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THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF TEACHER BURNOUT

THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF TEACHER BURNOUT

Courtni Gardner, Alex Greenwald, Angela Ashton, Shaye Sweet

SED 322

Arizona State University


THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF TEACHER BURNOUT

Abstract

This paper introduces the issue of teacher burnout and how it is affecting the American education

system. This paper discusses how the problem began, the stakeholders involved, and resources

and suggestions to resolve teacher burnout in the future. In addition, this paper provides research

on topics including teacher burnout state by state statistics and the effects it has on students,

parents, and the community.

Keywords: Burnout, Stress, Teacher


THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF TEACHER BURNOUT

THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF TEACHER BURNOUT

Introduction to the Problem

Education is the cornerstone of a developed society, in which teachers are expected to

cultivate an environment that is conducive to our modern standards and values. With these

responsibilities, teachers often find themselves overwhelmed with their workload, as well as

feeling lost in trying to manage the emotional and mental stress that weighs on them while

managing a classroom. The first step to teacher retention is identifying a teacher at risk of

burnout, which can include irritability, poor job performance, absenteeism, and other physical

illnesses. These symptoms of potential burnout can be linked to stress created from restrictive

legislative policies, excessive workload, student misbehavior, and the lack of coping mechanisms

and support from colleagues and administration. This paper will delve into the research found on

educational policies and statistics that provide evidence of these stressors, as well as

understanding why the teacher turnover rate has increased dramatically in recent decades. It is

also important to note the underlying causes of teacher incompetence, such as pay and the

stakeholders involved, that impede on teachers’ ability to make healthy and efficient changes.

While teachers are perceived as emotional support vessels for their students, the mental

health and stability of our teachers should also be evaluated and monitored routinely to ensure a

positive and motivated atmosphere inside the classroom. A teacher who is suffering from

exhaustion and confusion can not only show personal health deterioration, but it can also trigger

student behavioral issues and a decline in academic performance. A method to mediate home and

work-life balance is for districts to provide or refer third-party mental health counselors where

teachers can be offered resources, coping mechanisms, and classroom management skills without
THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF TEACHER BURNOUT

entangling professional relationships. These third-party counselors will act as a safety net for

teachers who are feeling overwhelmed by their responsibilities, and they can be an opportunity to

mend administrative and teacher trust. Teachers can start to feel cared for by their employers,

and begin to return the service to their students. Other means that can be implemented at

individual schools include guest speakers, physical and mental wellness programs and

pamphlets, and colleague cohesiveness training. Many mental health resources are low cost and

take little time to address, but their impact on retention and teacher performance can go a long

way in improving student management and success.

In order to develop a solution to teacher burnout, the stakeholders and their roles must be

analyzed. Schools and districts face legal battles and professional duties at both the state and

federal levels. Many policies are designed by politicians who do not focus their agendas on

education, and therefore funding for programs are often cut or eliminated. Curriculums are

tailored to state standards where teachers must construct repetitive lesson plans with little

opportunities available for creativity and engagement. Additionally, the pressure is put on

teachers by parents and the community to serve their children unconditionally and perform to a

standard that they expect from their school’s reputation. A community that lacks faith in their

schools and teachers is not one that will vote to provide funding for educational opportunities.

Lastly, students may be the most influential stakeholder in a teacher’s career. Managing behavior

while facilitating an academically successful group of students can be mentally tolling for a

single teacher, especially with class sizes increasing yearly. Under the expectations to tend to

these students, the density of a teacher’s workload can exceed past their contract hours and

obstruct their home lives. This workload includes lesson plans, meetings, paperwork, grading,

and the social guidance of hundreds of students in the span of one school year, as well as
THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF TEACHER BURNOUT

preparing them for standardized testing. Moreover, the accessibility of social media has also

become a problem for maintaining professionalism among students and teachers. Student-teacher

relationships or misconduct can be easily exposed or misinterpreted, causing some teachers to

carry an umbrella of anxiety when interacting with or disciplining their students. Media has

raised teachers to a higher level of accountability, and if that level is not met, teachers are subject

to public scrutiny, defamation, and even legal action.

The combination of these stressors and stakeholders leaves little room for mistakes and

growth as a teacher continues their career. This is the creation of what has become the ever-

growing surge of teacher burnout and the rise in the turnover rate. The state of Arizona

specifically has suffered from the result of these flaws in the American education system, as seen

in the recent Red For Ed movement. Addressing the mental health of students has become a hot

topic in education, and it is essential to identify the symptoms of a potentially burned out teacher

as well. After being evaluated, the appropriate steps to self-care and classroom management can

be provided to aid the teacher and also encourage them to remain diligent and resilient as an

educator.

