How teachers cope with burnout

    Teaching everyday is stressful and that can lead to a problem: burnout.

    Teaching everyday is stressful and that can lead to a problem: burnout.
    (Photo: Flickr/jasoneppink)

    Listen:

    [audio:900626smburnout.mp3]

    Sam Reed is a Philadelphia public school teacher. He’s had to find ways to cope with burnout.

    Reed: I used to be super stressed out and my wife pretty much didn’t like me. Told me to stay away from her until I got detoxified.

    Reed says his wife likes him better now because he’s learned how to channel his school day stress into exercise, ballroom dancing, and yoga.

    Reed: When I feel the stressors coming from students, just real simple: hands at heart center and just breathe.

    Reed has been teaching for 12 years and currently teaches middle school social studies. He says he’s more motivated in the classroom by attending professional workshops and conferences outside school.

    Reed:You’re always working on improving your craft or your content knowledge, your pedagogy. It might sound boring. But that’s the life of the teacher, I guess.

    During the school year, teachers face working conditions that can sometimes frustrate them to the point they either change schools or quit. Richard Ingersoll is a University of Pennsylvania education professor and an expert on teacher turnover. He says teachers leave their jobs at higher rates than lawyers, engineers or academics.

    Ingersoll: Schools with higher salaries have lower teacher quit rates. And it also turns out those schools that do a far better job dealing with their student behavioral issues have significantly better teacher retention. And the data tell us that buildings in which teachers have more say, those buildings have far less teacher turnover.

    Ingersoll says to lower teacher stress, school administrators should manage  working conditions better. Ingersoll’s colleague Mike Nakkula agrees. He’s also a Penn education professor.
     
    Nakkula: If the teachers see that the accountability system is fair, if they can get support when support is needed- they are more likely to have a longer tenure in their schools and not be burned out.

    But at the same time, Nakkula says teachers must learn how to cope with the social and emotional issues students bring to the classroom. In poor urban school districts, there can be a 25 percent teacher turn rate over every year.

    Nakkula: Those who are passionate about caring for children and teenagers will find ways to survive in the profession or even thrive in it. But you have to want to take on the messiness. If you want things to be tidy and neat with good results at the end of the day, you’re going to meet with failure and be more likely to get burned out.

    Rita Sorrentino has definitely had her share of stressful days after 30 plus years of teaching. Sorrentino is now an elementary school computer teacher and says one main thing keeps her going.

    Sorrentino: Those moments when the children really surprise you and you see that they have something to offer and they’re happy learning. Then it keeps you coming back.

    Sorrentino is a big fan of professional workshops and conferences outside school. She says they’re intellectually exciting and let her bond with teachers like Meagan McGowan. McGowan is a high school social studies teacher and started teaching three years ago. After a stressful first year, McGowan changed schools and signed up for the Philadelphia Teachers Institute. She found that she connected with more experienced teachers like Sorrentino and Sam Reed.

    Sorrentino: It’s overwhelming when you have to step in your classroom as a relatively new teacher and say what am I going to do and how am I going to justify doing it? So when you get to talk to all these people and say what’s worked for them- a lot of the trial and error has been taken out of it.  And you can start implementing good practices as soon as possible.

    McGowan is being proactive about avoiding burnout and says having mentors helps her. As new data shows, the city’s most inexperienced teachers are more likely to be placed in stressful schools where student poverty and teacher turnover are high.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.