The expectations of American teachers are at an all-time high. They’re expected to adapt to a wide range of student learning styles, accommodate special needs students with IEPs and 504s, juggle attendance, plan curriculum, manage parents, and now, deal with the aftermath of lost time with students due to the pandemic.
In a 2022 study of over 4,000 teachers, 81% said their overall workload has increased. In addition, more than half (55%) of teachers said they have less planning time due to staff shortages and other factors. The combination of extra work and fewer resources has caused unprecedented teacher stress in the profession, which has increased teacher burnout. As a result of stress in the workplace, the education sector has lost educators to teacher burnout turnaround and caused the teacher shortage.
If you’re a classroom teacher feeling the pressure of your job, we can help you identify the signs of teacher burnout so you can work to prevent it from further impacting your life. Keep reading to learn more.
What is Teacher Burnout?
Teacher burnout is more than just a frustrating day with distracted students, helicopter parents, or glitchy technology. It’s caused by chronic stress due to unrelenting workplace demands.
The National Education Association defines teacher burnout as “a condition in which an educator has exhausted the personal and professional resources necessary to do the job.” It’s not just about the ability to educate effectively, though. Teacher burnout can have long-term physical and emotional repercussions, so it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of this all-too-common condition to protect your mental and physical health.
Signs of Teacher Burnout
Most teachers graduate from college optimistic, excited, full of promise, and ready to change the world. Because of the need to interact with students, staff, and parents, teachers generally have a friendly and outgoing disposition.
“Signs you might be experiencing teacher burnout might include stress or feeling irritable or tired all the time. You also might be having sleep issues, like sleeping too much or experiencing insomnia from worry. You might be sad or overwhelmed when you think about teaching, or maybe you just don’t enjoy it anymore. Physical symptoms might include gaining or losing weight or unexplained hair loss.”Talkspace therapist Reshawna Chapple, Ph.D., LCSW
If you notice that the mood surrounding your job is becoming increasingly negative or that your sleep or eating habits are out of character, you may be suffering from burnout. Chronic stress that stems from burnout can cause both physical and emotional changes.
Some common signs of teacher burnout include:
- Feeling stressed or irritable all the time
- Feeling tired
- Having sleep issues (sleeping too much or having insomnia from worry)
- Feeling sad or overwhelmed when thinking about teaching
- Not enjoying teaching
- Gaining or losing weight
- Unexplained hair loss
What Causes Teacher Burnout?
Burnout can cause a teacher’s optimism and positive demeanor to change slowly over time. For example, maybe it starts with depressed self-esteem due to students’ low standardized test scores. Then, as the weeks, semesters, or years go on, other issues, like student behavior, lack of support, or reduced school funding, can pile on and cause more undue teacher stress.
The most common causes of teacher burnout today include:
- Poor school funding
- Complications related to COVID-19
- Unattainable goals for standardized testing
- Classroom behavior issues
- Dealing with difficult parents
- Not enough planning time
- Feeling underappreciated
- Lack of autonomy
Poor school funding
In a 2022 study, a whopping 71% of teachers reported that they spend their own money on classroom materials due to a smaller budget. Inadequate school funding requires teachers to dip into their own wallets, causing job and financial stress in an already underpaid profession.
In addition to all the normal everyday stressors, the full impact of COVID-19 on teachers has yet to be seen. That said, an astounding 69% of teachers in 2022 reported needing to spend additional time getting students back on track from learning loss that resulted from quarantine. The resulting stress related to this setback is undeniable.
Unattainable goals for standardized testing
The pressure of standardized testing has long caused an environment focused more on test scores than creative learning. As a result, standardized tests often cause significant stress for teachers, leading to burnout across the teaching profession.
Classroom behavior issues
In 2022, 58% of teachers reported increased classroom interruptions during instruction. Teachers already have limited time with students and it can wear on instructors when that time is taken up by dealing with students who exhibit classroom behavior issues.
Dealing with difficult parents
With access to a teacher’s email, phone, and even classroom management apps, parents today have more opportunities than ever before to contact their child’s teacher. Unfortunately, difficult parents can drain experienced teachers’ energy and affect their self-esteem, potentially leading to burnout. Some of these parents may cross parent-teacher boundaries and have unfair expectations of their children’s teachers.
Not enough planning time
More than half of teachers in 2022 said their time for planning was significantly impacted due to staff shortages and a host of other reasons. If teachers don’t have planning time at school, they have to make up for it at home, encroaching on their work-life balance, which can contribute to burnout.
