The 2021 Teacher Wellbeing Index reported startling findings about the state of teacher burnout. Education Support Network revealed that 77% of educators displayed symptoms of deteriorating mental health due to work stressors. Furthermore, over half, 54% to be exact, contemplated leaving the teaching profession within the past two years. Such statistics raise an alarming query: Is achieving a work-life balance for teachers turning into a myth?
If you’re in the education sector, you’ve undoubtedly been inundated with discussions on “teacher work-life balance.” The repeated emphasis on the importance of self-care, using analogies like “putting on your own oxygen mask first,” might even feel clichéd. However, the harsh reality remains: teacher burnout is rampant. Despite understanding this, with surmounting work, ever-increasing expectations, and the after-effects of a global pandemic, where does one find the moment to breathe?
A prevalent misconception is that the onus to combat teacher burnout lies solely with the teachers. Type ‘teacher burnout’ into a search engine, and you’re met with numerous articles suggesting teachers stop their pursuit of perfection. But isn’t it often the educational system itself that encourages this relentless drive? From my perspective as a former full-time educator, it often felt like there was no winning—endless hours were never enough, leading to overwhelming feelings of demoralisation and burnout.
Research collaborations between York St John University and the University of York identified teacher burnout as a leading factor driving educators away from their profession. The hallmarks of this distressing syndrome? Emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and a sense of diminished accomplishment.
Worryingly, on average, a third of all new teachers exit the profession within their initial five years. What strains are we placing on our educators, and more crucially, how can we alleviate them? To address the burnout epidemic, we must comprehend its facets and then discern solutions.
Navigating the Overwhelming Tides of Teaching Burnout
Teaching, despite its many rewards, has inherent challenges that culminate in emotional fatigue. Recognising burnout’s precursors is paramount for both the educator’s welfare and the students dependent on them. Given the figures, out-of-classroom demands significantly intensify teacher burnout. Here’s a guide to discern the red flags and support our teachers:
Signs of burnout or emotional exhaustion are very real and unfortunately very common among teachers. Education Support found that 74% of teachers and education staff said that an inability to switch off from work is the main cause of a poor work-life balance. Added to that, teachers do around 20% of their work outside of teaching hours, which results in the loss of down-time and a chance to catch up with friends and family.
Common signs of burn-out are:
- Anxiety and depression
- Time off work
- No time for own activities
- Poor sleep
- Loss of confidence
- Poor relationships with friends and family
When teachers become very stressed in their role, they can start to move away from other members of staff, students, and life in general. They can lose confidence in themselves, and their abilities and start to retreat into themselves. This can be dangerous if unchecked and lead to dissatisfaction in the job and depression in the teacher. Regularly checking in with school staff by doing a mental health appraisal would be hugely beneficial for all schools to implement. The TES have published a great template for this here.
If your heavy workload means that you never feel like you are achieving anything, either at work or at home, then this is a sign of burnout. It is important that you keep your goals realistic and achievable and that your school supports you with this. If you are a working parent, or someone with responsibilities outside of school, then this is especially important. Ignore the stay-late culture. Do not feel like you have to stay at school until a certain time if this is impacting your life. Do not compare yourself to other teachers who seem to be doing better and working harder, often they are struggling too.
Tackling Teacher Burnout: Practical Insights
In the world of education, teachers remain at the frontlines, dedicating hours beyond their classrooms to craft lessons, grade papers, and engage with their students. However, this dedication often comes at a personal cost, leading many educators down the path of burnout. With increasing demands, constant adaptability to new teaching methods, and the emotional toll of managing diverse student needs, it’s vital to find effective strategies to maintain a balance. Here’s how to reinvent the teaching wheel while ensuring mental well-being:
Plan your working week
Custom printed teacher planners serve as invaluable tools to preemptively tackle burnout and ensure a harmonious balance between professional and personal life. These planners are more than just scheduling tools; they’re tailored lifelines that offer:
- Organisation & Time Management: With bespoke sections tailored to the specific needs of the teacher, custom planners help in organizing daily lessons, tasks, and responsibilities. Having everything in one place reduces the stress of forgetting tasks or misplacing essential details.
