I started off this year bright eyed and bushy tailed, excited to return to the classroom after having a baby, but what I am seeing now in schools is concerning: teachers are burning out.
What is burn out?
Burn out isn’t just being annoyed that another thing has been added to your plate. Burnout is a fundamental feeling of being used up and feeling like you can longer do what you do. This is something that effects young teachers, usually. Newer teachers tend to enter the profession with an idealized version of what teaching is ala Freedom Writers. When teaching students, especially during the pandemic, is something wholly other.
And here is the kicker, no amount of self-care will fix burnout. Honestly, the idea of saying “set more boundaries,” “do more,” “you are doing something wrong” is so fundamentally messed up. It puts the onus on already breaking teachers for failing to do another task where there should have been systems in place to prevent it in the first place.
The other day I was listening to a podcast from Betsy from Now Spark Creativity. She was interviewing Doris Santoro on her book “Demoralized: Why Teachers Leave the Profession They Love and How They Can Stay.” In the interview, Santoro explains how demoralization and burn out can be confused. She defined demoralization as a wider issue that focuses on the systems which bar teachers from being their best, like mandated curriculum that leaves much to be desired, or increasing requirements on teachers with an already heavy load.
In my more veteran colleagues, I can see the demoralization. I hear conversations about how certain programs should not be used because they aren’t user friendly and are difficult to get students invested in.
I see teachers posting about increasing observations to make up for the lack of observations during virtual learning last year.
I see teachers trying to advocate that students suffered losses in social and emotional learning, only to be handed an SEL standardized test. As if more testing was ever the solution to anything.
Why are teachers burning out?
The Pandemic’s Role
With the pandemic, teachers have faced mounting criticism from all sides: policy makers claiming we are lazy for wanting to go virtual when half the building (including students) are missing due to quarantine, parents because we push for mask mandates to keep are immunocompromised colleagues and ourselves safe, and even students because they don’t understand how learning about Shakespeare can matter when they’ve likely lost family and friends to the pandemic.
Right now, the pandemic is reaching an all time high. So how do I explain to my students that no, we are not going virtual. And trust me, they do ask. It makes me proud that they ask hard questions. But the best I can do is direct them to have these conversations with their adults and ask them to seek guidance from their policy makers.
In schools across the country, their is a growing fervor among staff about receiving only one N95 mask, or none at all, especially when states have received money ear marked for easing the stresses of the pandemic.
Now, with the omicron variant reeking havoc, teachers are having to juggle teaching what students are in class while mitigating the fall out of all the quarantined and isolated students so that no “additional learning loss” occurs.
And its on to the last point. That cold pizza in the teacher’s lounge isn’t solving anything. Nor is that pretzel. While well-meaning administrators and school staff struggle to try and keep the peace, teachers are breaking under the systemic issues that are being exacerbated by the pandemic. Amazing, veteran teachers are leaving in droves or planning their leaves. Younger teachers are realizing that teaching is not the profession for them. And an overall weariness is settling on teachers across the country.
Teachers are burning out and becoming demoralized by a system and institution that was already fragile before the pandemic, and is now fracturing in this third year of Covid-19.