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Avoiding Teacher Burnout: Causes and Symptoms

Instructor: Marquis Grant

Marquis has a Doctor of Education degree.

Many teachers may debate Neil Young's statement: 'It's better to burn out, then to fade away.' This lesson will highlight causes and symptoms of teacher burnout. A short quiz will follow to test your knowledge.

Causes of Teacher Burnout

Many new and veteran teachers leave the profession each year because of the job-related stress caused by everything from student behavior to lack of administrative support. Knowing the causes and symptoms of burnout may help schools and school districts create action plans to decrease the amount of stress experienced by teachers each year.

The phrase burnout means that an employee is experiencing some sort of job-related stress that is impacting his ability to perform his duties. There are many causes of teacher burnout, more than can be covered in this short lesson. However, there are a couple of prime candidates that top the list when it comes to setting teachers on a downward spiral:

  • Classroom management issues
  • Poor morale
  • Paperwork overload

Classroom management issues:

Show me a classroom that is out of control and I'll show you a teacher who is probably experiencing high levels of stress. Not much instruction is being accomplished in a chaotic classroom environment. The teacher will become disillusioned about the time wasted on lesson planning and gathering of resources from which the students will never benefit. Without a proper plan in place for disruptive behavior, a teacher in a poorly managed classroom will not very likely last until the end of the school year with her sanity intact.

Poor morale:

We all want to feel appreciated for what we do … even when we say we don't. The term morale refers to one's feelings of self-worth or appreciation. Low wages and accountability as well as lack of support from administrators, parents and the community can negatively impact how teacher's view themselves as professionals. When teachers do not feel appreciated, it can cause them to exhibit feelings of depression, resentment and hopelessness.

Paperwork overload:

Many teachers complain that quite a bit of their time is spent on paperwork. With more emphasis being placed on accountability for student achievement, many districts are requiring teachers to show more documentation about how they are supporting student development. Limited planning time and responsibilities outside of school time can cause the barrage of paperwork to become overwhelming.

Symptoms of Teacher Burnout

The signs of a teacher experiencing burnout may not always be apparent. However, the following are signs that may be readily recognizable in a teacher who is in a state of distress:

  • Missed days

Some teachers refer to this as 'taking mental health days.' While days missed are not necessarily a red flag at the basic level, when teachers start to miss multiple days, it can be a sign that they are at their wit's end. No one wants to go to a job that they do not have a passion for doing, and teaching is no exception.

  • Bad teacher

A snappy, grouchy teacher is a pretty scary concept, especially when you think about the impact it will have on the students in the classroom (think Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher). Everybody has bad days but the teacher who is always on edge is probably a good candidate for burnout.

  • Lackluster performance

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