Routledge/Taylor & Francis (from the book First Aid for Teacher Burnout)
Source: Routledge/Taylor & Francis (from the book First Aid for Teacher Burnout)

If you look up the term burnout in the dictionary, you’ll see examples like these demonstrating how the term is used:

  • “Teaching can be very stressful, and many teachers eventually suffer burnout.
  • the burnout rate among teachers” (Merriam-Webster, 2015, p. 1).

Even the dictionary seems to know burnout afflicts teachers. Considering that burnout means to tire or suffer due to a demanding job, you can probably understand why teachers suffer from burnout. Being a good teacher is considered by many to be exceptionally hard, and over the years many have referred to Glasser’s (1992) conclusion that teaching constitutes the hardest job of all in our society.

How Prevalent Is Teacher Burnout?

When writing my recent book on how to avoid and recover from teacher burnout, I researched the presence of teacher burnout in U.S. schools. I found that teacher burnout is actually an international epidemic. There is a steady supply of research on teacher burnout coming from Africa, Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe, Middle East, New Zealand, and South America. For example, nearly half of teachers in India suffer from burnout (Shukla & Trivedi, 2008) and half of male and female teachers studied in southern Jordan suffer from emotional exhaustion associated with burnout (Alkhateeb, Kraishan, & Salah, 2015). The U.K.’s Education Staff Health Survey indicated 91% of school teachers suffered from stress in the past two years and 74% experienced anxiety; 91% reported excessive workload as the major cause (a 13% increase from the last six years) (Stanley, 2014). Though working conditions and demands can vary from country to country, it seems that if a country has an established educational system then many of its teachers are experiencing burnout.

The U.S. is no exception:

  • About half a million (15% of) U.S. teachers leave the profession every year (Seidel, 2014).
  • More than 41% of teachers leave the profession within five years of starting, and teacher attrition has risen significantly over the last two decades (Ingersoll, Merrill, and Stuckey, 2014). This provides clarification to Ingersoll’s (2012) oft-cited estimate that 40%-50% of new teachers leave within their first five years on the job.
  • TNTP (formerly The New Teacher Project) reported almost 66% of the nation’s best teachers continue to leave the profession for careers elsewhere (Chartock & Wiener, 2014).

It is clear our teachers are struggling, but we should refrain from placing the blame on them. Rather, consider the demands and unsustainability of the job.

Is Teaching Really So Hard?

Teachers are well educated. They must meet specific content area requirements (such as by passing rigorous assessments in order to obtain their teaching credentials) and must each hold a university degree. In fact, 95% of teachers were considered “highly qualified” by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) standards (American Institutes for Research, 2013).

Teachers also enter the teaching profession with selfless intentions. When asked why they became teachers, 85% of teachers said it was because they wanted to make a difference in children's lives (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2014). Even students note teachers’ good intentions. The Northwest Evaluation Association (2014) found 90% of students believe their teachers care about their learning.

We know teachers are committed to the profession, so it must take something major to overcome such devotion and prompt a teacher to quit. The following have proven to be dominating factors that make the teaching job difficult and are main contributors to burnout:

  • Volume (too much to do and not enough time – one of the most common problems and also one of the most burnout-rendering problems)
  • Environment (including overstimulation and inadequate resources)
  • Tedium (this generally applies to veteran teachers who find themselves doing the same thing year after year and does not typically pertain to new teachers)
  • Student Behavior (including classroom management, lack of boundaries at home, drug use, gang involvement, etc.)
  • Administration (when ineffective and/or antagonistic)
  • Community Relations (involving media, parent relations, etc.… all of whom can potentially disrespect teachers or not support teachers adequately)

There are many other challenging aspects to what is arguably our world’s most noble profession. However, the issues listed above directly trigger teacher burnout. Mindset is also at play, but this does not mean teachers should simply have a better attitude about a horrible situation (while doing nothing to change that situation), as that would not prevent burnout. Rather, exercising a growth mindset involves trying new approaches to problems in search of success, which helps tremendously while applying strategies to combat burnout.

Teachers can take important steps to prevent burnout. For example, overwhelming work volume can be combatted with better grading practices, effective collaboration, not overcommitting, acquiring better curriculum or using sources that make finding such curriculum fast and easy, and leveraging the right technology tools that make a teacher’s job easier. However, the prevalence of burnout warrants more steps by those around teachers (e.g., administrators, policymakers, media, parents, and communities) to make the job more sustainable.

What Next?

In my next post for this column (Part 2), I’ll elaborate on the above challenges and examine whether teaching is currently an unsustainable profession. In addition, I’ll share research on teacher burnout’s effect on teachers and students.

References

Alkhateeb1, O., Kraishan, O. M.,  & Salah, R. O. (2015, May 27). Level of psychological burnout of a sample of secondary phase teachers in Ma’an Governorate and its relationship with some other variables. International Education Studies, 8(6), 56-68.  doi:10.5539/ies.v8n6p56

American Institutes for Research (AIR). (2013). Most teachers "highly qualified" under NCLB standards, but teacher qualifications lag in many high poverty and high minority schools. Retrieved from http://www.air.org/reports-products/index.cfm?fa=viewContent&content_id=417

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (2014). Primary sources: America's teachers on teaching in an era of change: A project of Scholastic and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (3rd ed.). Retrieved from http://www.scholastic.com/primarysources/download-the-full-report.htm

Be sure to read the following responses to this post by our bloggers:

The Teacher Burnout Epidemic, Part 2 of 2 is a reply by Jenny Grant Rankin Ph.D.

You are reading

Much More Than Common Core

Empowering Students of Color, Part 4 of 8

An interview with authors Dr. Gail and Rufus Thompson reveals expert strategies.

Empowering Students of Color (Part 3 of 8)

Interview with authors Dr. Gail and Rufus Thompson reveals expert strategies.

Empowering Students of Color (Part 2 of 8)

Interview with authors Dr. Gail and Rufus Thompson reveals expert strategies.