When Googled, there are 26 MILLION search results for “teacher burnout”. The latest news stories discuss potential 4 day work weeks, how to manage stress, schools closing due to sick teacher call outs, and the high numbers of teachers looking to quit. This is not a problem. It’s a crisis. And for most Americans, it’s a silent crisis.
We’ve become accustomed to the “traditional” American school day. We get up early and make the children a nice, hearty breakfast before sending them to school on the bus. Our children’s school days roughly mimic their parent’s working hours. They go to school early and finish sometime in the afternoon (2:25-4:45 P.M.). It’s expected, and legally required, to school our children.
But we take the existence of a school for granted. Schools take a lot of money, manpower, resources, etc… to operate. Communities, and individuals within those communities, do not always see the value of a school. Many people think of teachers (and the services provided) as babysitters. They don’t want to increase their taxes or pay additional levees. This money often pays for things like additional teachers, more classroom space, new technology, professional development, and more. Working without these resources can be demoralizing.
Why are teachers burning out? There is not enough time in the day to be all the things that every student needs. Teaching now is more than just the course content. I have to be an advocate, a social worker, a role model, a mom, and a teacher all rolled into one.
Typical Teaching Day
My typical day starts a 5:30 A.M. with breakfast, commuting, etc… I have to report to my assigned “teaching” location at 6:50 A.M. Working in a self-contained Special Education room, I have to help my students get off the bus and supervise them in a safe location until we can walk into the classroom. The school day officially starts at 7:20 A.M.
Throughout my day, I teach: Math, Life skills, Science, and Social Studies. I also have to supervise my students in life skill tasks (handwashing, eating breakfast or lunch, using the toilet, walking from building to building to name a few). My students cannot be left unsupervised at any point in the day.
The students in the general education classes also cannot be left unattended at any point. If you do so, you are liable for any damage, etc… that occurs.
Self-contained Special Education teachers rarely get a planning period. We officially have a planning period, but student behavior problems, school schedule changes, inclement weather, etc…, often means our students stay with us during our planning periods. Planning period is supposed to be protected time that is used for making copies, creating lessons, grading student work, calling parents, using the restroom, or eating a snack.
The general education teachers do not fare much better. Their planning is often “voluntold” to cover teacher absences or duty spots.
The school day ends at 2:20 P.M. which means the start of more work. Any official parent-teacher conferences are scheduled to start AFTER our contracted hours from 2:20-2:50 P.M. (Because, of course, I want to be yelled at by irate parents while not being paid).
After any meetings, I need to start any work for CEUs (Continuing Education Units). To maintain our teaching certificate/license, we have to take specific coursework or professional developments. I have to attend face-to-face or virtual meetings, complete homework and assignments, and take tests.
Finally, I am human and have a family. I need all basic human necessities and have to care for my own child. This could be its own full-time job.
What can we do?
As a society, we need to make quality education a priority. These are children who will one day live, work, procreate. They need to be educated fully to be productive members of society. This means we, as a society, need to make some shifts in how we view school and teaching.
We want to teach. We want to help children grow and reach their full potential. Difficult political climates make this hard. I teach in Florida. Infamously, I can’t say gay. Books are disappearing from bookshelves. This helps no one.
We need more resources (qualified teachers, support staff, trainings…). We need flexible logistic thinking (like 4 day work weeks). We do not need more laws, more hurdles, more mandates.
As a teacher, it is up to me to protect myself from burnout. To do so I follow a few steps:
- Recognize signs in yourself first. What does your anxiety look like?
- Don’t work for free or after hours. Thats a fool’s errand.
- Take a day off.
Teachers now consider:
When is it time to do something else?