Teachers’ mental health is something that often gets overlooked. But burnout in the education sector isn’t a new phenomenon.
After a year where teachers and educators around the globe have had to navigate doing their jobs in entirely unforeseen circumstances that they were likely never trained for. Schools, colleges and nurseries start to tentatively edge their way towards the constantly mentioned “new-normal”. But there are growing reports of teachers burning out. The stress of teaching in multiple ways with various methods and ‘hybrid-teaching’ using a mix of online, off-line, distance and in-person has only seen to increase the workload of our educators.
Teaching in the modern age is stressful at best. Even “pre-pandemic” with ever-mounting workloads and pressure to hit many boxes within an always expanding curriculum. There are ever-rising numbers of teachers leaving the industry just a short few years after qualifying due to burnout. Poor mental health or feeling trapped in a job that is making them unhappy being another factor.
And with a few short internet searches – you’ll likely find evidence of similar complaints. There is a lack of support, lack of funding for mental wellbeing training and a lack of experience on how to maintain good mental health for teachers and their peers. It’s no surprise that teachers mental health is suffering as a result of the last year.
So what is the landscape looking like now?
Having spoken to teaching assistants, head-teachers and ex-teachers; it’s not great. I also sit quietly within a number of online groups for teachers and tutors (thank you for letting me lurk, please don’t remove me!) And the general consensus is one of trying to pull through, finding the light in order to not let down students, to continue to rally.. But there is darker energy, a looming cloud, something tangible in the not-quite-yet-defeated army of teachers I interact with online, and that is tiredness. A deep in the bones, reservedly resilient, but definite tiredness. A sense of exhaustion.
“Among teachers, burnout has also been related to high absenteeism, retirement, and turnover rates (Ingersoll & May 2012; Schonfeld, 2001) and a lower quality of job performance (Klusmann, Kunter, Trautwein, Lüdtke, & Baumert, 2008). As teacher burnout has negative consequences at the individual teacher-, student-, organizational, and societal levels, factors related to teacher burnout require more attention.
Teaching has been ranked as one of the most stressful professions in various cultural and educational contexts. In the United Kingdom, teaching was one of the most stressful among 26 occupations (Johnson et al., 2005).”
With this in mind – what can you do now? What can you do for yourself as an individual in teaching, or as a headteacher leading staff currently tight-rope walking towards a flaming inferno of burnout?
Act with intent – don’t be an ostrich, because the longer you ignore the idea that you need to be actively doing something about mental wellbeing, the worse it will get. Being open and communicating well about how you are feeling, or the experience you are having – the assumptions it is giving you about how others are feeling will encourage a more honest and open path for others to be able to tell you what is really going on for them. And only when you have a clearer picture are you truly able to lead in a supportive manner.
Communicate with others – ask them what their experience is, use survey monkey or google forms to collect information without names if they would be more comfortable doing so. And then act on that information.
What can you try?
- Set up open door Thursdays where staff – teaching and non-teaching are welcome to speak with you off or on record regarding their mental health and wellbeing
- Staff-room surgery – Have a once a month chat set up surrounding a particular mental wellbeing topic
- Lunchtime group walks – encouraging walking and talking will help staff to be more active, release some stress and get away from their desks.
- Find free webinars and CPD – none of these things has to cost anything out of budget.
- Use daily wellbeing prompts for smaller personal actions like those on the Teachers Wellbeing Calendar (free download)
- Have a look at your mental health policy and see if it needs overhauling, is everyone aware of what to do if they’re experiencing poor mental health?
- Do you have mental wellbeing champions or mental health first aiders in place?
- Book groups for Mental Health First Aid training so that more of the staff have a better understanding and can support each other.
- Speak to someone – myself or another training provider to see what you can put in place so that there are regular refreshers in place.