The Worry of Teacher Burnout Rates
There are some startling teacher burnout statistics. 3750 teachers were on long-term sick leave in January 2018 due to anxiety and mental ill-health. In fact, 1 in 10 teachers left the profession in the academic year 2016 – 2017 due to exhaustion.
Teacher burnout rates are extremely worrying. But, what is the cause? Well, it is all the things you would imagine: too much marking; too much accountability; too little support in the classroom.
But, rather than focus on the bad news – it’s time to focus on how we can empower teachers. Work is being done at national levels to support teachers and raise the important issues of unpaid overtime and the punitive pressures of accountability. But, what can professionals in the classroom do to help maintain personal well-being and remain emotionally available for the students they are supporting?
Assessing value for money
Teachers struggle to see their time and expertise as a commodity. You are individuals who work for the good of others. However, you do not have an infinite bundle of energy, and your supply will run out. You need to assess the work you do and decide if it offers value for money. Put it another way: will the task you are doing make a significant impact on the learning of students?
If the answer is no, then why are you using up your resources? Yes, laminating makes all your displays look lovely and may make them last longer. But, what is the point if your school requires you to change the displays once a term? Is it worth the additional two hours after school?
When coming up with exciting new projects in department meetings, the first question should be: does this offer value for money? Sometimes not to act is the best strategy because then you can retain something of yourself to give to the students instead.
Work/ life balance is not a cruel joke played on teachers. It is essential if you are going to maintain your wellbeing. The reason this comes second and not first in the list of advice is because you make time for balance by assessing the impact and value of your activities. You need to allocate time for yourself – it is not an optional extra – this will add value to the times when you must be present in the classroom.
The easiest way to become overwhelmed by work is by having nothing else you can do. You need time in your day when you are doing something for you and something that is unrelated to your job. Your body and mind will demand this from you at some point – you might as well make it a decision you implement into your life.
The Art of Saying No
So, assessing value for money and ensuring you have a work/ life balance for the sake of the students – both are ways of avoiding teacher burnout. But, how do you do this when you do not feel in control of your workload? Let’s take a step back into Teacher Burnout Help 101: Rule 1 - Say no.
The easiest way to say no is to not hear the request in the first place and be too late to volunteer. How do you do this? Well, you turn your emails off at a set time and you do not check them again until the next day. You do not check emails on Saturdays or Sunday mornings – maybe not until Monday morning. This means not having your work email on your phone – yes, I am serious!
When the senior staff ask for volunteers you don’t always have to be the one to step up. Assess the value of what they are asking and test this against the other priorities you have at the time. It may be good for your career in the short term to volunteer but in the long term it may stop you from fulfilling your role.
Finally, if you are writing more than the students in their books then something is going wrong. The most time-consuming part of teaching is marking. Find strategies that mean you do less, such as:
- peer marking
- tick marking in class
- Single sentence comments
- Speaking activities
Not every moment of progress must be evidenced with a written outcome.
Easier said than done
One crucial reason why teacher burnout rates are so high is because it is easier said than done to say no and introduce balance in your life. However, well-being amongst staff is worth a discussion in school – as the only sure way to maintain success is if teachers are emotionally available for the students throughout the year. So, maybe the first way to avoid teacher burnout is to start a conversation with colleagues – it will be easier to solve the problem as a group rather than alone.