Teacher Burnout

” In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work.  It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years.”  – Jacques Barzun.

Merriam-Webster defines burnout as “ Exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.” Teaching is a very stressful and often thankless profession.  Many teachers, especially those with perfectionist tendencies, end up suffering from burnout. Teachers often work under pressure and with students who can be disengaged and difficult to control.  Furthermore, it is hard to measure productivity in the teaching profession, and teachers do not fully control the learning process because there are too many non-teacher variables in that process.  Many teachers find it difficult to cope with high levels of uncertainty, a feeling that they are undervalued, and the fact that they are often evaluated primarily on the basis of student performance.   They also have very heavy workloads and feel overwhelmed at times.

Many studies have found that almost 50 percent of all teachers leave the profession within the first five years of service.  Some of them leave because of burnout. Those who remain in the profession although they are experiencing burnout, just go through the daily motions of teaching , in an ineffective manner, without truly caring about student outcomes.

In May 2000, the National Association of Head Teachers in Great Britain discovered that 40 percent of teachers had visited doctors with stress-related problems in 1999.

Most researchers find that teachers experiencing burnout report feelings of frustration, loss of enthusiasm, low energy levels, overwork, and hopelessness.  They tend to suffer from tension headaches, irritability, sleep loss, exhaustion, and poor self-esteem.  They become less committed to their work and more cynical.  They complain about everything, develop negative attitudes and become unhappy at work.  Needless to say, their work performance and physical well-being usually deteriorate.  Absenteeism may become a problem.

The experts recommend that teachers take several measures to avoid burnout.  These include but are not limited to eating well, regular exercise, adequate sleep and relaxation, the pursuit of hobbies and interests which are not connected with teaching, social support from friends, relatives and groups, and recognition and celebration of one’s own achievements.  They also recommend the improvement of one’s emotional management skills, classroom management skills and problem-solving skills, since poor classroom management causes stress and poor student performance.  These experts also cite the importance of thorough planning and preparation of lessons and the consistent enforcement of classroom rules.  They also recommend teamwork to increase teacher engagement and additional professional development to improve performance.  They all agree that teachers should leave school problems at school.

The good news is that teacher burnout is curable.  Medical care and counselling will help and one can learn stress-management techniques.  Teachers who experience burnout can learn how to think positively, become more resilient, and regain their energy and enthusiasm for work.  They should also resist perfectionism in their approach to their work and complete important tasks well before deadlines.  The avoidance measures mentioned in the preceding paragraph also apply to recovery from teacher burnout.

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