Discussion

Identifying Teacher Burnout in the Field

Introduction

The causes and symptoms of teacher burnout have been identified in the field by

researchers conducting interviews with teachers who self-reported teacher burnout. From these

studies, the main conclusion seems to be that teacher burnout is a multi-causal issue. Some of

the main causes stem from strict legislative requirements and poor classroom management.

Symptoms include, but are not limited to, emotional exhaustion, mental health issues, and
THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF TEACHER BURNOUT

absenteeism. Knowing the external and internal symptoms of burnout can help identify teacher

burnout; while learning coping skills can ease problems before they get worse.

Legislative Requirements

Public education facilities which receive federal funds are subject to ongoing decisions

Politicians make regarding education. Unfunded mandates and high stakes standardized testing

are two stressful aspects teachers are expected to deal with. High stakes standardized testing

became prominent in the 1980s and took on new rigor after the No Child Left Behind Act

(NCLB) created harsh penalties for schools with low test scores. According to a National Public

Radio (NPR) interview, “I heard from an elementary school teacher recently that she felt like she

wasn't doing anything other than preparing for, or administering, tests.” (Kamenetz, 2015). The

stress of non-stop test preparation contributes to teacher burnout.

As teachers experience burnout and leave the profession, schools in Arizona are resorting

to hiring less qualified teachers with emergency teaching certificates. An article from The

Arizona Republic states that in Arizona “…nearly 2,000 teachers last year had not completed

formal teacher training. More than 40 teachers lacked college degrees” (Cano, 2017). While

hiring teachers seems to work as a short-term solution, this strategy only contributes to teacher

burnout. With no formal teacher training, these teachers are not prepared for proper classroom

management.

Classroom Management

Classroom management can be a major source of stress for teachers. New and veteran

teachers can slip into a downward spiral of poor classroom management skills leading to student

misbehavior. “One of the most overwhelming problems for teachers is their failure to manage

the environments in their classrooms. Student misbehavior is a specific working condition


THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF TEACHER BURNOUT

strongly associated with job stress and burnout” (Jacobson, p.22). When added to other

stressors, such as lack of autonomy in curriculum design and overwhelming workloads, poor

classroom management can lead to serious symptoms of burnout.

Symptoms of Burnout

Teacher burnout can manifest itself in the classroom in a variety of ways. Some people

experience mental health issues, such as depression, impatience, and absenteeism. These

symptoms of prolonged stress should not be ignored. According to Journalist and Educator

Fiona Tapp, “True burnout is much more than simply feeling tired or overwhelmed, and can lead

to serious depression (Tapp, 2017).” Tapp goes on to say “...we [teachers] need to reclaim our

weekends and remember that a full life includes time for recreation, hobbies, personal

relationships, and downtime.” (Tapp, 2017). When teachers devote too much personal time to

lesson planning and grading papers they can lose sight of proper work/personal life balance. Just

as airplane safety instruction has taught us, we must apply the oxygen mask to ourselves first,

then help secure it to others around us. In other words, teachers must care for themselves first, to

be emotionally stable enough to help students.

Conclusion

A review of the literature surrounding teacher burnout concludes that it is a complex

topic with no single, simple solution. Demanding legislative requirements and stressful

classroom environments can lead to escalating feelings of teacher frustration. This stress and

frustration can lead to maladaptive coping mechanisms (e.g. excessive alcohol consumption) and

are best combated with adaptive coping strategies (e.g. hobbies) (Seidman & Zager, 1991).

Research
THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF TEACHER BURNOUT

Much research has been done on the issue of teacher burnout and how it has affected

educators across America. The research for this advocacy project will specifically focus on the

reasons for teacher burnout, possible solutions, and the effects it leaves on students.

Reasons for Teacher Burnout

One of the biggest reasons for teacher burnout is that teachers can see themselves as a

martyr and feel the need to overcommit themselves to professional roles and extracurricular

activities. A study of primary school teachers in Turkey found that those who devoted extra time

to their colleagues and school organization made a positive impact on the environment, but often

at the cost of emotional exhaustion, which is a precursor for burnout (Rankin p. 79, 2018).

Although teachers shouldn’t overbook themselves with activities, they should also make sure

they leave enough time in their day to collaborate with other teachers. Feelings of isolation were

one of the strongest contributors to teacher burnout and lesson planning collaboration is one of

the most effective ways to combat this isolation (Rankin, p. 88, 2018). Teachers that collaborate

together will improve their lesson plans and as well as create sustainable communities that that

can make teachers feel more connected and included to their school environment.

When looking at the reasons for teacher burnout in the United States it is important to

make distinctions between the various levels of teacher satisfaction among different states. The

Learning Policy Institute collects data for all the states and presents them in an interactive

infographic which tries to show why certain states are having more teacher shortages than others.

