Battling Burnout: The Problem is Manifold

It is nearing the end of my school year. I finish on June 29th and am barely hanging on. I am struggling to keep work stress at work and as a result, am often unable to relax or get a good night’s sleep. My stomach has been upset for days. I am burned out. This article and the ones to follow are my attempt to understand burnout.

I am going to try and deep deeper than I am burned out because of work stress. That’s obvious and unhelpful. What specific aspects of work are burning me out? Why? I have some inklings, but I want to figure out what I can control and how to hopefully avoid this in the future because grinning and bearing it is making me sick. I still love teaching, yet currently hate going to work. I want to understand this conundrum and be able to enjoy work again.

Burnout has been defined by Maslach and Jackson (1986) as a “syndrome of emotional exhaustion and cynicism based on three aspects of middle administrators’ behavior: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment.”

For teachers, emotional exhaustion (EE) sets in when they feel emotionally overextended. EE can be caused by numerous aspects of a teacher’s job because emotion plays an integral role in a teacher’s job. Building relationships with difficult students, helping students with difficult home lives, dealing with parents/administration, and teaching lessons all carry an emotional load. When a teacher is consistently given an inadequate amount of time to process and recharge, EE will set in.

Teachers (and anyone else) who experience burnout will begin a process involving depersonalization at work. Depersonalization generally involves a loss of enjoyment, pessimism, and detachment. Loss of enjoyment will often start small and can simply feel like you are having a “bad day” but it becomes more persistent and can become the default. This can often lead to pessimism as the teacher feels there is little to no hope for improving the situation. Once this sets in, the teacher can begin to detach themselves from relationships at work, both with co-workers and students.

Burnt out teachers often perceive themselves as having low levels of personal accomplishment at work. Feelings of low accomplishment are often compounded by the symptoms of depersonalization. This can lead to irritability and lack of focus, which then affects the teacher’s ability to teach. Thus, lowering the actual level of accomplishment at work. Burnout can be a rather vicious cycle.

Teachers who are burnt out give students a lower quality of education and it can lead to absenteeism and higher turnover rates. More seriously still, burnout is associated with personal problems such as decreased health, increased use of drugs and alcohol, along with familial/marital strife.

The teaching profession is relatively infamous for its burnout rates. In America, about 8% of all teachers leave the profession after each year. From a teacher’s rookie year to their fifth year, approximately 40% of their colleagues who started with them will no longer be involved in teaching.

The problem is manifold. We must take meaningful steps to both understand and solve teacher burnout.