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8 Reasons Teachers Are Burned Out (And 4 Ways to Help)

by Judie Haynes |

Most U.S. schools moved to virtual learning in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic caused many sections of the country to shut down. By the time schools closed for the summer of 2021,  many teachers reported how stressed and burned out they felt. Stress was the most common reason teachers cited for leaving the profession before and during the pandemic, according to a RAND Corporation survey of nearly 1,000 former public school teachers. Three out of four former teachers said their jobs were “often” or “always” stressful.

In August/September 2021, most teachers returned to school in their their brick-and-mortar buildings. We all thought the pandemic was winding down. However, the teacher stress from the past 15 months has not been alleviated.  If anything, it has increased.  There are very few studies that look at teacher stress in the Fall of 2021. I have gathered reasons for this stress from one-on-one discussions with individual teachers and what I’m hearing in discussion groups and Twitter chats.

8 Reasons Teachers Are Burned Out

Here are some areas that I’ve found have added to teacher stress since teachers came back to school in August or September:

1. Many schools were not able to fully staff their schools for the fall 2021 opening of school because of high teacher retirement numbers and a lower number of teachers coming into the profession.

Many teachers approaching retirement have retired before their retirement date. According to Brookings, educators who have had to change instruction modes (virtual to hybrid to in-person) at least once during the past school are 13% more likely to have considered leaving or retiring from teaching.

2. With the rise in COVID cases since October, teachers worry about contracting the virus from students, who are still mainly unvaccinated.

My daughter, who is a special education teacher in Connecticut and is fully vaccinated, recently got infected with COVID by an unvaccinated student. Her school couldn’t fill all of the teaching positions in their building this year, and they have very few substitute teachers. Her students didn’t have appropriate coverage during her 10-day absence. This was a very stressful time for her.

3. Many teachers are telling me that many of their students are having a very difficult time adjusting to face-to-face instruction and to wearing a mask.

Students came back to school after being taught virtually for 15 months (March 2020 to June 2021), and it’s been hard for them to adjust to being in a classroom again with a more rigid schedule. The behavior of students appears to be a source of teacher stress.  Teachers of multilingual learners are further stressed because a number of their students did not thrive during virtual teaching, and some left school at the beginning of the pandemic and have not returned.

4. It was highly touted that the pandemic would change the way children were taught in U.S. schools.

A plethora of articles were published about what schools learned during the pandemic.  Many teachers have shared that this claim did not become a reality. Schools raced to test students to see where they are academically as soon as they returned to school in August or September. The emphasis has been on remediation rather than starting where the students actually are.

5. While virtual teaching, educators had much more flexibility in their schedules and many had some say in how fast the pace of their classes was.

Teachers have lost flexibility and input into their schedules. For teachers of multilingual learners, their instruction with their students is interrupted for testing because they are often asked to proctor tests for general education students, which interrupts their own instructional time. This is true for not only standardized testing but benchmark tests as well.

6. Teachers of multilingual learners are expected to be in charge of everything that affects their students.

Part of these teachers’ job is now to be everything to everybody. In addition to teaching their students, they are deluged with questions and demands from administrators and colleagues.

7. Some ESL and special education teachers are reporting  that their relationships with classroom teachers, with whom they always worked, are fractured.

Teachers are often so stressed that they are unwilling to add to their workload by differentiating instruction for multilingual learners and special education students in their classes.

8. Teachers are not taking care of themselves. 

Teachers are so overworked and stressed that they are not making time for self-care. Stress in teachers, aside from contributing to teacher burnout, also affects student academic progress.

How Can Schools Alleviate Teacher Stress?

1. Add Flexibility.
Find ways to add some flexibility to teachers’ schedules. Lack of flexibility is a huge teacher concern.

2. Be Vigilant About COVID.
Alleviate stress that teachers have about contracting COVID-19 from unvaccinated colleagues and students. Many schools who have been testing consistently and promoting vaccinations have found that it relieves stress surrounding the virus.

3. Support Self-Care.
Support teachers’ use of self-care strategies throughout the school day. Involve teachers in discussions about what to do about teacher stress. Stressed teachers are not conducive to student achievement.

4. Honor Work Hours.
Administrators need to limit the time they expect teachers to work beyond the school day. Teachers should not bring work home from school, and administrators should not call teachers after school or on weekends.

Do you have other ideas about what your school can do to alleviate teacher stress? Please share them with us in the comment box below.

About the author

Judie Haynes

Judie Haynes taught elementary ESL for 28 years and is the author and coauthor of eight books for teachers of ELs , the most recent being “Teaching to Strengths: Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence and Chronic Stress“ with Debbie Zacarian and Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz. She was a columnist for the TESOL publication "Essential Teacher" and is also cofounder and comoderator of the Twitter Chat for teachers of English learners #ELLCHAT.

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