Teacher Burnout

The concept of burnout was first presented by Freudenberger in 1974 when he used the term to describe people in helping professions who experienced a state of exhaustion and fatigue. He explained that this was brought on by working too long, too much and too intensely, with demanding people. Freudenberger's work was important as it laid the foundations for empirical research focusing on this area.

Maslach (1982) describes burnout as the behavioral response of people who experience constant stress from working occupations that require continual and intensive interactions with people. Those who cannot effectively cope with this work-related stress develop feelings of emotional exhaustion, negative attitudes toward their clients and a sense that they are no longer accomplishing anything in their job.

With varying definitions of the term, all researchers generally agree that teachers who have trouble coping with the stress of the job experience burnout. Causes of stress for any teacher vary greatly. There is no order of importance among the several identified environmental and personal factors related to aspects of burnout. It is suggested that teachers may go through a stress cycle in their roles.

Research suggests three broad dimensions of behavioral reactions for teachers experiencing burnout. The first is physical, the development of chronic feelings of emotional exhaustion. Tired, irritable and emotionally drained are feelings expressed by teachers. They may also go on to develop negative, cynical attitudes towards their students.

The second type of dimension is referred to as mental, also known as depersonalization. This occurs when a teacher goes from ‘warm and caring' to ‘emotionally removed' from students. An example could be that they constantly remain behind a desk, drawing a physical barrier. In this situation, psychologically teachers may refuse to acknowledge students.

The third category is the emotional dimension, when teachers no longer feel a sense of accomplishment in their work. Teachers enter the profession with hope to make a positive impact on society. However, when they start to feel they are not making any difference to the lives of their students, they feel their profession offers few other rewards such as money or recognition.

According to research, environmental sources of burnout include societal expectations and institute factors, which are beyond the direct control of the teacher or the educational establishment. On a global scale, it appears that lack of attentiveness, enthusiasm and motivation of students are the most stressful issues teachers face on a daily basis. Other causes include time pressure, workload, poor school ethos, interpersonal relationships with faculty members, the physical environment and lack of prospects. Role conflict and ambiguity are also cited as contributing to stress. Aspects of this include the inability to reconcile inconsistencies of role, duties and responsibilities.

Personal or background factors include the age and gender of the teacher, grade level taught and personality characteristics. It appears that teachers with an external focus of control are more likely to experience burnout, compared to those with an internal focus of control. Studies show that men are more likely to be affected by burnout than women. It also appears that teaching elementary school is less stressful than middle or secondary school. Psychological reactions include emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and feeling of failure. Consequences include teachers intending to leave job, absence from work, less effort exerted in role, lower quality personal life and physical problems.

Teachers experiencing burnout expend many adverse consequences for both the individual and the institution they work. It is suggested that those experiencing burnout are likely to have a lower quality of personal life, are absent from work more often, exert less effort in teaching and are constantly looking for a new line of work. It also appears that these teachers are also more likely to suffer other health issues, such as turning to substance abuse or experiencing a stress related phenomena such as insomnia. Dworkin (1978) reflects that regardless of the consequences affecting the individual and education institute, students are the ultimate losers.

Coping with stress and the use of intervention strategies to help alleviate teacher stress is a complex field. People are very different in the ways they cope with high levels of stress, therefore remedial efforts vary between each teacher. There are wide ranges of coping strategies from which individuals can choose the specific techniques most suited to them. These include interpersonal responses, emotional responses, cognitive responses, physical responses, task related responses, organizational responses.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Teachers Managing Stress and Preventing Burnout: The Professional Health Solution
Yvonne Gold; Robert A. Roth.
Falmer Press, 1993
Counselling Pupils in Schools: Skills and Strategies for Teachers
Garry Hornby; Carol Hall; Eric Hall.
RoutledgeFalmer, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 14 "Coping with Stress and Avoiding Burn-out"
Applied Communication Theory and Research
Dan O'Hair; Gary L. Kreps.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1990
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Application of Communication Strategies in Alleviating Teacher Stress"
The Routledgefalmer Reader in Teaching and Learning
E. C. Wragg.
Routledge, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 18 "Teacher Stress: Directions for Future Research"
Occupational Stress in the Service Professions
Maureen F. Dollard; Anthony H. Winefield; Helen R. Winefield.
Taylor & Francis, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Eight "Teacher Stress"
Starting to Teach in the Secondary School: A Companion for the Newly Qualified Teacher
Susan Capel; Ruth Heilbronn; Marilyn Leask; Tony Turner.
Routledge, 2004 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Managing Yourself and Your Workload"
Supporting Professionals-at-Risk: Evaluating Interventions to Reduce Burnout and Improve Retention of Special Educators
Cooley, Elizabeth; Yovanoff, Paul.
Exceptional Children, Vol. 62, No. 4, February 1996
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Using Music Therapy Techniques to Treat Teacher Burnout. (Research)
Cheek, James R.; Bradley, Loretta J.; Parr, Gerald; Lan, William.
Journal of Mental Health Counseling, Vol. 25, No. 3, July 2003
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Gender Implication of Perceptions of Trustworthiness of School Administration and Teacher Burnout/job Stress
Timms, Carolyn; Graham, Deborah; Caltabiano, Marie.
Australian Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 41, No. 3, Spring 2006
Burnout Levels of Teachers of Students with AD/HD in Turkey: Comparison with Teachers of Non-AD/HD Students
Ozdemir, Selda.
Education & Treatment of Children, Vol. 29, No. 4, November 2006
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Burnout among New Zealand Primary School Teachers
Whitehead, Anna; Ryba, Ken; O'Driscoll, Michael.
New Zealand Journal of Psychology, Vol. 29, No. 2, December 2000
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
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