By Ina Krasteva
Stress is an inevitable part of almost any job. Sometimes it can be for good; it challenges you and makes you leave your comfort zone to achieve something greater. However, when the stressful moments become more frequent (and particularly when you cannot control them anymore) it may turn into a case of teacher burnout and may seriously affect your health. The stress of teaching can be a problem, but it’s not one that can’t be solved.
Teaching has always been considered a high-stress profession. Mary Bousted, the General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), has commented that the teaching profession in the UK was “no longer compatible with normal life” due to the increasing workload and demands on teachers.
According to a recent BBC survey, the level of stress among the teachers in the UK continues to increase. The survey of 3,500 members of the NASUWT teachers union showed that 83 per cent of the respondents reported work-related stress. 67 percent admitted that the teaching job had negatively affected their mental and physical health, and nearly 90 per cent of union members cited the workload as a major concern, followed by remuneration and government inspections.
As Sally Weale of The Guardian noted, four in ten new teachers will quit the teaching profession within a year of qualifying, according to a new study by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. 76 percent of the respondents cited the huge workload as a main reason for their decision to quit, and 79 percent of them also mentioned they lacked a decent work-life balance.
Bousted, in her capacity of a general secretary of ATL, openly admitted:
“Unless the government makes changes to address teachers’ workloads, we fear thousands of great teachers will leave.”
In response to the numerous research findings pointing out the heavy workload as main reason for stress and burnout among teachers, a spokesperson for the Department for Education said the government would work closely with the teachers to reduce the workload and unnecessary bureaucracy.
In the meantime, the burnout among educators remains a problem.
Some of the symptoms include, but are not limited to, emotional exhaustion, constant frustration, anger, and decreased interest in teaching.
Strong depersonalization is another warning sign for burnout. Teachers sometimes become cynical; their attitude towards pupils and colleagues is affected negatively, and they can even avoid socializing and begin to isolate themselves from the surrounding world.
Teachers suffering from burnout usually lose interest in their job. They no longer set goals and have lower confidence in their professional skills and abilities.
Consequences of teacher burnout are not limited just to the teachers. Stress and burnout are contagious; it can affect other teachers, students, families, and the education field in general.
In the beginning, teachers may not even be aware of what is wrong, and many of the initial burnout symptoms may remain hidden. Identifying the early signs of burnout is not always easy, especially at school. In businesses and corporations, burnout is a management issue; companies regularly measure employee engagement and performance. If the results are unsatisfactory, a human resources department steps in. They receive support through different channels, including coaching, career growth opportunities, personal training, and motivational incentives.
Teachers and schools, however, rarely have such systems in place. Although not all these best practices can be fully applicable to the school context, many of them could be adjusted accordingly by school management. For instance, the governing body of the institution may decide to re-organize purely administrative duties and transfer some part of them to the non-academic personnel. By this, teachers would have more time to focus on creating interesting lessons, exchanging ideas between themselves, and building a strong, motivated team. Administration can also set up a mentoring system for the new and less experienced teachers to help them develop strong skills and deal with any problems that come up early in their careers.
Identifying and understanding professional burnout among teachers matters not just in schools, but also more broadly in society. There is no universal way to avoid it completely, but one of the most effective ways to combat stress and burnout is developing a stable professional community. Setting up such a community is a shared responsibility of school leaders and teachers. It is not easy, and it does not happen overnight; nevertheless, it would benefit us all.