Teaching can be one of the most rewarding occupations, but also one of the most high-pressured. People depend on you every day, and there are endless requirements and expectations to be met, often at short notice. The truth is that we are impacting the lives and futures of our students, but sometimes have to deal with a rate of pay that doesn’t reflect the importance of what we do. At times you may have so much on your plate that you feel like you need to don a superhero costume to take down that scoundrel of a villain that calls himself “teacher burnout” just to survive the day.
In order to keep “teacher burnout” from sneaking up on you, let’s take a look at the causes, the symptoms, how we can prevent it, and how we can get back on track.
- Being ill-prepared
The modern day teacher has to deal with many different things in the classroom, from issues concerning learning to behavioural problems. They need to be adequately prepared, or it can be easy to start feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. When teachers feel in control, properly prepared and accomplished at facing these different challenges, they are less likely to burn out.
- Feeling outnumbered
As with any professional environment, teachers like to feel in control of their classrooms. However, others often weigh in on our day-to-day decision-making, from administrators to parents and board members. This can result in unclear and demanding job expectations. Many teachers resent this lack of autonomy, and feel infringed upon by people who don’t understand what it’s like to teach in the classrooms of today. Instead of being free to teach creatively and without interference, consistent pressure to teach in a certain way often leaves teachers feeling shackled and demotivated.
- Classroom management issues
Dealing with problematic students is one of the biggest challenges for any teacher. But it’s a fact of life that some students will require more encouragement, patience, motivation and attention in order to succeed. This makes it even more challenging for teachers to feel that sense of accomplishment that makes the job so rewarding. In order to avoid burnout, teachers should develop classroom management skills alongside a strong support system, to aide them in difficult times and help them better manage difficult behaviour.
- Needing support and collaboration
Besides pressure from other forces within the educational sphere, another problem faced by teachers can be a lack of support from those same voices. This can cause both isolation and frustration. A lack of both outlets and opportunities to exchange ideas with other teachers further contributes to this negative development. In turn, not having the backing or support needed can lead to burnout, and is often exacerbated by conflict with parents, administrators and students.
- Lack of Incentive
According to an OECD (The Organization for Economic and Community Development) report three out of five teachers feel they lack incentive to improve the quality of their teaching. Likewise, bad classroom behaviour disrupts lessons in three schools out of five. These are eye-opening statistics that show something needs to be done, since this sense of hopelessness plays its part in putting teachers on the fast track to burnout.
- Monotonous Work
Teaching can be an extremely stressful job, yet after a few years in the classroom, many teachers find that each day starts to feel much like the next, even in an industry as dynamic as education. Teachers are creative beings by nature and sometimes, especially when “teaching to the test” methods are imposed, there seems to be little opportunity to do new things. However, breaking the monotony is beneficial not only for the student, but for the teacher as well. No one wants to be doing the same thing day after day.
- Feeling tired and drained
- Frequently feeling sick due to lowered immune system
- Headaches and muscle tension
- Disturbed appetite or sleeping patterns
- A sense of failure, self-doubt and detachment
- Loss of motivation
- Decreased feeling of accomplishment
- Withdrawal from responsibilities
- Increased consumption of food, alcohol or drugs
- Taking out frustration on friends and family
How to avoid it
- Keep things fresh
Lesson opportunities are everywhere, waiting for you to break the mould! Collaborate with your peers inside and outside of school for fresh ideas; attend conferences and take professional development courses. There are also many free courses that can be found online.
- Foster peer connections
Connecting with other teachers prevents you from feeling isolated. Administration can help by creating a positive school atmosphere that promotes and makes time for peer connection among teachers. If this is lacking at your school, don’t let it keep you from reaching out. There are many teacher support groups found through social media. Find a good one and make some positive connections! In the long run, push administrators to foster a positive school climate by creating support systems, which can be as simple as making time during grade level meetings to promote mutual problem solving. Administrators may have more pressing problems to tend to, but having healthy and dedicated teachers can have knock-on effects, mitigating other institutional problems in your school.
- Implement a good classroom management plan
Dealing with concrete problems on a grassroots level brings about a gradual but fundamental shift in the overall work environment. Hand out rewards and enforce consequences. Keep moving along but be careful not to get bogged down by tedious arguments and discussions with the students about their behaviour, since this will sap your energy like nothing else.
- Give yourself time to prepare
Lack of preparation is a major cause of teacher burnout. Being ill-prepared can leave us constantly struggling for time. We need to find a way to properly prepare, organize and gather our thoughts and ideas. Give yourself enough time in the mornings to arrive at school early, in order to get a head start and prevent the feeling of constantly chasing your tail.
- Find some ‘me time’
With improved organisation comes an increase in free time. This will free your mind and help you to reward yourself with some guilt free quality time to disconnect in a positive way. Exercise is one great way to spend time off. A 2013 Stanford study shows that exercise improves work performance and emotional well-being.
- Eat and rest well
In the end, in order to improve our lifestyle we need to go back to basics: food and sleep.
The issue of teacher burnout is often swept under the carpet, despite often undermining the educational system – one of society’s most fundamental institutions. Until wider changes happen, it is up to us as teachers to take control of things. You may not have the power to control your work environment, pick your students or influence the administrators in your school. But within your power are are the resources required to deal with difficult situations.
You are not alone – there is a community of peers ready to help and from whom you can seek advice. Together we can encourage each other, and learn how to eliminate stress and fatigue that can sometimes make us feel unhappy and ineffective. Let’s remember the reasons why we became teachers in the first place, and work towards the rewarding, energising career that teaching can be.
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Author: Abigail Bryant
Abi is Head of Support at Kognity, where she works closely with teachers and students getting them set up and ensuring their experience with Kognity is a great one. Previously she worked as an English teacher working with International Schools in South East Asia.