What does teacher burnout mean, really?
Thousands of dedicated, qualified teachers leave public education every year. That headline appears on every education website and report on the Internet, but we don’t talk so much about what it means in the day-to-day trenches. This mass exodus translates to the average classroom becoming overcrowded, under-resourced, and hyper-stressed. As a result, the educators who stay often find themselves in a state of perpetual burnout.
Most everyone looks to school leaders to rectify the teacher burnout issue (no pressure). But what does that solution entail? In practical terms, that call to action means providing teachers with methodologies that address the true needs of today’s classroom. We’re talking about creating initiatives to improve mental health, allowing increased agency in their roles, and offering tools that ensure educators can meet the needs of the whole child.
3 Causes of Teacher Burnout
Before we treat the disease, we must first understand its underlying causes. For teachers, burnout stems from a volatile cocktail of stressors. We’ve spoken with and surveyed thousands of educators across the country about their exhaustion and what drives them to consider leaving the classroom. These three causes pop up most frequently.
- A need for new instructional strategies to meet the educational needs and classroom management challenges of today’s students
- Chronic overwhelm from juggling so many responsibilities and navigating relationships with difficult students and parents
- Limited agency over their professional choices and their ability to meet their students’ unique educational needs
With these realities in effect, teachers sometimes feel a lack of support from administrators to create top-down solutions and stop problems before they reach the classroom. So, what can be done to reverse this scenario?
What Can School Leaders Do About Teacher Burnout?
There’s no fill-in-the-blank template. Whatever measure leaders take must empower teachers, improve their mental health and sense of self, and give them the exact tools they need. Regardless of the unique situations your faculty face, the next three action steps provide an excellent starting point.
Curbing Teacher Burnout with Resources and Instructional Strategies
Everything from new technology to COVID-related learning gaps to national scrutiny press against teachers’ confidence that they can adequately perform the job they love. School leaders are keenly aware of this deficit. In 2022, our team surveyed more than 1,000 principals, superintendents, curriculum directors, and school leaders from across the United States. Overwhelmingly, they told us that both their new and veteran teachers need resources that will improve outcomes, enhance instructional skills, and improve confidence and morale.
These fundamental needs speak to the fact that many teachers across the country are standing in front of classrooms each day either overwhelmed or unsure how to meet the expectations placed on them. Leaders cannot leave teachers floundering and expect them to want to keep plugging away at a job where they feel constantly behind and inadequate. Only robust, ongoing instructional strategies can equip teachers with the tools, practices, and resources they need to build a long-lasting career in education.
Curbing Teacher Burnout with a Healthier School Ecosystem
School leaders can’t shield teachers from some sources of stress. Challenges such as new state standards, funding concerns, or difficult parent relationships are storms educators of all stripes must weather. What administrators can do, however, is create a school environment that correlates with strong records of teacher retention.
Part of this hinges on the delegation of responsibilities (i.e., making sure that no teacher bears a greater weight than necessary). The other half of the solution centers on manifesting a healthier school ecosystem. No one institution has the same requirements as another, but most all schools will achieve a healthier, more productive environment if school leaders:
- Provide support when behavioral concerns disrupt student learning and teachers’ responsibility to conduct class. (If a kid swears at his teacher, and returns from the principal’s office holding a sucker, it’s a problem.)
- Help outline goals based on what the individual instructor feels will make the most positive impact on his or her classroom.
- Showcase positive results, deliver praise publicly, and offer constructive feedback in a private setting.
Curbing Teacher Burnout with Greater Autonomy
Teachers often feel constrained in their ability to exercise their professional judgment. With state standards, school initiatives, and increasing public scrutiny dictating much of what they do in the classroom, teachers often express feeling less like trained professionals practicing their craft and more like automatons delivering prescribed curricula and nothing more. They are not running a daycare, and yet that’s how the misinformed view the job.
To establish and encourage professional autonomy, and by extension, create an environment that keeps good educators in the classroom, school leaders can:
- Create continuous improvement plans based on teacher feedback.
- Offer a range of pre-selected trainings that give teachers autonomy while also making room for district oversight.
- Measure progress and outcomes that make the case for why educators ought to control their own curriculum based on students’ needs.
- Listen and create solutions for the day-to-day challenges and stressors teachers are facing in the classroom.