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As Burnout Impacts an Increasing Number of Educators, the Profession Feels Pressure From Many Sides

Recent reports show record amounts of learning loss, school districts are dealing with substantial vacancies for the 2022-2023 school year, and K–12 educators report the highest quantities of burnout among a range of professions.

By Morgan Wood1851 Franchise Contributor
SPONSOREDUpdated 4:16PM 10/20/22

Educators are being denied pay increases, working to support students through the worst academic declines in decades, adjusting to increased class sizes as the teacher shortage rages on and becoming burnt out within their profession more quickly than ever. In a February survey conducted by Gallup, 44% of K–12 educators reported feeling burnt out at work either always or very often, the highest of all professions surveyed. This percentage exceeds that found in public policy, retail, health care, manufacturing, social services and more.

Young educators are leaving the field after experiencing burnout in as little as four years, and there is a broader pattern of educators planning to leave the profession, regardless of age or years of service.

For many educators, one of the biggest challenges leading to burnout is the current learning loss challenges students are facing. After years of COVID-19-related learning disruptions, many students are pacing behind schedule, and their educators are being asked to help them catch up.

The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress report shows that American students’ growth in reading and math was set back 20 years, thanks to the disruptions that went on between 2020 and 2022. More specifically, reading scores had the largest drop in three decades.

High Expectations Leave Educators Exhausted

As this learning loss manifests, educators are asked to compensate for lost time. In some cases, this comes in the form of mental and emotional effort as first-grade teachers work to pass on not only academic material but social skills and standard school expectations to young students who experienced kindergarten online. In other cases, this looks like a fourth-grade teacher trying to incorporate third-grade skills in addition to the fourth-grade curriculum.

Despite the hard work educators delivered during times of learning disruption and the help of federal funding for supplemental learning support, the losses simply cannot be resolved in a single year. Therefore, many educators are looking to the next few years of their careers with an expectation of increased workload and pressure to go above and beyond for students.

No matter how much educators care for their students, they are not superhuman, and it can be incredibly discouraging when they feel they cannot adequately serve their students. 

“You know, when teachers talk about students with other teachers or when they come home to their family, they always say ‘my kids.’ ‘How are my kids?’ ‘Today, my kids…’” explained Emily Levitt, vice president of education at Sylvan Learning. “It’s because they really do feel a sense of responsibility and care for the kids they see every day, and when they feel like they can’t serve those kids to the best of their ability, no matter what the cause might be, it breaks their hearts a little.”

As the Profession Feels Heavier, Less Are Pursuing Roles in Education

This very heartbreak shines through for many in the profession. Fewer college students are pursuing education degrees, making the graduating classes of new educators smaller and smaller each year, and present teachers are not returning year over year. Thousands of educators have stepped down since COVID-19, and some districts were left with hundreds of vacant positions as they started the 2022–2023 school year. As workloads increase and educators continue to feel that they are letting their students down, though no fault of their own, the profession as a whole is becoming less attractive.

Unfortunately, as teachers step away to care for their health and wellness and pursue careers that may feel more fulfilling, remaining educators are often left to pick up the slack. Some states welcome adults with no education experience to the classroom or accelerate nearly-graduated education majors to enter the classroom early, asking established educators to provide mentorship guidance and even help develop lesson plans, all for no additional pay. Placing this weight on established teachers’ shoulders only exacerbates burnout in those who have not yet left the profession entirely.

As school systems work to lighten the load, some are liquidating positions at the county level, encouraging anyone who works for the district and still holds a current teaching certification to reenter the classroom. In other places, retired educators are being offered incentives to return to the classroom.

Because it took years for the profession to reach this state, the issue of teacher burnout, or any of the contributing factors, will not be resolved immediately. However, there are ways to make a difference; recognizing that educators are not at fault, establishing support systems and providing necessary resources can all combat burnout. 

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