Stress Management 101: Teacher Burnout

Stress Management 101: Teacher Burnout
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Lizzie Perrin profile
Lizzie Perrin April 30, 2018

Are you overwhelmed with a pile of papers to grade or emotionally drained from counseling students all day? Being a teacher can be stressful and Noodle is here to help.

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When you graduate from high school there is a lot of pressure to choose a career path, when in reality, many people end up choosing a career based on job availability. However, when you choose to become a teacher, it’s a little different. Becoming a teacher is the result of a purposeful decision that is most likely driven by your desire to help people, specifically children.

Teachers thrive on seeing that lightbulb turn on for the first time and witnessing a child beam in happiness that they finally understand. Being a teacher is wonderful, but it is not void of hardship. Are you struggling with managing your stress levels as a teacher? Continue reading and Noodle will help you pinpoint some of these stress factors, as well as offer some advice on teacher stress management.

What causes teacher stress?

A decades long study{target=”blank”} revealed that 46 percent of all teachers report high daily stress, which is consistent with other people-serving occupations, such as nurses and physicians. Below, we highlight some of the reasons teachers experience stress.

Emotional communication. While it’s true that many professions require you to have interpersonal and organizational communication skills, teachers uniquely require emotional intelligence. Teachers are regularly required to step out of their typical instructor role and counsel children who are in distress and consistently pay attention to signs of abuse or neglect based on a child’s change in behavior. This can occur sporadically from one day to the next, and it doesn’t matter what other stressors the teacher is experiencing at the time. According to a sampling study{target=”blank”}, teachers perform great emotional control and emotional labor, which can lead to exhaustion and burnout. There is a lot of pressure for teachers to be enthusiastic, as this has shown to improve children’s learning. With that in mind, teachers are often fake their enthusiasm and suppress their frustration.

Beyond curriculum. Teaching involves so much more than regurgitating lesson plans. As an educator, you are not only responsible for teaching specific curriculum, but also the emotional and physical well-being of large groups of children. Teachers foster growth and manage behaviors so that children experience well-rounded social and emotional development. Teachers are faced with challenging situations, especially when they have a student that has special needs or inadequate family and community support. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding a child’s life, there is an expectation that the teacher will fill those needs and help that child succeed.

Time commitment. Teachers must get their work done, whether or not they are working unpaid overtime hours. Teachers also participate in additional school activities, which impacts time spent with friends and family. Teachers must have an organized classroom, pre-planned lesson plans, and spotless records of everything that occurs with each student.

Support for new teachers. First year teacher stress can be overwhelming. Gallup’s study{target=”blank”} on the state of American schools revealed that average engagement level drops significantly in the first few years of teaching, which is more than likely a factor in the turnover rates among new teachers. The study also revealed that teachers want to be heard, do not want unrealistic expectations placed on them, and want to participate in decision-making that directly affects them in their job. However, Gallup found that teachers are the least likely among 12 occupational groups to feel that their opinion counts at work. Visit Noodle’s article on what to expect in your first year of teaching{target=”blank”}.



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Teacher stress impact in the classroom

It’s important to address teacher stress and burnout because it impacts both teachers and students. The 46 percent of teachers who experience high levels of stress on a daily basis are suffering from chronic elevated cortisol levels{target=”blank”} (a hormone your body releases when you are stressed) which can trigger multiple physical and mental health issues. According to the American Institute of Stress, there is a long list of symptoms that result from chronic stress, which includes depression, anxiety, heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, and immune system disturbances. Chronic stress can also impact your physical and mental stamina, which can make you irritable and exhausted. The indirect symptoms of teacher stress is everything that results from teachers who are exhausted, ill, and burnt out. When teachers are not well, it impacts their job performance{target=”blank”}, which affects students’ success. It also adds to teacher turnover and sick leave, which disrupts students’ access to learning and creates inconsistencies for fellow educators.

How to relieve and manage teacher stress

If you have already hit full-on burnout, here are some things you can do to reduce your stress level and get back on your feet:

However, there is a lot you can do to mitigate your stress before it even starts. It’s true that teacher stress is unavoidable, which is why stress management courses and peer support programs are so important. However, when you go into the field of education, knowing the challenges you will face, taking a proactive approach will make a world of difference. Here are some things you can do to avoid stress altogether:

  • Frequently revisit what you love about teaching
  • Be self-aware: take a break or vacation before you get to the burnout stage
  • Work with your administrators to take on a student-centered project
  • Offer your thoughts and ideas at teacher meetings
  • Get involved in the things that interest you most
  • Support good teacher policy
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Below, we have provided some online stress management courses that may be helpful in managing your stress and burnout levels.



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Are you an administrator? Here’s how you can help.

Hanover Research indicates in their 2015 report{target=”blank”} that there are a few key factors in teacher stress, including teaching pupils who lack motivation, time pressures and workload, and coping with change. According to Hannover, in order to implement stress management programs, administrators first need to conduct a needs assessment so they can specifically target the most challenging aspects for teachers at that particular school. Although a list of typical stress sources exist, the main source of stress will be unique for every individual teacher. Some suggestions Hannover offers to improve teacher stress were appropriate and fair teaching assignments, collaborative work with colleagues, extra support for new teachers, sufficient resources and materials, and expanded influence and career growth.

One of the best things you can offer your teachers is loyalty and moral support. There is a common belief today that teachers are easily targeted and blamed, for example, when a child doesn’t succeed. Indeed, there are certainly instances where addressing teacher performance is required and necessary. However, teachers will experience less ongoing stress and anxiety on a regular day-to-day basis if they know that to the greatest extent possible, you have their backs and you will go to bat for them when appropriate.

Final thoughts

Being a teacher is difficult, but extremely rewarding. If you are considering becoming a teacher, there are nationwide opportunities for you. In general, many meaningful jobs that deal with individuals, such as clinicians, social workers{target=”blank”}, and educators, are very stressful. However, if you implement ongoing stress management tactics, as well as utilize your support system, you will find success and have a long, fulfilling teaching career.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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