The Warning Signs and Symptoms of Teacher Burnout
Teacher burnout is real.
It is devastating.
And, it’s more common than you may think.
Nearly half a million (that’s 15%!) of U.S. teachers leave the profession every year.
(Seidel, A. (2014, July 18). The Teacher Dropout Crisis. Retrieved October 03, 2017, from http://www.npr.org)
There are many causes both internal and external. However, the results are the same. A teacher, who set out to make a difference with selfless intentions, begins to question their place, their purpose, and their passion.
The first step of fighting teacher burnout is identifying it before it becomes too much to handle.
If we can give teachers the tools to recognize the early signs and symptoms of burnout then we can hope to retain good teachers by offering resources, support, and services before it’s too late.
This list of warning signs and symptoms of teacher burnout, it is not exhaustive but provides an overview of the early indicators of burnout within the education profession. It is inspired by the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) – an established, research-based measure of burnout.
The frustration that comes with teacher burnout doesn’t necessarily mean that a teacher is frustrated with students or administration. It doesn’t even mean that it’s the workload or schedule.
Often the frustration of teacher burnout stems from an overarching feeling of not being able to really effect change.
Think about it:
You have a teacher who is in the same classroom every day with the same pupils. They KNOW what their students’ need. They KNOW what needs to be done to help their students learn. And yet they feel like their hands are tied. The heft of mandates, testing, and jumping through the proverbial professional development hoops takes its toll. Frustration sets in. And the beginning signs of teacher burnout surfaces.
Teaching is one of the most rewarding professions in the world. You get to make a difference in the lives of your students and a tangible change in the world. You get to share your passion and help students find theirs. It’s really one of the best jobs in the world (maybe I’m biased).
When the classroom door closes, the grading piles up, the meetings take over, and the testing mandates set in it is easy to lose sight of the rewards of teaching. It is said a teacher’s day is never done – and it’s true, there is always more you can do. This means most teachers sacrifice their personal time to get everything done. It is when the strain of feeling overworked takes hold that it becomes difficult to tap into those rewards and remember the personal fulfillment.
Although this one is perhaps the most obvious of the warning signs of teacher burnout it also deserves its place on this list due to the major impact it can have on teacher well-being.
The sheer VOLUME of work that teachers take on day-in and day-out is miraculous and also not sustainable – not in any real, healthy scenario. I speak from experience when I say that teachers rarely only put in 8 hour days. Drive by any school on any weekday and you will still see a fair number of cars still in the parking lot far beyond school hours. Lunch breaks are often sacrificed in lieu of getting more work done. And many teachers will work through illness because of the amount of extra work that is required to prepare for a substitute. The volume of work can haunt teachers. Hence teachers’ gratitude of summer breaks.
Not only are the ever-mounting workload and the demanding schedule major energy zappers, but the other symptoms of teacher burnout can also be a culprit. Being overwhelmed, frustrated, having a negative outlook and not taking care of yourself is a recipe for feeling drained. This is the potential of teacher burnout – and it’s not all just emotional – it takes a physical toll that can impact all parts of life.
This sign of burnout is dangerous because it is cyclical. As the signs of burnout creep in they pull energy away from teachers which result in less energy to forge resilience – which then, in-turn allows the grip of burnout to tighten.
When the signs of burnout begin to surface it’s often hard to see the forest for the trees.
What I mean is:
As a teacher, it is easy to see a sign of burnout and think that it’s something else. For example – if a teacher is starting to feel overwhelmed – they may not recognize it as a sign of something larger and instead interpret it as a need to dig in, work harder, longer, and more isolated in order to get back on top. And, although sometimes feeling overwhelmed is simple – other times it can be burnout peaking out its ugly little head. And, burying oneself further into work will not solve the problem.
Teachers need the time, resources, and support to check in with themselves. Recognizing burnout and occupational stress is important and the only way we can begin to move forward toward the goal of stopping teacher burnout.
You are no good to your students if you let yourself burn out.
Sleep is a major issue for many teachers. There are a few different reasons why sleep can become difficult for teachers. But, anyone who has ever pulled an all-nighter, taken care of a newborn, or just lacked sleep can understand how a habit of poor sleep can take its toll on teachers
First, the nature of really, truly caring about your students means that when you aren’t with them you wonder and worry about how they are doing. Did they really get that math assignment? Do they have a safe place to sleep or food to eat? On a quiet dark night, the questions can be endless and keep you wide awake.
Second, the “what if” – teachers are responsible for so many different decisions that affect others every day that it is natural to question ones move, wonder if situations were handled the best way possible, and replay the day over and over in your head when you should be sleeping.
Third. Stress. It’s as simple as that. Stress can play havoc on ones sleep cycle, as well as manifesting itself in a number of other physical ways.
Paying attention to what your body is telling you can provide you an early indicator of the potential presence of teacher burnout.
There are introvert and extrovert teachers. There are teachers who thrive socially within the work environment and those who prefer to just get their work done. However, it is healthful to have “work friends” and it is important to be able to open up about the challenges and successes of your day. When sharing stops – whether due to the workload, embarrassment, or a culture and climate that doesn’t support it – it can be an early sign of teacher burnout. Teachers need to be able to be each others’ support systems and they need the tools and resources necessary to do so.
With a positive and supportive school culture and climate teachers can share with each other, build each other up, and problem solve issues like the true professionals they are.
It’s natural to complain. It’s natural to have moments where it’s hard to see the silver lining. But living under that cloud day-in and day-out can take its toll. Perhaps you know a teacher who always seems to have something to complain about (perhaps you are that teacher) this can be a cry for help – an early sign of burnout.
Negativity can spiral into an all-encompassing outlook, it can spread like a wildfire amongst staff, and without the resiliency tools in place to deal with it – it has the potential to transform a school’s climate for the worse.
Recognizing teacher burnout in its early stages and confronting it face-on with the appropriate resiliency tools and resources is the only way we can hope to retain good teachers.
Teachers care deeply and give selflessly – they deserve support.
Burnout is real and devastating – and requires action.
Together we can fight burnout, invest in retention, reclaim the joy and save the teachers! #savetheteachers @drtiffanycarr Click To Tweet
NOTE: If you liked this article you may be interested in 8 Tips to Build Teacher Resilience