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teacher burnout increases when teachers don't have support they need outside of classroom hours.

We need support and empathy to prevent teacher burnout

When teachers don't do have the supports necessary to take care of their own needs outside of the classroom, they burn out

COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on the world. Its impact on the educational profession, though, is unique. Every educator has an impact on children–the future adults. In a time of fear and uncertainty, our students turn to us; we are the moms, dads, and guardians away from home. We spend several hours a day with our students. Parents entrust us with the most precious things in their world–their children. This is a humbling fact.

Teachers are not robots–they, too, are human beings with feelings, fears, insecurities and lives. A teacher’s day is beyond classroom hours, and at the same time, teachers have to take care of themselves. When teachers don’t do this, they experience teacher burnout.

A nationally representative survey of teachers by RAND Education and Labor in late January and early February 2021 found that educators were feeling depressed and burned out from their jobs at higher rates than the general population. In the survey, one in four teachers–particularly Black teachers–reported that they were considering leaving their jobs at the end of the school year. Only one in six said the same before the pandemic. So, what can be done?

I have been teaching in a public elementary school for 23 years. I have had an impact on hundreds of children during this time–and anyone who sits at my desk and looks at my walls will see this–dozens of notes, poems, little books written to me over the years by my students, thanking me for all I’ve done to help them learn to read. When I’m having a day that makes me ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” I reread these notes, poems, little books and remember why–I am making a difference in a “kiddo’s” life.

Teachers need to know they are appreciated and valued by students, parents, and administration. Teachers don’t get yearly bonuses at the holidays or when 80% of their class passes an assessment. Most teachers don’t teach in state-of-the-art classrooms that are climate controlled. Many teachers are still paying off the student loans they needed to take out in order to get the degree and certification needed to become a teacher. That’s okay. We knew what we were getting into.

From my perspective, these are some of the ways to support teachers to retain high-quality, passionate educators and avoid teacher burnout:

  • Let the teachers know you appreciate them–and by “you,” I mean parents, students, principals, superintendents, board of education members, and even colleagues. Be specific and genuine.
  • Give teachers a break–and by “a break,” I mean when a single assessment comes back with less than desirable results, don’t assume anything. Whether you’re a parent or administrator, talk to that teacher about what that day looked like. Chances are, there is a reason why 80% of the students weren’t at greater than 80% mastery.
  • Keep teachers in the know–and by “in the know,” I mean professional development. Would you want to go to a doctor who graduated from medical school 25 years ago and hadn’t received any updated medical training since? Once teachers graduate from college and get a job, it is a district’s responsibility to continue to support and educate them on current research-based instruction that will positively impact student learning.

We, the teachers, also need to remember why we got into this profession. We love children, but that’s obvious. I became an educator because I want our children to have a better world. I want our children to have a love of reading that I didn’t have growing up. I want our children to know they are loved, cared for and valued in our society. I want our children to be able to make educated, informed decisions as they lead their lives. I want our children to strive for a better world for those that come after them.

Ask yourself: Why did YOU become an educator and what do YOU want for our children? Chances are that your answer will help you keep the flame glowing bright.

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