Ask An Expert: The Effects of Teacher Burnout

Question: One of my colleagues had to take a leave of absence because of stress related issues. Basically, she burned out. I am a new teacher and I don’t want the same thing to happen to me. How does teacher burnout effect the education system, and how can we ameliorate it? Dwayne J

Answer: Dwayne, as you know, teachers have strong commitments to their work. Most of them feel passionately about teaching, and see it as a “calling.” The emotions that teachers undergo include love for (most) students, hate for the paperwork, the feeling of excitement when they see a student finally understand a concept, etc. Then there’s the dread of filling out report cards, the feeling of burn-out in December, and the nervous feeling associated with the first day of school every year. These emotions affect teachers across the board, without regard to experience.

Burnout refers to extreme stress experienced by those who work in intense occupations, especially in offering services that are subject to chronic tension levels. It usually means the inability to function fully in one’s job due to the prolonged stress related to these jobs. Stress and burnout are linked closely to an individual’s state of mind. Burnout is three-dimensional and includes feelings of emotional exhaustion or tiredness; teacher “depersonalization,”  in which they develop a negative and distrustful attitude towards their students, parents, and their colleagues; and a reduced sense of accomplishment and self-esteem.

It also brings about other negative effects, such as increased absenteeism, decline in classroom performance, and poor interpersonal relationships with colleagues and students. Burned-out teachers are usually less sympathetic toward the problems of students, and are less committed to their jobs. They develop lower tolerance for classroom disruptions, are less prepared for class, and are generally less productive. As a result, burned-out teachers can have a negative influence on the morale of new teachers.

Burned-out teachers are more narrow-minded about their practices, and resistant to changes in those practices. They resort to blaming others for low achievement or failure. If schools are to succeed at providing students with an effective, relevant education, teacher’s emotions must not be ignored.  Teachers need to feel validated in their work so that they can continue educating our youth to the best of their ability.

Choose your Reaction!
  • I’m a former teacher that left the profession because of burn-out! Until I read this article, I wasn’t aware that was what happened. I know I’m much happier as a SAHM and yet still have a passion for education. But I do not want to go back to the classroom. The mere thought of it comes with a feeling of dread. I was in the classroom for 15 years!

  • I’m also a burnt out teacher who left the profession for corporate training. I’m still using my skill set, but in a different way. Like Johanna, I wasn’t aware how burnt out I was until just recently.

  • A toxic work environment can also be blamed for teacher burnout. Not only is the work emotionally and mentally exhausting, but then there are fellow teachers and administrators that make it worse by being accusing rather than uplifting.

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  • As a student about to begin teaching I am very aware of the burnout which can occur! Can you offer some advice regarding how to face and reduce the risk of such a burnout occuring?

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