Are you suffering from burnout?

Lindsay Clandfield looks at the reasons why some teachers experience burnout and makes suggestions for how this can be avoided. What is burnout? | Why do teachers burn out? | What can teachers do to avoid, or fight, burnout? |Further reading Hi, my name is Lindsay Clandfield and I used to be an enthusiastic teacher. It sounds like the beginning of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, doesn’t it? But it’s true. When I started teaching I had very noble ideas about what I would do with students. I think back to those very first days of teaching, and the things I did. For example, I used to prepare grammar lessons (then we called them structure lessons) with care and great diligence. It took me ages, partly because I wrote all my instructions out by hand (after one trainer told me I had 'a problem' with instructions – she was right). At the time I was working two jobs, at a university and a high school. I used to do big projects with the high school students, putting posters and other projects they had made up on the wall (I even purchased the extra material for this with my own money). I organized singing in class with my university students (I can’t sing to save my life). We sang North American folk songs and the occasional pop song. We even produced a class poetry magazine one year. Yes, I was an enthusiastic teacher. But a few years later I found my feelings about teaching, about students, even about English begin to change. Here’s what happened:
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I started cutting corners on the lesson plans, until I stopped making them altogether. I found myself getting a bit annoyed with my students, some of whom didn’t seem to be progressing at all. I had some cynical co-workers, with whom I finally participated in a staff room 'moan' about work one day after a difficult class. Mostly we moaned about difficult students. The collective moans became contagious and addictive. I was working lots of hours (some 28 contact hours a week) and many of my classes were in businesses. So I had to travel around on buses most of the day. I also went through a stage of seriously beginning to wonder what on Earth I was doing teaching English. Did my students really need English? Some did, but for many I wasn’t sure. I started wondering if I wasn’t contributing to some imperialist plan to colonize the world with English.

rate the following sentences. then there is a good chance you are burning out. 7. 5. burnout is likely to occur. such as hypertension. Obviously. Here are examples of the kinds of questions it asks. They include social workers. It’s like a questionnaire. Why do teachers burn out? Teaching is one of what researchers into burnout call 'at-risk professions'. I collapsed into bed every night at 11:30 (after a hurried dinner. insomnia.” When these are frustrated. nurses. For example. I feel fatigued when I get up and have to face another day at work. . 6. back pains and gastrointestinal disorders. According to early writers on the professional burnout syndrome. emotional exhaustion and a diminished sense of accomplishment. That is only one example. “People who go into the helping professions often have high needs of approval and heightened expectations of themselves. You may want to think of your own situation and how you would answer: 1. On a scale of 0 (never) to 6 (every day). 8. I feel frustrated by my job. Trying to fight this with strong coffees before each class just made me wired. but in studies across Europe and in the States the message is the same: teacher burnout is dangerous to one’s health. when teachers are burned out the quality of their teaching suffers. a 2000 report from the Head Teachers Association of Great Britain found that 40 percent of respondents had visited doctors with stress-related illnesses. But burnout also affects their quality of life. I think now I was burning out. 2. if you are scoring high on the first four statements and low on the last four. What is burnout? Scholars define teacher burnout as a condition caused by depersonalization. 3. and in this editorial I’d like to share a couple of the things I’ve discovered. Recently the whole area of teacher burnout has been interesting to me. But most of the time I just felt exhausted. I have accomplished many worthwhile things in this job. I can easily create a relaxed atmosphere with my students. Basically. The 'at-risk professions' are helping professions. I feel students blame me for their problems. Burnout can cause stress-related illnesses. and it’s a real problem. I don’t really care what happens to some students. One tool that is often used in the United States to measure burnout is called the Maslach Burnout Inventory. I feel I’m positively influencing other people’s lives through my work. 4. having arrived home at 9:30 or 10pm). I feel exhilarated after working closely with my students. psychologists and police officers. And a staggering 37 percent of head teacher vacancies were due to ill health and burnout.

