21st October 2022
Teacher Burnout: Statistics, Symptoms and How to Recover
Teaching can be a very rewarding career; inspiring and motivating students is extremely fulfilling. However, the demands placed on teachers can be overwhelming at times. From long hours and a heavy workload to low pay and constantly changing curriculums and standards, it can all pile up, and without the right support, lead to damaging burnout among teachers.
A survey of over 3,000 education staff found that in 2021, 77% of teachers experienced poor mental health due to their work and 72% were stressed. If overlooked, these symptoms of stress lead to burnout in teachers, causing many to leave their jobs entirely. With the stress and upheaval that COVID-19 brought, it’s now more important than ever to understand teacher burnout, what the signs are and how to both recover from and prevent burnout.
What is teacher burnout?
Getting stressed at work occasionally is common, but suffering from prolonged stress over a sustained period of time can lead to burnout. Whilst burnout can occur in all occupations, it’s particularly prevalent among teachers due to the demanding nature of their role coupled with the lack of funding and support.
Teachers are often high achievers that hold themselves accountable for the success of their students. As a result, they can work themselves into a state of burnout that significantly impacts their teaching ability and can lead to anxiety and depression.
A study on teacher burnout and stress in Australia found that over 50% of the sample of 749 teachers reported being very or extremely stressed and were considering leaving the profession. Early career teachers, primary teachers, and teachers working in rural and remote areas had the highest stress and burnout levels. This demonstrates that a variety of factors can impact teacher burnout, which means we can potentially predict the teachers that might need some extra support.
What happens when teachers burnout?
When teachers suffer from burnout, not only is their mental and physical health impacted, but their performance and overall enjoyment of their job. Here are some common consequences of burnout in teachers:
- Cynicism — due to the level of stress, teachers may begin to have a pessimistic view of their role and feel mentally detached at work.
- High turnover — many teachers are forced to leave their job due to high-stress levels. A study found that teacher turnover (30%) is higher than for other professionals.
- Impact on morale — it can be damaging to staff morale if teachers are getting so stressed that they burnout. It’s especially detrimental if no support is offered as staff may feel the same could happen to them.
How common is teacher burnout?
Teacher burnout is sadly extremely common all over the world:
- UK — according to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, teaching staff report the highest rates of work-related stress, depression and anxiety in Britain.
- USA — 44% of K-12 workers in the US say they “always” or “very often” feel burned out at work.
- Europe — a study found that teachers suffer from higher levels of stress, anxiety, fatigue or sleeping problems when compared to other professions as a whole.
- Australia — teachers reported being very or extremely stressed and were considering leaving the profession.
Teacher burnout is clearly a worldwide problem that needs to be addressed and understood in order to prevent so many from leaving the profession.
Why is teacher burnout so high?
As we touched on earlier, teachers tend to be highly driven and hold themselves to a high standard. When you couple this personality type with a great deal of stress and pressure, you might find that teachers persist for longer which results in burnout. According to a recent study, in the 2020-2021 school year, teachers cited stress as the primary reason for leaving the profession.
Teachers are not only responsible for their students but also for managing parents’ expectations whilst adhering to the ever-changing rules and regulations. Teachers are often required to plan lessons and mark work during the evenings, which makes it difficult to switch off. Continuing this unsustainable work practice will only continue the cycle, so, how can teachers spot the signs of burnout before it’s too late?
What are the signs of teacher burnout?
Being able to identify when you or other staff members are suffering from burnout can be key to preventing it from spiralling out of control. Let’s take a look at some of the main signs of burnout:
Emotional and physical exhaustion are common symptoms of stress, potentially leading to burnout. This exhaustion can manifest itself in frustration, irritability, mood swings, lack of concentration and insomnia. If you’re feeling fatigued before work and on a Monday morning after the weekend or break, it might be a sign of stress.
Withdrawal and detachment from the job
Outside work, a teacher suffering from burnout may withdraw from friends and family by avoiding social gatherings. At work, they might lose passion for teaching, develop a pessimistic attitude and avoid collaborating with colleagues.
Due to exhaustion and stress, teachers may begin to lack productivity and lose motivation to do their job well. They might display low self-confidence and spend more time doing tasks. This can be a key sign of burnout.
