Stress: The burnout teacher crisis
Everyone has felt strained at some point in their lives: it’s a natural reaction to a hectic lifestyle.
However, when stress becomes all-consuming it can cause physical symptoms, feeling mentally drained and ultimately cause a burnout.
Research has shown that two thirds of people experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. The main cause for poor mental health begins with high levels of stress. During this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week the focus was stress: the most common reason teachers leave their job.
“I have worked for the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) since 2002 and from my perspective there has been an increase in the number of teachers suffering serious mental illness due to work related stress,” says Louise Wilson, assistant secretary at EIS. “This is often caused by a number of stressors with the worst cases involving psychiatric injury caused by stress and teachers having to end their careers due to the health effects suffered.”
Psychiatric injury is defined as nervous shock due to intentional or negligent actions. Or, in layman’s terms, due to high levels of pressure – which can come directly from workload.
The expanding demand of lesson preparation, marking, administration and ensuring students are exam-ready – not to mention hitting continued exam targets – has seen teachers leave a profession they love. It doesn’t matter how strong the drive and passion to spread knowledge and educate the future generation is when teaching becomes overwhelming.
According to figures from the Department of Education, just under 40,000 teachers quit the profession in 2016. This caused a ripple affect where positions have been left unfilled resulting in a shortfall of 30,000 classroom teachers – especially in secondary schools. There appears to be a vicious cycle of burnouts leading to shortages with no road to solving the problem.
Teachers’ Resource previously investigated the impact of teacher shortages across Scotland, and the UK. The current generation of teachers have different views on career longevity than their predecessors, either retraining or finding new career pathways, and the lack of STEM teachers has led to a prevalent defecit.
The shortage of teachers in the profession has led to growing demands on teachers in the workplace. Overpopulated classes means more time marking, and more complicated lesson plans. As teachers spend more time on admin and planning, there’s less time to regroup and rest, or even spend time with family or care for personal wellbeing.
Louise adds: “Increasingly, we have members who are suffering from stress and evidence identifies the increase of demands on teachers: workload, more bureaucracy and administrative burdens, dealing with behaviours of both students and parents, without appropriate support.”
All this demand on an individual can lead to increased job dissatisfaction and ill health.
A report released in 2017 shows that Scottish teachers have a higher level of job dissatisfaction compared to their English counterparts. Compiled by Dr Jermaine Ravalier and Dr Joe Walsh, it shines a light on the fact that half of teachers are unhappy with their jobs and 40% want to leave the profession within the next 18 months. Louise’s experience of working closely with educators who are experiencing burnout the research reflects the research.
Being in a position of extreme dissatisfaction in your employment is a difficult experience to be in – and it can even start to affect daily life outside of work. We spend most of our lives in work, so it’s crucial that it’s a positive and supportive environment. Unfortunately, some schools just don’t have systems in place to support their staff.
“Where EIS members have suffered the most has been where the stress has caused ill health. Even at that stage the employer has failed to take action to support the teacher. In such cases we are left supporting members who are seeking redress for the damage caused through the civil courts,” says Louise. Although, even in extreme cases when the courts are involved, there has still not been any change – despite significant settlement payments. But what is money when a burnout has left someone unemployed, disengaged and potentially distanced from family?
Once a career which people entered for life and enjoyed, teaching has evolved into a profession that pushes people away due to increasing pressures. It’s apparent that a lot more needs to be done to stop teachers from reaching breaking point. Teachers and the future of education depend on it.
ARE YOU ABOUT TO BURN OUT?
Burnout is an increasingly big issue in many professions, but can you recognise the signs? Burnout is not a singular condition, in fact, those experiencing burnout have symptoms linked to stress and depression. If you experience any of the symptoms below make sure to visit your GP. People who experience severe stress can sometimes have suicidal feelings: in this case getting assistance immediately is imperative.
• Depressed, anxious, nervous or afraid
• Neglected or lonely
• Racing thoughts that can’t be switched off
• An increased sense of dread
• Worried about your health
• Uninterested in life
• Difficulty making decisions
• Worried and emotional
• Snapping at others
• Lack of concentration
• Eating too much or too little
• Consuming more alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs than before