burnout? . In sum. what happens? Why do we burn out? I believe that when the reality of the job doesn’t match the expectations. Why do people want to become English teachers? The three most common answers I get are:    because they loved languages because they felt it was their calling. I think I fit the bill. excessive paperwork and/or excessive testing (and demands for standards to be met at all costs). is characterized by the following work conditions: long working hours. overcrowded classrooms. This is interesting. teachers burn out when they feel they are no longer educating and inspiring their students. 3. Teacher’s burn out when they lack recognition and thanks. 'Older but wiser' seems to be the case here. Research suggests there is a relationship between age and burnout: Burnout is greatest when people-workers are young and is lower for older workers. (Maslach. but it turns out that the effect of age reflects more than just the length of time on the job.Speaking from my own experience. 2. or their students. I didn’t go into English teaching to make a lot of money (not many of us do) but the combination of all the above can certainly grind one down. discipline problems in the classroom. Younger people usually have less work experience than older ones. their vocation because they want to give something of themselves to students (to make a contribution to a better society – that kind of thing) So. Teacher’s burn out when they are overworked and stressed. I once heard a speaker on burnout say that “burnout requires a susceptible host: a highly idealistic individual”. I was pretty idealistic about my work. or fight. myself and my place in the world. Teacher’s burn out when they don’t see the possibility of change or improvement – either in themselves. and of English teaching in particular. I believe that teachers burnout for one or a combination of the following three big reasons: 1. few perks and of course the perennial complaint of low wages. The causes for this are well known. a lack of job security. Now. 2003) What can teachers do to avoid. Currently I work on teacher training courses for new teachers. Incidentally. The teacher and writer James Baldwin once said that the “price one pays for pursuing any profession is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side”. The ugly side of teaching. and they are the usual suspects. and I encounter the same sentiments time and again. Additionally. They are: student apathy. you’re at risk of burnout. because I had always thought of burnout only affecting people after twenty odd years of teaching. I should mention that my worse feelings of burnout were after only three years of teaching.

school and the wider world can help. Try new approaches to working. eating better) or in terms of one’s mental health and approach to life in general. changing from the high school classes to business classes gave me a fresh perspective and challenge in my work. Observing colleagues. Most teachers agree with this. or peer observation schemes or other developmental programmers stand a better chance of keeping staff happy and reducing turnover.There are. or deep relaxation techniques. I went back to teaching younger students. I found that I was able to beat some of my burnout by beginning to work as a teacher trainer and observe other people’s classes for instance. Here are some good suggestions:      Reduce the workload when possible (too many hours is a big problem. Teaching can be a lonely job and teachers can face isolation at times. Schools that set up mentoring programmers. two broad approaches to fighting burnout: the individual approach and the organizational approach.    . there are the basic needs – decent wages. Another suggestion is to develop yourself as a teacher. This could be in terms of one’s physical health (cutting down on too much coffee. An individual approach means by starting with what you. in my opinion. For me. but also the concept of taking leave to recharge one’s batteries. reading many of the excellent books available now for teachers or engaging in classroom-based research are other ways. I know. sometimes this is wishful thinking but none the less important things to struggle for. although low wages and high costs of living in some places make it difficult. Paid holidays are therefore important. I know. or a break and doing something completely different helps immensely. especially in private sector/freelance cases). can do to stop burning out. And it’s hard for teachers on their own to bring about these kinds of changes. the teacher. Here are some suggestions: First. Also part of the individual approach would involve adopting healthier living habits. or changing the group/level/type of students you work with. Development needn’t only be in the form of observation – getting more qualified. or having colleagues observe you is an excellent way to break the rut teachers feel they are in. This could mean changing the book or material you work with. This is why an organizational approach is also important to consider – how colleagues. After a couple of years of business English. Having senior teachers responsible for monitoring staff development is another possibility. Many teachers I have interviewed about fighting burnout say that a real holiday. even more so if they are isolating themselves because they are burning out. Time off is also of vital importance. Many books on managing stress and burnout talk about learning to meditate. getting more exercise. and solutions to burnout cannot stop there. smaller class size and not having additional administrative burdens. Collaboration is necessary. The individual approach isn’t easy at times.

I felt burned out at times. I´d like to read more articles about it and get in touch with people who may help me. 1980. here are some books and links that I found particularly good and helpful in preparing this article. or with a wider group of teachers. 13 April 2007 I found quite interesting this article. I hit a few bumps along the way. His advice. And I’m still enthusiastic about it. Recent studies conducted both in Canada and in Germany have found that social support had both a direct positive effect on health and a buffering effect in respect of work stress. mainly because this is the object of my postgraduate research. Join the debate now in the Forum! Further reading If you are interested in this subject. which I have personally found extremely motivating. Cambridge. Are you suffering from a teacher burnout? vie. It’s never too late. C. But by engaging in many of the solutions proposed above I’m still teaching. in teacher groups. And I still enjoying teaching. I am an English teacher. R. I’d like to share with you an excerpt from a book I read on teacher burnout by Stephen Truch (see further reading below). California: Academic Therapy Publications  The debate: Are you suffering from teacher burnout? The full debate in response to Lindsay Clandfield's interesting and relevant article on teacher burnout. as well (in Brazil). S. Virginia .Please. Do what you need to do. I started this editorial by saying that I used to be an enthusiastic teacher. Maslach. Cambridge: CUP Truch. Finally. The debate: Are you suffering from teacher burnout? The full debate in response to Lindsay Clandfield's interesting and relevant article on teacher burnout. sharing with colleagues is another excellent way of combating burnout. 2003. was as follows. The Cost of Caring. What about you? Have you ever felt burned out? Was it for the same reasons as me? What has helped you stay in the world of English teaching? Are there any tips you’d give to others to help them fight burnout? Come and share your ideas in the forum. Teacher Burnout and What to do About it. MA: Malor Books. In the staffroom. To conclude. Senior. 2006. The Experience of Language Teaching.

