Have you ever felt mentally exhausted, dreaded going into work, and found your work troubles were negatively affecting your personal life?
If you answered yes, you might be burnt out.
Psychology Today describes burnout as “a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.” In short, being burnt out makes it difficult to function in your professional and personal life.
While people in any profession can experience burnout, teachers have been at the forefront of many conversations about this recently. Compared to 39% of teachers planning on leaving the profession due to stress pre-COVID, a staggering 55% of teachers are now looking to leave the field. That same poll of National Education Association (NEA) members estimates that 90% of teachers confirm that feeling burned out is a serious problem in teaching right now.
Reading those percentages might lead you to ask a few questions such as: Why do teachers feel this way? What can we do to fix it? Is the answer self-care?
It is important to look at teacher burnout honestly. This means not attributing the cause of burnout to the individual experiencing it’s actions or thoughts. Sure, there can be some benefits of putting effort into changing one’s mindset and self-care habits, but leading with that can cause further feelings of shame and self-directed anger.
Instead, the available data suggests that teachers’ feelings of burnout are due to COVID-19 anxiety, current teaching anxiety, anxiety communicating with parents, and lack of administrative support. While you, the reader, may not be a school administrator, you might be someone who interacts with teachers—whether it be in parent-teacher conferences, school board meetings, etc.
Knowing that, here are some actions you can take to help teachers:
Approach interactions with teachers with compassion
Realize that many teachers are doing the best they can under the current circumstances. Entering conversations with the goal of collaboration, not blame, and expressing understanding of their difficulties is key.
Advocate for increased support for teachers
This includes increased mental health and school-based services for students as well as training in family engagement and trauma-informed teaching strategies. These changes would help teachers more comfortably navigate systems of support for students and families while lessening the emotional weight for teachers who find themselves supporting students while navigating their own COVID-related trauma.
This kind of burnout is not easy to talk about. Deep down, many teachers feel like they should be able to handle anything thrown at them. So let’s do our part and lead with compassion and understanding.