Becca teaches special education and is completing her doctorate degree in Curriculum and Instruction.
When I was in school learning how to become a teacher, I remember having class discussions about the rising high school drop out rate and the importance of keeping students in school. After all, what would the future of our country look like if students did not receive their high school diplomas?
Even though this is still a problem in schools today, the country is now facing another drop-out related problem with its own set of consequences: Teachers are leaving the profession in astonishingly high numbers. Now, we must wrestle with a new question: How will today's students learn if there are not enough qualified teachers in the schools to teach them?
Many teachers are leaving the profession of teaching due to something called teacher burn out. In this lesson, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, and current rates of teacher burn out. First, let's take a look at what we mean by teacher burnout.
What is Teacher Burn Out?
The profession of teaching is known for its high levels of stress. Burn out occurs when a teacher, who was once passionate and excited about the field, experiences feelings of chronic exhaustion and hopelessness about the job. Teachers experiencing burn out feel that the more they do, the less they are appreciated.
In a sense, teachers feel that their efforts will never be enough to meet the standards they are required to meet. This chronic stress that teachers experience can lead to many negative consequences. We know that stress impacts levels of teacher effectiveness on student learning. Moreover, burn out can cause educators to retire early or to leave the profession of teaching all together after just a few years of teaching.
You must be wondering how teachers can reach this low point. It is a difficult concept to grasp as many educators enter the field so full of passion and excitement. Let's review some of the causes for teacher burn out.
Now that we know that this problem exists, it is important to look at some of the causes of teacher burn out. Some of the causes include struggling with classroom discipline, balancing time demands and heavy workloads, collaborating with colleagues, and experiencing role ambiguity.
Furthermore, other reasons include teaching large class sizes, feeling isolated within the school, and working with a lack of teaching resources and supplies. Additionally, managing disruptive students and experiencing a perceived lack of support from administration have been known to cause burn out.
Just as important as knowing the causes, we must be aware of the symptoms as well. Unfortunately, there are many symptoms of teacher burn out. Some of these include:
- Chronic exhaustion or fatigue
- Difficulty sleeping
- Sleeping excessively
- Headaches or migraines
- Lingering colds or sicknesses
- Difficulty making decisions
- Inability to focus
- Low self-concept
- Low self-efficacy
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Social isolation from family, friends and colleagues
- Low motivation to engage with hobbies or interests
- Low tolerance or patience in the classroom
As you can see, burn out can impact a teacher physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially.
Rates of Teacher Burn Out
We know that between 40% and 50% of teachers leave the profession within their first five years of teaching. For teachers working in an urban setting, this rate is right at 50%. More sadly, 9.5% of first year teachers leave before the end of their first full year of teaching!
If these numbers sound high to you, you are right. The national turnover rate for teachers is between 15 and 20%. Although it is discouraging to read these disappointing facts, this knowledge is necessary if we hope to change this trend.
Teachers experiencing burn out were once passionate about their profession, but now struggle with feelings of hopelessness and exhaustion. The stressful working conditions involved with teaching such as heavy workloads, large class sizes, and feelings of isolation can cause teachers to experience a variety of negative symptoms such as fatigue and anxiety. Ultimately, these chronic symptoms are causing educators to leave the field in high numbers.
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