Unfortunately, teacher salaries do not equal the stress they face on the job. It’s not uncommon for teachers to need to work extra jobs on the weekends or summers just to make ends meet. Because of this, teachers often feel underappreciated and undervalued, eventually leading to burnout.
Lack of autonomy
Lack of autonomy in the curriculum is a significant cause of stress and burnout in the teaching profession. Surprisingly, almost half of teachers surveyed in 2022 had to change part or all of their curriculum.
How to Avoid Teacher Burnout: 6 Strategies
If you’re a teacher, you may wonder how to avoid burnout. Recognizing burnout when it occurs is critical to your well-being. When you know what’s causing chronic stress, you can work on addressing the issues.
The most common strategies to help with teacher burnout and boost teacher morale are:
- Set boundaries between work and personal life
- Find or start doing a hobby again
- Workout regularly
- Use your weekends for me time
- Take regular vacations
- Don’t work during your time off
1. Set clear boundaries
It may feel like you have to grade all your papers and respond to every email that comes through as soon as possible, but your personal time is equally, if not more, important. It’s imperative that you set (and stick to) a schedule so that you can bucket time for yourself in a balanced way.
“A great way to avoid teacher burnout is by setting clear boundaries between work and personal life. For example, you might try scheduling time for email and grading papers. Other teachers find that taking up a hobby or creating an exercise routine is effective. If you’re feeling teacher burnout, reclaim your weekends, take vacations, and do not work during downtime.Talkspace therapist Reshawna Chapple, Ph.D., LCSW
Setting boundaries will help in multiple factors across life, both professionally and personally.
2. Find a hobby
If you don’t already have a hobby, finding one is well worth the effort. Whether you like to do crafts, cook or bake, or spend time in nature, taking up a hobby can be one of the best forms of self-care you can engage in.
3. Create an exercise routine
Exercise is an essential tool that boosts your endorphins and helps you maintain physical health. Even just taking the dog for a walk, signing up for a group workout class, or doing yoga from the comfort of your home can help alleviate burnout symptoms.
4. Reclaim your weekends
It doesn’t make you a better teacher if you spend all weekend working and preparing. Take back your weekends and spend them recharging so you can come to class refreshed, rested, and ready to teach.
5. Take vacation days
Vacations are an important way to reset, both mentally and physically. Costs can be a barrier, but a vacation doesn’t have to be expensive. For example, you can take vacation days and pamper yourself locally, even if that just means watching movies and relaxing at home.
5. Don’t work during your vacation
It’s great that you planned time away from the classroom, but that’s just step one. Resist the urge to keep working even on your planned time off. To get the most benefits from your vacation, use the time as it was intended — to rest and relax, not to catch up on lesson planning or grading.
Knowing If It’s Time to Quit Teaching
If you’re considering quitting the teaching profession, you’re not alone. Almost half of the public schools in the United States currently report teacher vacancies, according to a survey by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). While these vacancies can be due to various factors, teacher burnout is likely to blame for many.
Deciding to call it quits on a profession you likely were passionate about at one time can be incredibly difficult. Sometimes, you’ve given all that you can, and your mental and physical health must become a priority.
How do you know when enough is enough? Here are a few warning signs that it might be time to consider taking a break from the teaching profession:
- Your personal life is suffering because of job stress
- Your mental or physical health is negatively affected
- Your job causes more exhaustion than excitement
- You know that moving districts or switching grades won’t help
- You are financially struggling with your salary
Get Emotional Help with Talkspace
Too many new and experienced teachers downplay their mental health, thinking their symptoms are just part of the profession. However, you should never regularly feel intense dread about any job. If your job is causing tremendous physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, seek help now.
If you’re miserable more often than happy, it’s time to get help. Talkspace offers online therapy and has skilled, trained, and experienced therapists to treat and prevent teacher burnout. Find a therapist today so you can learn how to recover from burnout.
1. Karbowski D. State of Teaching Statistics 2022 | AdoptAClassroom.org. AdoptAClassroom.org. https://www.adoptaclassroom.org/2022/04/12/state-of-teaching-statistics-2022. Published 2022. Accessed August 20, 2022.
2. Walker T. Getting Serious About Teacher Burnout | NEA. Nea.org. https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/getting-serious-about-teacher-burnout. Published 2021. Accessed August 20, 2022.
3. U.S. Schools Report Increased Teacher Vacancies Due to COVID-19 Pandemic, New NCES Data Show. NCES. https://nces.ed.gov/whatsnew/press_releases/3_3_2022.asp. Published 2022. Accessed August 20, 2022.