my hours are long. Although on balance I am happy. I have between 5 and 6 years' teaching In common with the writer of the article.Hi Virginia 17 April 2007 What a great topic for postgraduate work. so I am able to fit regular exercise in to my routine. Personally. It's good to know that my frustrations are normal and that it's possible to overcome them! . I've found a lot of stuff on the web connected to Britain and the States along with some information from Canada. my workload is heavy. and I go through phases of strongly feeling the sentiments described.htm Finally. my hours are stable. I have been in my current job for more than 2 years. Lindsay Greetings from a potential burnout! Heliz. 19 April 2007 Hi! I found this article very interesting. Germany and Switzerland. Thank you for posting the and I am just starting a distance Diploma course. which has helped to re-ignite some of that enthusiasm. I was a very enthusiastic first year teacher. Although they are long. For further reading you can start with the references at the bottom of my article. which is the longest time I have ever stayed in the same job. It resonated with me a lot. And I DO get paid holiday :-) I also strongly agree that finding ways to develop as a teacher can help regain positivity.isma. I have certainly found some of the suggested solutions helpful. and I have definitely been through phases of burnout. Try the following article from stress news for a good overview: http://www. I read The Cost of Caring but I know she has newer titles out. I'd recommend any books by Christina Maslach.

21 April 2007 Hi Thank you Lindsay for this very substantial article. I was so stuck in my stress and old beliefs about school and children (aged 10-18) that I just need that distance. Finally. I found. that I considered seriously to quit the job altogether. 23 April 2007 .greetings from an actual burnout case! pangel. the sooner the better. I think it really is very helpful to read about this topic. that helped me to deprive my most powerful beliefs about school of its power (because I found out that it's mainly the thoughts who are painful) The method is called "the work" and originates from a great American woman. Thank you for the literature tips. I want to share a method with you. One of my former ! most painful beliefs is closely linked to Lindsays idea when she says that people who go into the helping profession often have high needs of approval. So I took time off for 7 weeks and now I can say it was the best idea ever. For me I can only say. the work works :-) Burned out too Vie. Byron Katie. you can check it out on the net easily. I had a good friend's counseling and decided to call in sick for a longer time. But luckily. This year it became eventually so bad. a lot of the tension melts away. I am in the lucky position to have a great understanding boss who was very supportive throughout this phase. in Austria) I've experienced always times of great (di)stress. Since I've been in this profession (and this has only been for 4 years now. Now I am back at school again and I am so happy that in the end I didn't quit because it really IS a wonderful job. One of my beliefs was that the kids must love and respect me! Now that I really fully emotionally realized that this is my job (to love and respect myself) and absolutely none of their business.

I started a DELTA course and the expectations I had of that combined with work made me aware that I was overloaded and I eventually hit breaking point. Still. so that we can properly 'rest our heads' and I like the idea of doing something different. I now think that we need to take at least a month's sabbatical from teaching. because it's when one embarks on a course like this that you "make the decision" as it were to keep with the profession and therefore there is (often.I really enjoyed the article too. in my experience as a trainer) a lot of soul searching before doing it. I think this is interesting. I think it's important to share these experiences . or while doing a higher course like the DELTA or Diploma. I'd personally like to see more of this in ELT (at conferences. I know I went through the soul searching just before doing my diploma . I sought help for my stress so that I could cope with both. Sabbaticals and leaves 25 April 2007 I agree with Vie absolutely about having a holiday. I've taken a quick look but would have to look further to really understand it. I was beginning to feel that I was in the wrong career too. but I would go further and say teach something else besides English if possible. The importance of sharing these stories 25 April 2007 Thanks to those who have posted already. I notice a few people mention they felt this way just before. then come back to it as you would have had a chance to see yourself and your teaching from a completely different perspective and might realize that you are actually pretty good at what you do. Being interested in alternative therapy. I've found that when I've discussed this with other teachers many do say they've felt the same way. a sabbatical. At the moment it looks to me like a self-help site. in articles etc). I know that the sabbatical is often restricted to university teachers to do research but I think it also helps them recharge for more teaching (having a father who is a university professor helped make this clear to me) When I worked at a university in southern Mexico we had the right to five .not only the frustrations but the strategies we've used to get over them.but I don't regret it at all now! Thanks Pangel for the tip about the method "the work". I'll reserve judgment and read more. especially as like some of the other respondents.