In 2018, the organization found Arizona to be the least attractive state for teachers by earning a

score of 1.3 out of 5, with a 1 being least desirable (Learning Policy Institute, 2017). Factors that

contribute to the high rates of dissatisfaction include a high pupil-teacher ratio of 23:1, with 16:1

being the national average. Furthermore, Arizona has the highest percent of uncertified teachers
THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF TEACHER BURNOUT

in the nation with 11.7% being uncertified, compared to a 2.6% national average (Learning

Policy Institute, 2018). These teachers are coming into the classroom unprepared to deal with the

stress that comes with the feeling of ‘always being on’ that a profession like teaching can bring.

Solutions

While looking at the reasons for teacher burnout we must also look at possible solutions

for teachers so that they can prevent and recover from their burnout. The book First Aid for

Teacher Burnout: How You Can Find Peace and Success by Jenny Grant Rankin provides a

comprehensive resource for teachers struggling with the stressors of their job. This book can be

seen as a necessity to a prospective teacher worried about becoming overwhelmed. One of the

biggest pieces of advice from the author is that teachers need to limit the fluff in their workload

so they can achieve a proper work-life balance. Teachers are more likely than other professionals

to have to take their work home with them on a normal day, 30 percent of them have to,

compared to 20 percent for other full-time professionals (Rankin p. 46, 2017). One of the main

solutions to this issue is for teachers to rethink the way that they grade. Of course, they want to

be able to provide daily formative assignments with instant turn-around feedback, but that cannot

always be possible if a teacher wants to maintain their job satisfaction and mental health. A 2010

study found that students will benefit more from teachers with dynamic lessons than teachers

with constantly graded assignments (Rankin p. 49, 2017).

Effects on Students

Teachers often think of the stress that comes into their lives because of their students, but

not as often do they to think of the stress they are bringing into their own student's lives. A

teacher that is experiencing burnout is going to inflict stress on their students just as much as

they are inflicting it on themselves. A 2016 study found higher rates or cortisol, the chemical in
THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF TEACHER BURNOUT

the brain responsible for stress, present in elementary school students that had teachers that were

experiencing burnout (Oberle, 2016). The study found an objective relationship between the

biological stress of students and teachers rates of emotional exhaustion. Teachers experiencing

burnout reported feeling depersonalized from their students; including feeling negative, irritable,

and cynical towards their students (Oberle, 2016). A student in a classroom like this is not going

to benefit academically and their growth will suffer as a result. Teachers that are experiencing

burnout and feel the temptation to drop out of the profession need to evaluate their choices and

decide what is best for themselves, even if that means losing their students. A whopping 40-50

percent of new American teachers leave their job as educators within their first three years

(Oberle, 2016). Therefore, teachers feeling distressed should know that they are not alone and

that there are resources out there that have helped teachers in similar situations.

Resources

Given the discussion and research provided, the following resources and solutions can be

provided for schools and faculty. The first resource that should be implemented is a Third Party

Mental Health Counselor assigned to every school. This counselor meets with the teachers

weekly to evaluate their mental health and provide resources and advice for the things they are

struggling on. These counselors would be different than a school counselor because the hope is

that the faculty would feel confident confiding in them without the worry that other employees at

the school may find out. Another resource would be a Required Self-Care Plan created and

completed by every teacher at the beginning of the school year. This self-care plan would map

out coping strategies and people they can contact if they are feeling down or overwhelmed.

Preparing teachers before burnout begins is the best way to prevent it.
THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF TEACHER BURNOUT

Another major resource would be specialized Training for Teachers. This would mean

mandatory stress management workshops as stress is a common aspect in the teaching

profession. These classes would hopefully provide skills and strategies for stress management in

their current affairs as well as future dilemmas. The second training would be monthly

mindfulness classes. The hope for these classes is to show teachers how to be mindful in their

daily lives. These skills could even be used in the classroom with the students. The last training

workshop would be crisis training. With an increase in school shootings, teen suicide, and other

traumatic events these workshops would provide teachers with the skills and resources to better

equip them to handle the crisis in their classroom and students.

In addition to these resources, the following suggestions would help decrease teacher

burnout across the board. Extra funding for the school would allow schools to put more money

into their materials and resources. Extra funding would also make having a mental health

counselor, extra workshops, and training for the teachers possible. Similarly, increase pay for

teachers would increase teacher morale. Feeling defeated and unappreciated in the classroom as

well as society can be overwhelming.


THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF TEACHER BURNOUT

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schools-hired-underqualified-teachers-using-emergency-teaching-certificates/627110001/

Jacobson, D. A. (2016). Causes and Effects of Teacher Burnout(Master's thesis, Walden


University, 2016) (pp. 1-160). Walden Dissertations and Doctoral Studies Collection at
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