Whether we want to talk about it or not, job burnout is a real thing everyone experiences at least once in their lives. I know I have run into this hole of darkness more than once myself. We get lost in the world where busy is good and working too hard is praised. Then when we ask for help, in a lot of cases an empathetic smile and a “you got this” are the rewards we get for summoning the courage to share our feelings. It hurts, it gets lonely, and although in the past the solution has been to power through until vacation, try a new hobby, or to treat yourself. Now especially after enduring the pandemic, many are deciding to leave the profession entirely hoping for greener pastures on the other side.
According to an article published in February of 2022 by the National Education Association, 55% of their surveyed members were considering leaving the profession by the end of the year. (Read the article here.) That is a staggering number in itself, but to see how much it jumped by from the start of the pandemic is terrifying. Although there is a huge difference between considering leaving the profession and actually leaving the profession, those that do consider it but are left behind, will continue to have a sour taste left in their mouth about their current career. From a study done by the University of Southern California in 2018, negativity in the workplace can quickly decrease general productivity up to 30% and create a toxic workplace environment that leads to high turnover and absenteeism (article here.)
With low morale, shrinking resources, budget cuts, rising class sizes, some of the highest academic demands we have seen in decades, and to top it all off, surviving a pandemic. There is no wonder why we are predicting a mass exodus of teachers. Spending hundreds of hours of your own time for your students to succeed while spending your own paycheck on supplies and resources to do so with little reward can get tiring after a while. Teachers are NOT OK.
Teacher burnout is not a new thing, but due to the pandemic, a mental health crisis began and now teachers are taking action about their burnout in higher numbers than we have seen in a long time. We have set the stigma that makes teachers feel guilty for calling out sick, for completely unplugging at the end of the day, or actually enjoying their vacations. Then when they feel like creating a new career path for themselves because they are done, some feel like they need to whisper their excitement because it is not a good thing they are leaving their classroom and students for their own health.
This is not ok.
I know what you’re thinking, how can we stop burnout? How can we keep teachers in their jobs? Short answer? If a teacher is burnt out, let them do what is best for them. You can suggest positive mental health activities, try to take work off their plate. In the end though, that teacher needs time to put their own wheels back on track even if that means leaving. There is no stopping that. The better question to pose is, how can we work towards a brighter future for teachers? You start with the basics that go beyond the meaningless trinkets and shallow promises.
- Lessen the academic rigor demanded by strict curricula and state/national mandates. Teachers need time to actually teach. There is not enough time in the day to reach every student in order to personalize their instruction to their individual needs. Teachers spend overtime making sure they reach every student going from thing to thing with little break in between. Giving them time to personalize learning without stringent schedules would help increase time for teachers to plan and put those plans into action.
- Listen to their needs, show them their voice matters. We’ve all had that one time where you were in desperate need of a school supplies that has run out and get told that they would not be ordering any more this year because the budget is spent, then suddenly a new unnecessary “surprise” pops out of no where that they make a big deal of but half the staff know that it is just going to sit there collecting dust. Even beyond purchasing, listen to the collective, they are the ones who know what is needed. Even if it is just taking a quick poll during staff meetings.
- Promote a good work-life balance. We need this in every career field, but it is as equally as important in education. I have seen teachers get praised for working from dawn until dusk with the only reward of “getting a lot done.” That’s not healthy. Setting boundaries for when you need to leave work by, taking a mental health day, feeling no regret for taking a sick day because you are actually sick, being OK with not answering that email until Monday. It’s ok to set boundaries so you don’t get burnt out!
- SAFETY, I say this not only because of recent current events, but a long standing crisis that our teachers face on almost a daily basis. On top of the over 119 school shootings that have happened since 2018 (Thanks EdWeek, read more about this severe issue here.) Teachers are constantly faced with daily behavior issues from students who are asked to leave class for a dangerous issue and come waltzing back only 5-10 minutes later. Issues that cause them to throw chairs, start fights with other teachers or students, or exhibit concerning mental behavior do not fix themselves with a 5-10 minute break. Even if it is a short outburst, there is still a mental caution sign thrown up if they return causing un-needed stress and anxiety for the educator and fellow students as they finish out the lesson.
Take burnout seriously. When a teacher says they are tired, believe them. When a teacher says they need support, support them. When a teacher needs balance, help even the scales. Take the crisis and make a change to better the future.