A prescription for teacher burnout

Burnout in the education profession has been referred to as an ‘epidemic’ for years, one that’s been exacerbated even further by the Covid-19 pandemic. But perhaps this is the perfect opportunity for teachers to take matters into their own hands.

Many teachers start out with noble intentions: you want to make a difference, you love to work with people, or perhaps you want to pass on the gift of inspiration a teacher once gave you… Unfortunately, for many, this level of enthusiasm can be difficult to maintain, as the demands on teachers’ time and energy go from intense, to overwhelming, and slowly but surely chronic stress begins to feel normal.

Teachers, along with social workers, doctors and nurses, are most likely to suffer from burnout. Recent has found that 1 in 4 teachers may quit due to stress*, and teachers are more likely to want to leave the profession now than at any other time in the past 35 years**.

“Teacher burnout is actually an international epidemic,” Jenny Grant Rankin, author of First Aid for Teacher Burnout. “There is a steady supply of research on teacher burnout coming from Africa, Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe, the Middle East, New Zealand, and South America. For example, nearly half of teachers in India suffer from burnout and half of male and female teachers studied in southern Jordan suffer from emotional exhaustion associated with burnout.” ***

It’s more than just a bad day in the classroom… If you hadn’t experienced symptoms of burnout before, chances are high that they cropped up – or became far more intense – due to the unprecedented challenges of the past two years.
According to the World Health Organisation, which recently recognised burnout as an occupational phenomenon, it is experienced as:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  •  increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

Feelings of dread, apathy, panic, lack of control and failure or low self-worth are also frequently reported, ranging from mild to extreme, and in some cases can result in a debilitating mental break down or health condition.

How does this happen?

The causes are both personal and circumstantial, and each individual’s experience will be unique to them. While you may not be able to influence all of the factors that contribute to burnout symptoms, or completely remove stress or high demands from your job, happily, there is plenty you can do to keep burnout at bay. Let’s take a look:

Become conscious of your capacity

Noticing when you are experiencing symptoms of burnout is essential before you can even consider tackling it. The tricky thing about burnout is, it’s often difficult to identify until it’s too late – we may be too busy trying to keep our head above water to really check in with ourselves. Journaling is an excellent way to connect with how you are feeling: detail how you feel both physically and mentally.

Whack that workload

Excessive workload is one of the biggest causes of professional burnout, along with a lack of autonomy and support. One approach is to make a date with yourself to brainstorm solutions. Look at each batch of responsibilities and see if you can find ways to streamline, organise or delegate them. If the workload is still looking unsustainable, you may need to…

Stick your hand up

This could mean consulting your principal or supervisor with a plan to reduce your responsibilities for the following year. Before you do, get clear on what about you current workload is unsustainable, and why, and outline the measures you’ve already taken to manage your workload and meet your job requirements. Be sure to offer solutions. This may be a scary prospect, but ultimately best for your health and that of your career.

Solicit support

Confiding in a colleague or even seeking the help of a psychologist can do wonders. Joining a teachers’ network and sharing expertise and resources can also do wonders to restore a sense of support.

Adjust your attitude

Many teachers reach burnout because they feel they have to ‘do it all’, and do it perfectly. You don’t. You’re a human being, not a machine. Get back in touch with what made you fall in love with teaching in the first place. Shift your focus from test scores to student engagement. Acknowledge your accomplishments. Let go of perceived failures. You deserve to enjoy your life. Let that sink in.

Cover the self-care basics

Eating a balanced diet, drinking water, regular exercise, sleeping well and making time for activities that light you up, are often abandoned on the road to burnout. Make these mandatory, even if you have to schedule them on your calendar.

Learn to relax

The nervous system responds to repetition, so selecting a relaxation technique, such as deep breathing or yoga, and practicing it regularly can do wonders for your general sense of wellbeing. The key is consistency.

Build better boundaries

Teachers are, by nature, helpful – this is perfect for the classroom, but can spell disaster for your personal boundaries. Make a list of your absolute non-negotiable priorities for the week, the month, the year, and do not take on any more responsibilities or projects than you absolutely have to. Ambition and helpfulness are all very well, but not if they leave you too depleted to fulfil your core duties.

Keep learning

It may seem counterintuitive, but continued professional development can help to stem burnout – if it’s done right. Recent research from The National Foundation for Education Research and Teacher Development Trust found that “teachers’ perceived autonomy over their work is central to their job satisfaction and their intention to stay in the profession. …When we looked to see which area had the greatest potential to increase job satisfaction and retention, the winner by far was autonomy over professional development goals.” What does this mean? Choosing a flexible, collaborative learning platform that will align to your and your school’s goals, and having a say in how those goals are measured and achieved, can go a long way towards restoring a sense agency in your career – and keep burnout at bay.

Sophia for Schools is a unified platform solution to your professional development needs that is fully customizable, feature rich and provides access to a wide network of support. Find out more at https://schools.mysophia.eu


*** https://www.psychologytoday.com


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