I grew up in New York City, which is certainly worlds away from the rural New York area where I live now. When I was a kid I always thought teachers were infallible. They knew everything and should never be challenged. I continued thinking this even when my kindergarten teacher ridiculed me in class for crying when I missed my mom. I still felt that way when, in third grade, I was sick and threw up in class and my teacher handed me some paper towels and made me clean it up. When I was in Junior High School I had a math teacher who was wound just a little too tight. He frequently went into fits of rage, threw desks around the room and once grabbed a student’s books and tossed them out the window. Sadly, by the end of the school year he ended up murdering his wife and committing suicide. What was going on here? Wouldn’t choosing a teaching career sort of mean you liked children and wanted to make a difference in their young lives? Was teaching attracting unstable individuals or was “teacher burnout” at work here?
Teacher burnout ocurrs when a teacher can no longer perform their day to day duties as a result of tiredness, frustration and other contributing factors. Either the stressed out teacher leaves the profession or continues on and becomes unsuccessful or ineffective in the classroom. Teachers often come to see themselves as paid individuals and no longer as professionals. Symptoms of teacher burnout include tiredness, anxiety, reduced performance and poor interpersonal relationships both at home and at school.
Teaching is one of the most important professions in our society today. It’s also one of the lowest paying, undervalued professions. Teachers must contend daily with students, parents, administrators and other teachers all while attempting to ensure curriculum meets the ever changing and strict standards of accountability. That’s a pretty heavy burden to bear.
It’s interesting to note that, according to the National Education Association (NEA) stress is much more prevelant in larger schools than in smaller schools. Rural teachers feel the stress of time demands and working conditions, while big city school teachers find that discipline and behavior problems are the main stressors. Female teachers tend to be more satisfied with their jobs than males. And there is no difference between White, African American or other ethnic groups for the reasons why teachers experience burnout.
I had a teacher in grade school who was fond of saying, “I’m no longer a teacher, I’m a policeman.” This statement is somewhat true because teachers often spend more time refereeing fights and disciplining disruptive students than educating. School environments are more violent and crime and drug ridden than ever before. Unfortunately, teachers are often caught in the middle of it.
While I’m not saying that any person who makes a child clean up her own vomit is entirely stable or that a teacher who throws desks at students doesn’t need serious therapy, I am saying that teaching is not what it once was. There are unhinged individuals in education just as there are in any other profession. But the teaching profession has its own unique issues. Teacher burnout is much easier to prevent than to reverse. There are certain interventions that schools can take to prevent it. Stress management training and workshops, relaxation training, improving the classroom environment and addressing salary issues just to name a few. Parents can help by working with their child’s teacher instead of expecting teachers to solely be disciplinarians rather than focusing on what’s most important, educating our children.
**This post and all others (including new posts not published here) are now on my new blogging site: http://www.mylovesleftovers.com. Thanks for checking it out!