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Schools, districts, and society can work together to reimagine how we support teachers and address teacher burnout

3 ways to address teacher burnout


Schools, districts, and society can work together to reimagine how we support teachers and address teacher burnout

A teacher’s job is to educate the young people who will shape our future world. What profession could be more important?

Yet a recent survey by Merrimack College shows that 44 percent of teachers indicate they are very likely or fairly likely to leave the profession within the next two years. Another 2022 survey by the National Education Association found that 90 percent of teachers think teacher burnout is a very serious or somewhat serious issue.

Teachers have faced many challenges before, but the last three years have presented a steady stream of challenges, from a global pandemic to heart-wrenching events happening around our world and close to home. In order to proactively prevent further teacher burnout and demonstrate that we value our nation’s teachers, this is the time to ensure we are surrounding teachers with support at all levels–from within the classroom to our greater communities.

Support in the Classroom

As Lloyd Hopkins, founder and director of the Million Dollar Teacher Project, advocates, “Education has a profound opportunity to reevaluate what the classroom looks like to advance achievement and well-being for all students. At the same time, classrooms need to be reimagined to take care of teachers’ mental, emotional, and physical well-being.”

Teachers need increased support within classrooms in order to effectively meet the evolving challenges and increased demands that teaching presents while avoiding teacher burnout. In most classrooms, there is only one teacher to meet the academic and emotional needs of 20 to 30 or more students. As Hopkins explains, there may be unique and deliberate ways to include volunteers and interns in classrooms, so teachers have increased levels of support.

In addition, while many schools have instructional leaders and coaches to support curriculum and lesson planning, teachers also need resources to support students’ social-emotional needs as well as their own well-being. One such way could be by providing teachers time to check-in and unpack experiences with trained counselors.

Support in the District

While schools and districts are making a conscious effort to support teachers, they should continue to intentionally demonstrate to teachers that they are valued as individuals and professionals. One approach is through cultivating ways to ensure teachers have a strong sense of belonging to a teacher team and the greater school community.

Ryan Ung, Teacher Development Coordinator at Long Beach School District, states that schools are analyzing whether “their systems are set up to be reflective of teachers’ own well-being and looking at how they can create communities of care.” 

To reinforce the importance of well-being in positive ways, schools can ensure teachers have time to build informal and formal communities with their fellow educators. This can be a matter of scheduling by creating common lunch breaks for teachers focused on similar content areas or grades. Even more important is providing set time for teachers to plan instruction together. Ung states that when the district and school create the framework and the expectations for teams of teachers to have intentional regular planning time, there is the potential to save teacher’s time and lower teacher workload in the long run.

Leaders can also ensure that district and school initiatives are prioritized, purposeful, and focused, allowing for teachers to spend the great majority of their time on the heart of their profession: planning how to build effective and engaging lessons and instructional time with their students. With a greater feeling of belonging and ways to participate with their community of educators, teachers will be more likely to feel supported and remain within this important profession.

Support in the community

Teachers should feel that the general public is advocating for their success and supporting them as professionals. Our society as a whole needs to have an increased awareness of the real experiences and many facets involved in the teaching profession.

In the recent Merrimack College Teacher Survey, only 46 percent of teachers felt that they were respected and seen as professionals by the general public, which is down from 77 percent in a similar 2011 survey. Teachers need to be seen as the professionals they are, making hundreds (if not thousands) of decisions each day, with the goal of guiding their students towards academic success while supporting their emotional well-being (and at times, basic needs).

Hopkins states that there is also a “misconception that teachers work 8 hours a day and don’t work in the summer.” The Merrimack survey shows an average of 54 hours per work for teachers. Not only are teachers working hard, one in five teachers also works a second job. Increasing strategies for raising awareness around the complexities and challenges of the teaching profession is crucial in demonstrating much needed support and appreciation.

Our children need experienced educators who have the time and support to teach and meet the needs of the whole child. Our schools, districts, and our society together can reimagine how we support teachers and address teacher burnout so that they, in turn, can support all students in learning and having a positive impact on the future of our world.

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