Teacher Burnout: The Invisible Crisis Behind Teacher Shortages

Overworked teachers is a growing crisis in the United States.
Here are some practical solutions to help prevent it from becoming irreversible.
Teacher Burnout: The Invisible Crisis Behind Teacher Shortages

Teaching can be a very rewarding career. Shaping students’ minds and watching them process and learn new information is worth the time and investment into young lives. The expectations of educators, however, are increasingly reaching unsustainable levels. Teacher burnout is becoming such a problem that the results may have far-reaching implications for years to come.

One far-reaching implication that stands out: teacher shortages. 

Historically, over a quarter of a million teachers leave teaching each year in the United States. 

But in the wake of COVID, those numbers are projected to soon reach three-quarters of a million unless we solve for its root cause according to Edweek Research.

Clearly, it is time for us to solve teacher burnout.

What is Teacher Burnout?

Teachers are under an enormous amount of stress. Everything from an emphasis on test scores, to overflowing classes and demanding parents can cause educators to become stressed and burned out. Add to the mix a year and a half of Covid and it can be a recipe for disaster. The Psych Learning Curve specifically defines teacher burnout as work induced depression.

What Does Teacher Burnout Look Like?

NPR revealed that many teachers are quickly reaching a breaking point. While teaching has always been a stressful occupation, the pandemic brought on a whole new level of stress and tension. Heidi Crumrine, a high school teacher in New Hampshire, states that this has been the most challenging year of her entire career. That says a lot since Crumrine has been teaching for two decades and started her career on 9/11 in New York City.

What burnout looks like for one teacher is often different than how it appears in another. Since burnout cases can vary, it may go unnoticed or mistaken for something else. In general, however, there are a few aspects of burnout that many teachers often have in common. According to School of Education, the following are several symptoms of teacher burnout:

  • Self-Doubt: Teachers may increasingly doubt their own effectiveness when burnout starts to set in. They may even wonder if teaching is the right profession for them.
  • Loss of Inspiration: A once creative educator may find it difficult to come up with new and engaging ideas. A teacher may even begin to dread certain aspects of teaching.
  • Constant Fatigue: Stressed educators might find it difficult to rest or sleep, and may still be tired even when they do. This can cause irritability and strain personal relationships.
  • Withdrawal: Withdrawal can occur both professionally and personally. An educator may decline lunch with colleagues or stay home on weekends instead of attending family functions.

Why is Burnout Increasing Among Teachers?

Teacher stress has been building for years, even before the pandemic. Testing has been a contentious issue for years, with teachers often taking the brunt of the blame when students fail to pass standardized tests. Add to that increasing class size and states requiring teachers to fit more work into the same amount of hours. The Graide Network points out several other issues that can cause burnout including inadequate budgets for supplies, lack of autonomy in the classroom, and student behavioral problems.

Many people mistakenly believe that teachers get a break every summer. Even during the summer, teachers are rarely on “break.”

Educators continue to work on several tasks related to the job throughout the summer months. A few of the work-related jobs that teachers will be working on include attending professional development classes and workshops, often teaching summer school, and preparing for the upcoming school year.

How Does Burnout Affect Students and Academic Achievement?

The extreme stress teachers experience can also affect their students. Science Direct found that teacher burnout can negatively affect student achievement and lower motivation. Teacher burnout has even been linked to students experiencing higher cortisol levels, the hormone related to stress.

Teacher burnout can ultimately lead to a national teacher shortage as overworked educators increasingly leave the profession. Currently, teacher shortages are already a problem in many areas. The Economic Policy Institute stated that there was a national teacher shortage of approximately 110,000 during the 2017–2018 school year. Since Covid, this number has almost certainly increased. In recent years, there has been a rise in emergency teaching certificates. This means that many individuals in classrooms may not have the necessary qualifications and education to teach effectively.

How Can We Reduce Teacher Burnout?

There are several specific steps that can be taken to reduce the burnout problem and solve the teacher shortage crisis.

  • Give Teachers Greater Autonomy – Most teachers have a minimum of a four-year college degree. Many have higher levels of education. Yet they often have very little say regarding what happens in their classroom. Letting teachers help choose curriculum and make decisions regarding grading will help them feel more connected to their students and allow them to use their professional skills. 
  • Reduce Teacher Workload – In addition to student-facing instruction time, teachers spend countless hours assessing work. Investing in assistive assessment technology and quality training reduce the burden traditional assessment causes.  
  • Promote Work/Life Balance – School districts and administrators should provide more options for part-time positions and job sharing. Increasing teaching assistants in classrooms or reducing class size will enable overworked teachers to spend more time with family and friends.
  • Increase Teaching Salaries – Teachers feel appreciated and a sense of stability with increased salaries that match the rising cost of living expenses. This may also reduce turnover and the amount of teachers leaving the profession.
  • Provide Professional Support – School districts should offer emotional support and counseling for overwhelmed teachers. Education Corner states that improving professional development that is geared toward specific grade levels and subject areas is a specific way to reduce burnout.

Teacher burnout and the growing teacher shortage remain unaddressed problems. Implementing meaningful strategies and practical solutions is necessary in order to positively impact the teaching profession and combat this growing crisis. 

If you know teachers who want to free up time and achieve a better work life balance, let them know about JoeZoo today.

Carl Mascarenhas