How are the children? If the teachers are not ok then…!

So how are the children?  Dare we ask how the teachers are?  For if the teachers are not okay then the children can’t be well.

For many children, schools are their safe haven.  Teachers represent stability, parenting, and love.  They are more than mere conduits of skills and content.  Teachers are humans too.  They need love and care as well.  So, I ask, how can a teacher give love when they are drained?  

The answer is they can’t.  And if they try they risk a deficit which only makes things worse for both them and the child. Teacher burnout drains the teacher of the ability to love fully and teach passionately.  In sum, it is a silent but deadly leech on the entire educational system.

Causes of Teacher Burnout

By no means is this list exhaustive.  It would take an encyclopedia to do that.  Here are just a few of the main ones.

  • Low compensation and benefits drain our teachers.  In some areas, teachers have to work part-time jobs just to make ends meet.  
  • Lack of teacher involvement in decisions and policies that affect them is a second major issue leading to teacher dissatisfaction and emotional bankruptcy.  The Jacksonville study showed that many teachers feel unsupported by administrators and districts.  
  • Both the Jacksonville and Georgia Dropout study relayed that teachers feel overwhelmed by paperwork, red tape and other bureaucratic “non-instructional” activities.  These concerns ranked higher than safety and parental involvement.   

But now multiply all of these with the pandemic and what do we get?!  We are hearing from athletes, nurses, and doctors about the toll that this pandemic is having on mental health.  Educators, but especially teachers, are experiencing the same burnout.  How many times are teachers comforting each other and children grieving from relatives passing?  How many students are now orphans due to this pandemic?  But it is deeper than that, many teachers feed off of the students’ energy.  With schools closing, we miss that.

Signs of Teacher Burnout

Knowing the causes is the beginning.  Understanding the signs help us to diagnose it.  These signs oftimes hide in plain sight.  

  • Teachers experiencing headaches and other chronic stress related illnesses like back pain, etc. 
  • Friday or Monday absences increase.  Educators needing a mental health day is crucial for self care. 
  • But there are other signs like missing deadlines or the occasional “I just want to teach” outburst.  
  • Teaching without passion.  

What are some of the teacher burnout signs that you see?

Impact of Teacher Burnout

The impact is real.  It is more than a few days of absences.  It is actually a drag on the entire system.  

  • Indeed the teachers’ social emotional capacity is crucial to their efficacy and student achievement.  The burnout teacher tends to possess a lower social-emotional capacity and is less likely to deescalate a behavior issue; consequently leading to higher suspensions.
  • A 2014 CUNY study argued that teachers respond to burn out by taking days off.  These absences, as you already know, negatively impact student learning.  Indeed, when a teacher misses 10+ days, their impact is reduced to that of a novice instructor.
  • Still some teachers leave the school or the profession altogether.  This attrition rate hurts student achievement and the school improvement process.  The school does not get a return on the professional development investment.  A three to five year school improvement plan is derailed because now that administrator has to onboard a new faculty member contributing to an implementation dip. 

Gain more insight on teacher attrition’s impact here

Of course, we can go on and on about the impact of teacher burnout, please share your thoughts on your experiences with teacher burnout.  

It is, therefore, in the administrators’ and students’ best interests to support teachers in every way possible.

Solutions to Teacher Burnout

So what are some solutions?  

  • Here are some quick tried and true strategies:  jean day, food, wellness room, time off, spirit days, etc. All of these help teachers tolerate/cope with the pressures of the job.  But we have to do more than just cope.  Don’t stop here.  
  • The Jacksonville study can offer some insight as well.  The Jacksonville teachers said, to name a few, increase pay and compensation; provide more in-school time for planning; include more teacher involvement in decision making; and less administrative paperwork/responsibilities.  

We need schools and districts whose climates and cultures, use of time,…and engagement of families and communities are optimized to continuously improve outcomes for the students they serve. 

Arne Duncan et al.

  • In other words, change the way schools work.  By changing the way we do the work of school we can reduce the stressors.  
    • Audit the school to see if systems are in place.  
    • Analyze to see if the systems are working with fidelity.  
    • Survey to see if there are areas to leverage technology to reduce or eliminate the administrative paperwork/responsibilities.   Cars, phones, medicine, nothing is made the exact same way we did 50 years ago so why should the work of schools be any different.  The non-instructional or administrative practices need to evolve too.

So let’s pour into our teachers with gifts, increased compensation, and an improved school management system.  We will see that by loving our teachers, our children will be better for it.