Preventing Teacher Burnout by Advocating Self-Care
Teacher burnout is a real and tangible thing. Each year in the United States alone, a half a million teachers leave the profession, and more than 40% of all new teachers leave within their first 5 years. While these teacher leave for reasons that may be common across the board, or unique to their own personal situation, the fact is that teaching is a tough profession and requires a huge amount of giving of one’s self and personal effort to strive to make a difference. Added to that the challenges teachers face regarding student behavior, work environment and load, or administrative responsibility, and the many pressures of working in education can quickly build up.
According to The Resilient Practitioner—a book on burnout prevention strategies for teachers, therapists and others in “caring” professions—“giving of oneself is the constant requirement for success.” The more a teacher wants to succeed and make a lasting impact on the students they reach, the more of themselves they have to pour into, and invest, into their work.
However constantly giving can leave people feeling personally empty—after all, you can only give away so much water without a pitcher being in need of a refill. Danna Thomas of Happy Teacher Revolution noted in an interview with Ed Week that self-care is vital because as teachers “We can’t be there in our fullest capacity to teach kids if we’re not in our fullest capacity ourselves. No matter how strong your lesson is, … it could all be perfect, but I personally cannot deliver a lesson to the best of my ability if I don’t get a full night’s rest, if I don’t eat on my lunch break.”
With heavy importance being placed on Social-Emotional Learning for students, researchers have begun to look at how well-prepared teachers themselves are to teach those skills, and how much they demonstrate their own mastery in self-care and emotional well-being. CASEL (The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning) acknowledges the importance of Teacher SEL in this education by including it as one of the three categories for SEL competencies (the other two are student SEL and the Learning Context), and is leading research in this area. Congress has even proposed a bill to study how to reduce teacher stress and increase retention and well-being.
Teachers working with difficult populations, or in challenging alternative settings, may also feel additional pressures or stressors. As administrators, it is important to build a working environment where teachers feel supported, and where there is opportunity for both personal growth and self-care.
Here are a few tips for supporting teachers:
- Hold regular check-ins with teachers to help tackle issues early on, identify stressors, and come up with solutions to prevent small concerns from becoming much larger.
- Encourage teachers to provide feedback on their work environment and brainstorm effective and efficient ways to foster a healthy work and learning environment for all students.
- Start professional development meetings off with a short mindfulness activity to help teachers connect with their own self-awareness, and learn techniques to use in the classroom.
- Ensure employees are aware of the services that may be available to them, including any employee assistance programs or other support services.
By working to take care of teachers—and help them take care of themselves—we are creating a learning environment where both teachers and students can thrive.
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