Teaching is emotionally intense. Along with the pressure of working with adolescents and children, there are short deadlines and an expectation to go ‘above and beyond’ every day.
Here are five factors that make burnout more likely.
- Unclear expectations: teachers are only told what the expectations were after they fail to meet them.
- No control: teachers have no control over their workload. This is especially stressful when the work they are doing is just for a filing cabinet and not for their students.
- No recognition: extra effort is ignored, along with everything else the teacher does.
- No support: teachers are left to figure out things for themselves with no help or encouragement.
- A climate of bullying: when teachers psychologically abuse each other or management attack teachers.
These factors are mostly out of the control of the teacher, all they can control is their response to it. Here are five ways to reduce the effects of a poor working climate.
- Get everything in writing. Even ‘passing’ conversations, jot off a quick email to confirm what was said. I had a manager once who made up rules on the fly. Every few days. I was never exactly sure if they just had a terrible memory or had genuinely believed they had communicated clearly to me. Getting it all in writing helped, in either case.
- Know when to stop. Have a deadline in the evening when you switch off. You’re no good to your students as a burned out zombie. Once, I was heading for burnout and took a teaching English as an Additional Language course during a weekend. Even though it was hard work, I felt refreshed on Monday because I had stopped thinking about my job for 48 hours.
- Get Zen about it. What you are doing is important to your students and your community. Praise is just for your ego.
- Support your colleagues! Go help out another teacher, arrange evenings out, invite them to your home. I had one manager who just said “Have you tried ringing home?” every time I asked for help in one of my first years as a teacher. It was the teacher in the room next to me who made the difference by having a couple of informal team-teaching lessons in each other’s classrooms. He put it like “Let’s do a couple of lessons in the next unit together!”
- Usually, calling it as you see it stops bullying. But not always. So, document everything. If you are a bystander to bullying, make sure you do not become a participant by joining in or gossiping about the victim later. In one school, we had a boss who would scream and swear at members of staff. Every few months, a new victim would be singled out and made to leave the school. Instead of unifying, the teachers would gang up on who he was targeting and say it was all their fault for how they were behaving. In another school, with a similar manager, the teachers refused to be bystanders and much of the bully’s power was defused.