- Personalisation: Teachers can design their planners to include sections that matter most to them, be it student assessment trackers, self-care reminders, or sections for personal development. This personal touch makes the tool more engaging and relevant.
- Goal Setting & Monitoring: Custom sections can allow teachers to set short and long-term goals, track progress, and celebrate successes. This helps in fostering a sense of accomplishment.
- Mindfulness & Self-care Prompts: Planners can include sections for mindfulness exercises, reflection, and self-care prompts. These help teachers remember to take breaks, engage in self-reflection, and prioritise self-care.
- Reduction in Digital Fatigue: Given the increasing reliance on digital tools, a tangible planner offers a break from screen time, helping reduce digital fatigue.
- Resource Allocation: Dedicated sections can help teachers track resources and supplies, ensuring they are adequately equipped for their lessons. This reduces the last-minute rush and stress of unpreparedness.
- Feedback & Reflection: Including spaces for regular reflection and feedback helps teachers continuously improve and adjust their methods without feeling overwhelmed by sudden realisations at the end of the term or year.
- Professional Development: Custom planners can include sections for professional development opportunities, reminders for courses, or areas to jot down new learning and ideas. This fosters a growth mindset and encourages ongoing learning.
- Connection with Students: Sections dedicated to student information, like birthdays or special achievements, can help teachers forge deeper connections with their students, making their job more rewarding.
In summary, custom printed teacher planners, when tailored to the specific needs and preferences of educators, can act as daily allies in organising, reflecting, and rejuvenating, thus playing a pivotal role in warding off burnout and promoting a balanced teaching life.
Turn off the tech
Outside of working hours, turn off your phone and laptop and just enjoy watching a bit of TV, playing sports, reading, whatever it is that takes you to a different place. If the idea of this panics you then try just an hour at first, turn your phone off at 8 till 9, for example, and spend that time doing something totally unrelated to school. If you set a routine for switching off, both literally and metaphorically, it could become a habit that saves your mental health.
Good enough is good enough
Addressing teacher burnout requires practical and time-saving strategies. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. I recall a weekend spent buried in planning when my husband posed a question, “Given that teachers across the country teach from a unified curriculum, why the need for separate planning? Can’t existing resources be repurposed?” His words gave me pause. While differentiation and the unique needs of each class are undeniable, he highlighted an often-overlooked aspect in our bid to combat teacher burnout.
There are countless exceptional resources and planning schemes available online that can be adapted to suit your class’s requirements. Instead of creating every single resource from scratch and designing extraordinary lessons daily, remember: “good enough” truly is good enough. Check with your school for existing lesson plans or delve into online resources. Often, you’ll find that much of the groundwork has been laid out for you, presenting a feasible avenue to alleviate the pressures leading to teacher burnout.
Where to get additional support
- If you are feeling ill and like you need help more urgently, contact your GP.
- Speak to someone in senior management at the school.
- If you are an NQT then you can get additional support from your mentor or head teacher.
- Call the Education Support helpline on 08000 562 561 or visit their website which has some brilliant resources, articles, and ways to help.
- If you are a member of a union, try their website for help with mental health and managing workloads.
- We have put together some tips for de-stressing and making day to day life easier in this blog article and have listed some resources and websites that can really help here.
In summary, a work-life balance is possible, but it takes change and effort on both sides – the school and the teaching staff need to be on the same page. By talking about mental health openly and calmly with your head of school, perhaps changes and allowances can be made. It is clear that major changes need to be made to existing frameworks and inspection bodies and that the effects of the pandemic need to be accounted for. Otherwise, we could risk losing good teachers, future and present.
Beyond Burnout: Embrace Work-Life Harmony with Custom Teacher Planners
Discover the transformative power of personalised teacher planners. Dive into a world where meticulous organisation meets mindful self-care, providing educators with the tools to navigate the demands of teaching while prioritising personal well-being