How to combat teacher burnout

Teacher Burnout

The prevalence of teacher burnout has always existed, especially within the field of special education. But when you’re trying to navigate an unprecedented global pandemic alongside the standard challenges of teaching, burnout heightens.

In this blog, we’ll discuss what contributes to burnout and explore recommendations for what administrators can do to help combat burnout before it happens.

What do we know about special education teachers and burnout?

Today, the national attrition rate for special education teachers is twice that of general education teachers.

When you consider the 30% increase in special education students over the last ten years, coupled with the staffing shortages many districts face, it’s clear why special education teachers may experience higher rates of burnout.

What does feeling burnt out lead to? A boost in attrition…the great resignation if you will.

What is causing burnout?

When there is a lack of balance between job demands and appropriate resources, stress can be the result. Chronic stress can trigger teacher burnout. Recent research has identified three dimensions of special education teacher burnout: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and lack of personal accomplishment.

Let’s unpack each and identify what can be done to offset each category of teacher burnout.

What can emotional exhaustion look like?
  • Limited administrative support
  • Lack of colleague support/isolation (in comparison to general education teachers)
  • Lack of resources
  • Poor work-life balance – inability to complete work tasks during work hours
  • Student behavior challenges
  • Lack of prep periods

In comparison to general education teachers, special educators report increased emotional exhaustion – especially during the first few months of the school year.

As an administrator, connect with your teachers early on (and frequently!) to discover what it is that they need to feel supported. Your listening ear will not only provide the assistance they need, but they will also feel heard when changes are made (think, coverage for lunch duty). 

How can depersonalization be identified? 
  • Role conflict
  • Role ambiguity
  • Technology issues
  • Too much paperwork
  • High caseloads
  • Non-teaching responsibilities (e.g., excessive paperwork)

Make it a point to limit non-teaching responsibilities whenever possible, including unnecessary after-hours meetings, paperwork and processes that can be streamlined.

Roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined at the beginning of the school year, and should not be wavered from.

How can lack of personal accomplishment be defined? 
  • Low pay
  • Limited room for growth
  • Lack of opportunity to teach
  • Lack of affirmation for hard work
  • Not enough time in the day to complete desired tasks well

In some cases, special education teachers can feel as if they’re on an island and that they don’t matter quite as much as other staff in the school. As an administrator, show them that they stand on equal ground by including them in the same ways you involve your general education teachers.

When possible, provide opportunities for growth, such as a pathway to increased responsibilities and pay, or a promotion.

Above all else, maintain an open line of communication between yourself and your special education teachers. Listen to concerns, whether they center around time management challenges or lack of resources, and work together to find solutions.

What opportunities do you feel you need more support in to combat burnout?

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