Even before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, studies revealed that the education profession was a highly stressful trade. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 270,000 teachers have left the occupation since 2016. Further studies show that educators leave the profession because they experience daily professional demands and challenges, which can be highly stressful. High levels of stress over an extended period of time can lead to a phenomenon called “Burnout Syndrome.”
What is “Burnout Syndrome”?
The ICD-11, or International Classification of Diseases, defines “burnout syndrome” as an occupational phenomenon characterized by the following symptoms:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance
- Intensifying pessimistic or cynical feelings related to one’s job
- Reduced professional efficacy
Rising Educator Stress Levels
COVID-19’s rise over the past two years has contributed to “burnout syndrome” and taken an even more tremendous toll on educators’ well-being. Added pressures, which have resulted in a significant increase in stress levels, include:
- Pivoting to virtual instruction without adequate support
- Failure to provide best practices and resources
- Growing concerns about personal health and family safety
- Addressing student mental health
An Education Week Research Center survey conducted in July 2021 revealed that “sixty percent of teachers say they experience job-related stress frequently or always.” Alarmingly, just nine percent say they “never or rarely do.”
“When asked about the effects of job-related stress on them and their work, teachers commonly said they have a harder time sleeping,” the survey indicated. “They’re less able to enjoy their free time with family or friends, and their physical health suffers.”
The survey’s results validate that teacher stress levels have skyrocketed during the pandemic–and are of great concern. The sudden escalation in teacher stress levels will impact instruction, classroom management, and attention to student needs. This will manifest in overall student achievement levels.
Challenges To Staff Retention
Ultimately, the implications of “burnout syndrome” affect the educator, instructional quality, and student relationships. Predictably, many teachers become exhausted or take leave of absence to restore their mental and physical well-being. Essentially, “burnout syndrome” impacts the whole educational process and eventually causes teachers to leave the profession.
These circumstances have led to educator shortages in all disciplines. Subsequently, positions that were difficult to fill pre-pandemic, such as special education roles, have skyrocketed.
For schools fortunate enough NOT to have vacancies, staff retention is of great concern. Because of the school year’s continuing uncertainty, which is a result of the virus’s effects, teachers face multiple challenges associated with instruction and caring for students and their safety. Rising stress levels could cause many teachers to depart over the year.
During this unprecedented school year, we have placed much focus on students’ well-being. However, if we are to maintain retention, we must also dedicate attention to school staff.
Therefore, if students are to have a successful school year, administrators must address the issue of “burnout syndrome.”
What can administrators do to lessen their staff’s stress level?
- Mental health professionals must assist educators experiencing excessive stress levels.
- Principals should continually assess their staff’s emotional well-being.
- A consistent review of staff attendance, instruction, and communications should occur daily.
- Counseling referrals should be readily accessible to staff members who are demonstrating difficulties.
While critical, mental health support is far from the only answer. While we cannot change the conditions and subsequent school responses associated with the virus, administrators should consider alleviating pre-pandemic stressors related to the school’s processes and environmental structures. Through this action, principals would prove to staff members that they understand the daily pressures experienced by their employees, such as those concerning student achievement, recovery of skills, and state and federal mandate adherence. Such involvement can also allow staff to feel valued and supported.
Specifically, administrators may wish to consider the following:
- Increasing planning time
- Reducing class sizes
- Revising school schedules
- Allowing teachers to partake in decision-making
- Supporting teachers with staff development and instructional resources
- Staying flexible with multiple options to address issues
Teamwork & Flexibility: The Key to School Success
For the school year to continue successfully, all individuals must remain flexible–and recognize that they’re on this journey together. All school personnel must draw upon each other’s support and knowledge bases to successfully achieve their goals.
Educators can employ any newly gained knowledge to improve all students’ education in the upcoming years. After all, imagine the lessons we can learn and feelings of accomplishment that we can experience!
Ann Marie Geissel, M.Ed., ABD
Therapy Source National Special Education Director
Ann Marie has 30+ years of special education experience, as a teacher, principal, special education supervisor, and special education director within urban, suburban school districts and charter schools. Her background and qualifications make her well-positioned to assist Therapy Source’s education clients with compliance monitoring and daily operation. Ann Marie holds a Bachelor of Arts in Special Education from LaSalle University, and a Master of Education in Special Education from Arcadia University. Additionally, she has been certified as a principal and special education advisor – and possesses a Letter of Eligibility for Superintendent – through Temple University’s and Widener University’s Doctoral Programs in Educational Administration.