Teachers have a job that is both impactful and never-ending. Those things are both good and bad.
For many educators, teaching is a calling and something that they find joy in. They can make a difference in the lives of the students they teach, but they can also bring home the stress and overwhelm.
I travel across the county speaking with schools both virtually and live about overcoming burnout and the cycles of stress. I see so many educators carrying the burden of their jobs.
And I don't like to use the word burden when it comes to educating those we love and care so much about, but sometimes you have to honor the realness of what teachers are enduring.
Teachers feel caught in a cycle of constant stress and overwhelm. Yet, their teacher's hearts want to keep showing up for students. This profession is very mission-minded, and teachers believe they are meant to impact and influence students in positive ways.
But at the end of the day, they leave their classrooms feeling like it isn't enough. So, they work nights and weekends. They sit in the bleachers of their own children’s ballgames, grading papers, responding to emails from concerned parents, and addressing student challenges, while cheering on their children.
These professionals bear so many expectations from people on all sides, and it can be emotionally taxing.
Teachers are expected to:
- Teach the academic standards
- Meet each student’s unique academic needs
- Address their social-emotional needs
- Make learning exciting. Analyze data. Adjust and create lessons. Integrate technology. The list goes on and on.
The bottom line is they simply don't have enough time or bandwidth, and it's wreaking having our educators' lives. They are managing a workload this is unattainable and unachievable.
And this leads to feelings of defeat that can be uncomfortable, and tough to work through.
Where do these stressors come from?
In some cases, this emotional cycle is due to unreasonable expectations from parents and administrators. But sometimes, it’s a self-imposed burden.
- -75% of teachers and 84% of school leaders report high levels of stress.
There is a simple reason teacher workloads have become so overwhelming: we expect more from teachers than we used to.
We can always work to change the system, but I know that sometimes the system doesn't change, or it changes too slowly.
When I work with schools, we work on changing how we operate within the system, and we take back control over the things we do have power over. And that is our thoughts, actions, and behaviors.
These are the three things within our power, and when we can spend time on teachers' mental health and well-being, we shift to more positive, engaged, productive, and happier teachers.
What can be done to help teachers?
Besides requiring less of teachers, there are a few things that can make a difference in the overwhelm. You can lighten the load – and the tips I’m sharing are things that teachers and administrators can do to potentially lower stress levels.
How can teachers improve the situation?
1. Consider assigning fewer worksheets and quizzes
I know that every school has requirements for what they expect to see from their teachers, but if possible, consider assigning fewer pieces of work. Consider the projects not because there’s a hole in the schedule, but for the impact it could make on a student academically. Worksheets, problem sets, projects and quizzes all eventually end up back on a teacher’s desk. It might help to consider the motivation behind assigning work: Is it an assignment with the purpose of keeping students quiet and busy, or is it a project that is truly important and impactful?
2. Delegate responsibilities where possible
If there’s something students can do that you don’t have to do – like passing out supplies, managing the flow charts, or ensuring computers or supplies are returned to their assigned space at the end of the day – give your students the responsibility. This may help them feel more confident and like they’ve achieved something, and it’ll help to free you up to concentrate on the things that only you as the teacher can do.
A few tips for administrators to address teacher burnout
Administrators can help their teachers to avoid burnout too - and the answer isn’t better time management. Instead, try these things.
1. Reconsider what you require of teachers.
Along with the things that teachers can do to lighten their workload, administrators can do the same thing. Is each of the things you’ve asked of your teachers really necessary? Would the world end if one or two of those things didn’t happen?
2. Encourage professional development, especially for new teachers.
Especially for new teachers, sometimes the transition from “student learning to teach” to “teacher with their own students” can be a lot to manage. Professional development helps to give them more tools and to connect with others who are in the same space.
3. Make sure teachers know you support them.
This may have a bigger impact than you realize. The teacher-administrator relationship is a powerful one that can help teachers feel more positive about the job they’re doing, and research shows it can improve the entire school’s culture. Staff members may benefit from knowing that you have an open-door policy and are there to hear them out, and help with issues.
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can help teachers reduce the potential of burning out and help them keep enjoying the job they love, you might consider my most popular virtual or live keynote.
The Science of Happiness keynote is by far my most popular one. I’ve given this particular keynote over a hundred times all across the county this year. Teachers leave it feeling motivated and inspired to head back into their classrooms.