments to the fact that they have what it takes to maintain high levels of performance. It is the stripping of teacher autonomy as well as imposing standardization and high-stakes exams that eat away at teachers’ sense of gratification and pride in purpose.
Rather than districts and administrators seeing teacher burnout as a vast and sweeping issue, they need to see it from a much more personal level. They need to stop trying to instill one-size-fits-all three-ring binder programs that they force teachers to endure in excess of their already overfilled schedule. Each teacher is unique and requires personalized help. Yes, it is widespread, but the solution is helping each individual teacher, rather than seeing them as a singular problem.
For example, forcing teachers to use proprietary software purchased by the district to create lesson plans or keep records can contribute to teachers feeling they are not valued as educators. They need to believe that they were hired because they possess the ability to access student needs on an individual level and create learning plans and processes to reach each child as needed. When forced to conform to arbitrary box-checking procedures, they can begin to burn out due to the lack of motivation, recognition, and a deepening sense of defeat.
Addressing Symptoms of Teacher Burnout
Very often teacher burnout does not appear overnight. It rather slowly creeps up and goes virtually unnoticed until too late. So, teachers should become more aware of the signs and symptoms so they can help colleagues and peers if they notice anything. This way teachers can get assistance before it is too late.
Learn How to Overcome Teacher Burnout
Helping others overcome teacher burnout means more than just cleaning up the mess after the fact. It means learning to recognize it early and understanding the symptoms that accompany it. Teachers often have too much to do already, so learning another program is out of the question.