How Bad Is Teacher Burnout? What Schools and Districts Need to Know
A recent poll showed that over half of U.S. teachers are considering leaving the profession. This is, in part, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Schools are more understaffed than ever, leaving the teachers who have stayed behind to fill multiple roles. Add low pay, fears of infection, and students facing a youth mental health crisis, and it’s no wonder teachers are leaving the profession in numbers never seen before.
There's no doubt that teachers are the world’s superheroes. But instead of expecting these heroes to carry our heaviest burdens, can we find ways to lift them up?
Here are the important facts that schools and districts need to know about teacher burnout.
How Many Teachers Are Struggling With Burnout?
Even before the pandemic hit, K-12 teachers had one of the highest burnout rates of any profession. It’s been estimated that up to 30% of teachers experience symptoms of burnout at any given time.
The rate of teacher burnout can also be measured by looking at how many teachers leave the profession. Around 8% of teachers leave teaching every year, which is more than the rate of teachers who reach retirement every year. The turnover rate is highest for new teachers; around half of teachers leave the profession within their first 5 years.
Although teacher burnout has always been a serious issue, it’s gotten even more severe since the start of the pandemic.
A poll by the National Education Association conducted in January of 2022 found that the number of teachers who are thinking about leaving has risen since 2020. More than half of teachers now want to quit or are thinking about quitting in the near future, the poll showed. Over 90% of the teachers in the poll felt that burnout is a serious problem in the teaching profession.
Burnout has led to serious consequences for both teachers and students. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over half a million fewer public school teachers working today than there were before the pandemic. And over 40% of positions remain unfilled this school year.
It’s clear that burnout is a serious issue in K-12 teaching, and it’s only getting worse as the pandemic continues. And teacher burnout affects everyone, from administrators to students. When teachers burn out, they leave. And when they leave, students don’t get the support and education they need.
Why Teachers Are Getting Burnt Out
The pandemic has contributed to teacher burnout in 2022. Most teachers in the above poll mentioned that many of their colleagues have left their positions during the pandemic, and that they are expected to pick up the slack when there are unfilled positions on campus. That, on top of fears about contagion and interacting with students with more grief and trauma than usual, are unique challenges in 2022 that contribute to teacher burnout.
But teacher burnout isn’t just a pandemic issue — educators have been trying to raise awareness about this serious problem long before we’d ever heard of Covid-19.
Some of the main reasons that teachers cite when explaining why burnout happens include:
- Low pay
- Lack of resources
- Lack of preparation for real-life classroom issues
- Stressful political environment and conflict in the district or school
- Too much focus on testing
Most teachers leave to seek better employment opportunities, but around a third leave for better pay.
What Schools Can Do to Promote Teacher Mental Health
So what is the solution? What can schools and administrators do to support teacher mental health?
First of all, we think it’s important to distinguish between promoting teacher mental health and preventing burnout. There are things that teachers can do, individually, to protect themselves against burning out. However, it’s become clear that teacher burnout is a societal issue, not just an individual one.
Placing all of the responsibility for burnout on teacher mental health doesn’t resolve the problem at hand. Teachers burn out because of low pay, lack of resources, and excessive working hours. These are things that need to be addressed directly; no amount of self-care can solve them.
At the same time, there are ways that we can empower teachers to take control of their own mental health and decrease the likelihood of burnout.
Do a mental health check-in with your school staff
A mental health check-in is a quick way to open space for teachers to be able to talk about how they’re really doing. Often, feelings of burnout get worse in helping professions because people feel too ashamed to talk about them. By doing a regular mental health check-in with teachers, administrators can get a good sense of the state of teacher mental health on campus as well as create an opportunity to have conversations about mental health.
Create on-campus connections
Having strong relationships at work is key for preventing burnout in any profession. People are more likely to stick around at a job when they have at least one strong relationship there. Foster close connections on your campus. You can do this through explicit teacher support groups, or you can simply provide space and time for teachers to connect with each other.
Set up an on-campus mindfulness program
Mindfulness meditation has many benefits for teachers’ mental health, including decreasing stress and anxiety. This may be because mindfulness invites us to sit with the present moment, no matter how difficult it is. This helps teachers to learn how to ride the intense waves of emotion that come along with teaching instead of drowning in them.
Mindfulness doesn’t solve every issue that comes along with teacher burnout, but it’s a good start. Over 80% of the teachers who have participated in Calm Classroom’s school-based mindfulness program have said that they’ve experienced a decrease in stress and anxiety, are more aware of their thoughts and emotions, and feel more physically relaxed.
What Teachers Say About Our Mindfulness Program
In our most recent survey of over 2,336 teachers using Calm Classroom, we found that 77% of teachers were personally practicing Calm Classroom techniques outside of work hours. 96% said the Calm Classroom program was effective overall.
See what Chris, a teacher who uses Calm Classroom several times a day, has to say about our mindfulness techniques:
Get in touch with us to learn more about how your school or district can sign up to start fighting teacher burnout with mindfulness.
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