Depression and anxiety
If teacher burnout is left unchecked, it can develop into feelings of depression or anxiety. When emotions are ignored, it’s much easier for them to spiral out of control. If you’re ever suffering from these feelings, always speak to a professional.
What are the causes of teacher burnout?
Before exploring how to recover and avoid teacher burnout, it’s important to understand what can cause burnout in the first place.
- Workload — YouGov research has found that 60% of teachers find the workload of marking causes them the most stress. Having so much on one plate can quickly become overwhelming and teachers have to plan lessons, mark work and support students, all whilst wearing multiple hats.
- Emotional demands — being a teacher can be emotionally draining as it can feel as though future generations rest upon your shoulders. For example, not only do teachers educate their students but can also act as emotional support.
- Lack of funding — many areas may lack sufficient funding to keep everything up to date. This can place a huge burden on teachers who must ‘make do’ with what they have. A lack of funding can also lead to a lack of staff, adding further pressure on the teachers.
- Lack of preparation — teachers may be placed in situations in which they aren’t prepared such as covering a subject they don’t have experience in or working with students that have behavioural issues.
How do teachers recover from burnout?
When left untreated, burnout has the potential to develop into serious physical and mental health issues. This is why these strategies are so important to aid recovery.
Talk about it
Telling trusted colleagues, friends and family about how you feel and what you’re experiencing can help ease the burden. They might be able to share their own experiences and help offer advice. Being able to get it off your chest is the first step towards recovery as you’re no longer internalising the feelings and dealing with them alone. Speaking with a doctor or therapist is a great way to get advice on positive coping mechanisms.
Taking the time to look after yourself is a great step towards recovery as you may have been neglecting certain areas of self-care:
- Taking the time to exercise
- Creating and sticking to a sleep routine
- Practising meditation
- Spending time with friends and family
- Enjoying hobbies
Simplify where you can
Putting things into perspective and simplifying your life can have a huge positive impact on stress-related burnout. Whether it’s letting go of some commitments or dedicating a day at the weekend entirely to self-care, making your life as stress-free and quiet as possible during your time of recovery is key.
Find out what led to your burnout
Getting to the root of your burnout will be extremely enlightening, aiding your recovery and preventing it from happening again. Perhaps it was a toxic work environment and you lacked support from your coworkers. Or, you were overworked and underpaid or underappreciated. Being able to address the root cause can help you define exactly what you’re looking for from your next teaching role or changes you can implement in your current one.
How to prevent teacher burnout
So, how can we prevent teachers from burning out and reduce stress levels? Let’s take a look at some key ways to make changes:
- Promote wellbeing — a recent survey found that 7 in 10 parents (69%) think that more should be done in schools to support the wellbeing of teachers. Introducing this initiative in schools and running training sessions is key to educating teachers on the dangers of burnout and how it can be avoided. Education helps to remove the stigma and promote open communication with all staff members.
- Set boundaries — instead of saying ‘yes’ to every new project, you can set boundaries and say ‘no’ if your plate is too full. Sticking to a strict schedule of working hours is also incredibly important. Turning off devices after a certain time can help reduce stress.
- Check in with your mental health — practising mindfulness, meditation and journaling are all methods of checking in with your emotions and being aware of your well-being. This means you can catch burnout before it happens.
- Get support — if you feel as though you’re struggling, there’s no harm in reaching out at school, and asking for support. Or, you may find that speaking to a mental health professional can help manage your emotions and stress.
Teacher burnout is a serious problem that’s impacting schools all over the world. Both teachers and schools can take steps to prevent burnout, whether it’s carrying out training for the entire staff or checking in with yourself regularly. Being burnt out doesn’t have to be the end of your teaching career. With the right steps, you can recover and return to teaching with renewed passion. The key is taking steps to prevent stress from getting out of hand.
Speak to Education Support
If you find you’re struggling during the holidays, our partners at the Education Support Partnership are on hand throughout the holidays to assist. From short-term financial aid to counselling, advice, or just a friendly chat, the Education Support Partnership was created to help teachers when they need it. (Just call them at 08000 562 561.)
If you’re a teacher with Engage, you can benefit from the full Employee Assistance Programme, which includes up to six sessions of face-to-face telephone counselling, access to online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), financial and legal information, and more.
You can find out more on the Education Support Partnership’s website. If you’d like more information on how we support our teachers throughout their career, check out the Employee Assistance Programme and all our other benefits.
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