But after reading your article I feel that there is some way to deal with it. educational work with low achievers discipline problems retaining of pupils’ attention diagnoses of pupils motivation of pupils individual consultations with parents running and management of parental meetings One thing the authors of the study recommend is implementing a mentor programmed in schools. 5. I found a study done of Czech teachers (not Slovak. It sounded like me in many places. This was in addition to sick pay. More research 25 April 2007 I'm about to give a talk on teacher burnout in Slovakia. Thanks for all the information. 7. 2. and we didn't have to give a reason at all! What an enlightened policy. First thing is that I am going to find some kind of diversion from my routine. but next door) that stated the following as the main sources of stress as reported by teachers: 1. Has anyone else had experience with mentoring? . The internet is amazing. and so I've been looking for research done in this country on the subject. I've been a part of an informal mentor programmed in a private school once. I was feeling very down lately and did not know what to do. 6. you can find almost anything! Anyway. I have been working as an English teacher for the past 7 years in Sri Lanka. eh? Lindsay So this is what I am going through! 25 April 2007 I read your article about teacher burnout and I think it is wonderful."mental health" days off in the year. Though I started my career with a lot of enthusiasm. 3. 4. it has faded to some extent now.

1 May 2007 I used to be an enthusiast teacher! When reading your words I could feel the same as you. plan new lessons but this is not enough! From the moment I came back to teach in southern Italy I feel frustrated and I am no longer able to share things as I used to. I'm still thinking about that. 90% of them have absolutely no imagination and I feel that I can do nothing to ignite their fantasy. I also agree that German students can be very difficult to ignite. I hope something could change! I have no recipe. a very quick and effective technique to lower stress before a lesson 5 June 2007 . 29 May 2007 Hi. I've only been working at a teacher. after I've wolfed down my dinner at 10pm. Thank for the advice! Premature Burnout badgerbird. by prizes with my own money. but I find the German people so uninspiring. Burnout Blues Mogwai. relaxing and as you mentioned. There is nothing more depressing than delivering the 'same old' week in week out. for 1 year. There is a cultural conformity that is hard to penetrate as an Ausländer. I can't reduce my hours because I just can't let people down. I still organize games. I have no time for sports. I really love teaching. I'm tired and flop into bed for a bad night’s sleep. in Germany.Hello from a burnout Neapolitan teacher ciuppi. I have read the posts in this forum and your article and I just can't see the light at the end of tunnel. sharing my pains and difficulties. Any further suggestions on how to help myself. 4 June 2007 The way I avoid burnout is by varying my lessons as much as possible.

a simple two-page summary of how EFT works. Why do we put up with this? exploitation reply badgerbird. 10 June 2007 Too be honest I think we teachers are highly exploited in this profession. a simple but powerful de-stressing technique that can shift your energy level / lift your mood in a couple of minutes: I use it routinely before every lesson and find it makes a huge difference. I use the Macmillan sites constantly for ideas. Our pay is appalling. People like us don't become teachers for money. We're care junkies!! :-) As for burn out . many of them presuppose that you have colleagues and/or a school who can support you.jenniferdavidson. plans and inspiration. we do it because we get the 'care' where I offer (for free). according to the people who interviewed me!) and took a distance learning TEFL diploma to help me. 18 June 2007 Hi. My problem.emofree. I'm definitely suffering from burnout. I've started exercising again and I can feel my motivation returning. 13 June 2007 Hi Dixon.I'd like to draw your attention to EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). so 'of course' I could teach.. I feel more fulfilled as a person. We need a degree to teach. The majority of teachers I know are not even on full-time contracts. a professional actress in England. is isolation. where there's a free downloadable 87-page manual. I highly recommend suspending disbelief & skepticism and trying it! exploitation dixon. You're right we are exploited.. we develop expertise and we are highly committed to our work. if I feel like I've made a difference in someone’s life.I was unqualified when I started (I was English. you might want to visit my website. Lack of support Glenda. I've been teaching English to French adults for six years now .I've cut my hours and already I'm feeling better. really. If that sounds overwhelming. but we put up with it because we are life's givers. (www. Great though all your tips are. I . Full info is available at www. You can teach yourself this remarkable technique in less than ten minutes.

so I provide everything myself. but it seems like it's your only choice.providing evening study for adults. and I am making myself ill. 11 July 2007 Hi Glenda. I teach for an association . Sorry if that's a bit harsh. so must rely on my own training and instincts to provide classes. France Lack of support badgerbird. It they don't appreciate you and you have no support you need to move on to pastures new. My advice would be to quit. and I am seriously thinking about quitting. If it's making you ill. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Good luck :-) . I have to decide now whether I want to teach again from next September (I don't get holiday pay).not a school. Classes often take me several hours to prepare. it's not worth it.have neither. You now have the qualification combined with experience and could teach anywhere in the world. and my students already pay a great deal for the classes (increasing my sense of guilt and responsibility towards them) and I cannot ask them to buy coursework or books. just a committee . Glenda. I am definitely both idealist and perfectionist.

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