Teacher burnout

  • 4 minute read
  • 24 April 2024

Teacher burnout is real and on the rise. With each passing year, the demands placed on teachers seem to multiply, stretching their time, energy, and emotional resilience to the brink. Educators are under unprecedented levels of stress, which has led to alarming rates of exhaustion and disenchantment. But the worst part is that burnt out teachers often pass off their exhaustion for stress, not fully understanding the impact the burnout is having on their physical and emotional health. 

What is teacher burnout?

Teacher burnout refers to a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion experienced by educators as a result of prolonged stress, overwork, and feelings of being overwhelmed by the demands of their profession. It is characterised by a combination of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization or cynicism, and reduced personal accomplishment or effectiveness in their role as teachers.

What causes teacher burnout?

A recent report released by the Black Dog Institute paints a distressing picture of the state of education in Australia. According to the report, 70% of teachers report unmanageable workloads, over three quarters (76.9%) cite teacher shortages in their schools, and one quarter (25%) regularly teach classes outside their area of training. Additionally, a staggering 60% of teacher absences in the previous month were attributed to mental health or emotional issues. 

The report also highlights concerning statistics regarding the mental health of teachers, with 52% reporting moderate to extremely severe symptoms of depression, 46.2% reporting anxiety symptoms, and 59.7% reporting stress symptoms. These figures represent significant disparities compared to the general population, indicating a pressing need for mental health support within the education sector.

What is the impact of teacher burnout?

Teacher burnout is a significant issue for the Australian education system. Almost half of Australian teachers (46.8%) are contemplating leaving the profession within the next 12 months, a stark increase from the mere 14% intending to do so in 2021. Associate Professor Aliza Werner-Seidler, Head of Population Mental Health at Black Dog Institute, UNSW Sydney, describes the findings as indicative of a profession in crisis. She notes that teachers are grappling with longer working hours, diminishing resources, and escalating pressure, all of which are fueling a surge in burnout and mental health-related absences. 

What are the signs of teacher burnout?

Teaching is a stressful job, but stress and burnout are two different things and it’s important to recognise the difference. Some common signs include:

  1. Physical Fatigue: Constant fatigue, sleep disturbances, and frequent illnesses can indicate physical exhaustion associated with burnout.
  1. Emotional Exhaustion: Feeling irritable, sad, flat, helpless, angry or even a lack of emotions all together could indicate that you’re emotionally exhausted. You may also have difficulty concentrating or staying focused on tasks.
  1. Reduced Passion: Burnout can lead to decreased motivation and engagement with teaching, reducing the enthusiasm you once felt for your job. This may result in an increase in procrastination and decreased productivity.
  1. Increased Absenteeism: Going to work may feel harder, so you may frequently call in sick or take personal days to avoid the source of stress. 
  1. Social Withdrawal: Withdrawal from social interactions, reluctance to participate in work events or activities, or a sense of isolation from colleagues can be indicative of burnout.
  1. Disrupted sleep: Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restful sleep due to heightened stress and emotional strain.

How to manage teacher burnout

If you think you’re experiencing teacher burnout, know that you’re not alone and there are things you can do to manage it. 

Seek Support: Don’t hesitate to reach out to colleagues, mentors or friends for guidance, empathy, and encouragement. Sharing experiences and seeking help can alleviate feelings of isolation and provide valuable coping strategies for managing burnout.

Identify the Issues: Are their specific challenges that are leading to your burnout? It might be a lack of support from leadership, a particularly disruptive class, a process that isn’t working for you. If you can pinpoint one or more issues that you believe are the root cause of your burnout, talk to the leaders at your school about them and make a plan to overcome them.

Consider extra help: You may need to reach out to a professional for help if you need it. Start by chatting to your GP and together you can put together a plan. Your school may also have an EAP with resources for you to access. 

How can you prevent teacher burnout?

Teacher burnout is common, but it isn’t inevitable; there are steps you can take to avoid it. Helpful ways to prevent teacher burnout include:

Establish Boundaries: Set clear boundaries between work and personal life to prevent work from encroaching on your downtime. Taking work home or staying late at school won’t just increase your stress levels, it will stop you from prioritising activities that recharge and rejuvenate you.

Prioritise You: Make yourself a priority by incorporating activities such as exercise, meditation, hobbies, and spending time with loved ones into your routine. Taking regular breaks and nurturing your physical and mental well-being are essential for preventing burnout.

Re-evaluate Your Approach to Work: It’s easy to get stuck in a work rut, so it’s important to schedule some time to pause and consider what your priorities actually are and make sure that’s where your time is being spent. If you’re drowning in paperwork and spending no time on tasks you love or know will make a difference, consider the small steps you can take to incorporate more of what you want to be doing into your day.

Reignite Your Passion: Talking to fellow educators or engaging in professional development are simple ways you can reignite your passion for teaching and boost your resilience in the face of burnout.

Collaborate with colleagues: If you’re starting to feel stress creep in, make some to connect with your colleagues. Sharing experiences and talking through challenges may help you feel less alone and give you the support you need to get through tough times.

Teacher burnout is a complex issue influenced by various factors, including workload, resources, expectations, and work-life balance. Recognising the signs of burnout and implementing strategies to manage and prevent it are essential for promoting teacher wellbeing and sustaining a high-quality education system.

How does Maths Pathway support teachers?

Maths Pathway was created by teachers who understand burnout. In fact, it was burnout that led them to creating our program. If you want to learn more about how Maths Pathway makes teaching easier, try the program for free today.

Author: Maths Pathway

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