Happy Teachers, Happy Students-Reasons Why Teachers Burn Out and How to Overcome It.

“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you he will never let the righteous be shaken. “

– Psalm 55:22 NIV

Teachers have one of the most rewarding yet stressful careers out there. Educators have the opportunity each day to make a long lasting impact on those that are in their classroom. Along with these opportunities to make a difference, teachers endure a lot of stress throughout the year. If this stress continues over time without reprieve, then educators can begin to burnout and leave the profession. According to the 2013 Gallup-Health-ways Well-Being Index, the data showed that 46% of teachers have high daily stress across K-12 settings. To put that into perspective, the study also puts nursing at 46% and physicians at 45%. The American Federation of Teachers (2015)  also reported that 78% of teachers in America feel exhausted physically and emotionally at the end of the day. Those are some pretty staggering numbers!

The data is clear that teachers are in one of the most stressful day in-day out careers in the country. Today we are going to explore some of the reasons that teachers may be experiencing burnout and some ways that we can help alleviate some of this stress to enjoy our work more and retain these great teachers in the classroom.

What Burnout Looks Like and Why it Occurs

Prolonged stress without an end in sight brings many teachers to question whether or not they should continue in this profession. Burnout can look different for everyone, but below are some examples of what burnout can look like according to School Mental Health Is Not Just for Students: Why Teacher and School Staff Wellness Matters (Lever, Mathis, & Mayworm, 2017).

  • High Stakes Testing-The stress that these scores from one school day will be used towards evaluations to determine our effectiveness.
  • Large Class Sizes– With so many students in a class without support, teachers feel overwhelmed with how to differentiate for all of their learners.
  • Student Behaviors-Even if you do have smaller class sizes, a few students with behaviors feel like a chaotic classroom. Spending extra time managing behaviors takes away from instructing other students.
  • Workload– It seems as though teachers have more to do with less time to do it. The pace to get things done and amount of curriculum to get through rarely leaves time for remediation and enrichment for students who need it.
  • Paperwork- This can include numerous amounts of papers to grade, progress monitoring, IEP paperwork, and work from other meetings your are involved in.
  • Not Enough Resources- Teachers spend a lot of time inventing and creating resources for their students. This can be very time consuming and limited district funding stacks on the pressure. We often have to use our own money to purchase needed items.
  • High Responsibility without Compensation– Many teachers are asked to be on committees and act as representatives in the building without any compensation for their effort.
  • Lack of Recognition or Advancement– Sometimes the only advancement that teachers can receive is a small pay increase for their years of service. Unless you go back to school, which costs more money, most teachers do not see a significant amount of advancement in their careers with an additional degree.

How Educators and Schools Can Prevent and Reduce Teacher Burnout

The reality is that many of the factors above contribute to the reasons why teachers are leaving education in pursuit of other careers. The good news is that educators and school districts can make some changes to help reduce stress, prevent burnout, and retain these high caliber educators.

Educator Next Steps:

  • Take Time for Yourself- Take a personal day soon if you are feeling overly stressed and burned out. Get out and do something you enjoy for a day. Check out one of my other articles titled Reasons Why You Should Take Personal and Sick Days
  • Determine the Source of Your Stress- Try to pinpoint the main aspect of stress in your daily work. Once you have done that, you can help to develop a game plan to help alleviate that stress.
  • Hang Out With Positive People– Think about the top 5 people you hang out with the most. Do they build you up and challenge you or are they negative and talk about the problems more than act on them? Surround yourself with positive people and you will become more positive yourself!
  • Gratitude– When you wake up each morning, think of something that you are grateful for. You will be amazed on how this will affect this mindset to start the day!
  • It’s OK to Say No- You do not have to sign up for every committee and event that your school is putting on. You have to maintain a balance of work and play. Sign on for only committees that you have an interest in or are passionate about.
  • Get a Coach– A career, life, or educational coach is a great way to have someone who is objective lay out the framework for you to seek clarity and guidance related to a multitude of issues. If you are interested in coaching, send me a message and I would love to help you!
  • Eating Healthy, Exercise and Sleep– We all have heard this can reduce stress, but the reality is many of us are not doing all three at the same time. I know I have a hard time with it! We have a newborn in the house right now so I know I am not getting high quality sleep!

District Next Steps

If you are sensing that your staff is getting burned out or are losing high quality teachers, it is time to reevaluate how you are supporting your staff. Here are some ways to get started:

  • Get a Pulse on How Your Staff is Feeling– Send out an anonymous survey to all staff to see what is their biggest causes of stress and burnout. It may look different for each district. Once you have the data, it is time to do something with it.
  • Give Teachers More Autonomy over Curriculum– Give teachers the latitude to come together to determine the essential lessons and teach those. Allow other time for remediation and enrichment.
  • Get Creative with Your Schedules- Work creatively to give your staff common planning times, and time to decompress throughout a school day. Administrators could volunteer to teach a class once a week for a teacher in the building!
  • Wellness Programs– Find ways to incorporate healthy exercise, eating, and other wellness programs into your district.
  • Provide Coaching for Teachers- Bring in an outside source to help walk with teachers through the struggles they face each day and come up with a game plan to tackle these challenges. This could be done in person or virtually. Feel free to contact me for ideas on how I could help your staff today!
  • Find Ways to Recognize and Compensate High Quality Educators– My school came up with a bi-weekly award for staff members. This is a little trophy, some candy, and a gift card to a local coffee shop. This is something small, but the public recognition of a job well done is invaluable.
  • Streamline Paperwork- Try to reduce how much paperwork and other items your staff needs to keep track of. Make as much as you can available to families on your website. Think about the hours of time they are putting into curriculum and planning before sending out more work for your staff.

My hope is that as we start to see more stress build throughout the school year, educators and district administrators can help to alleviate some of the stress and burn that 76% of educators face each day. Let’s be proactive so we can help keep these great educators in our buildings and making a positive impact on the next generation of leaders.

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