Thursday, July 24, 2014

Surviving Teacher Burnout

June 7, 2011 by jrosales  
Filed under Featured News, Top Stories

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By John Rosales

On August 15, five days before the start of the 2010-2011 school year, Michelle Totra’s summer came to a crashing end. She was told by the superintendent of the Needles Unified School District in California that she had been involuntarily transferred from her elementary school to Needles High school. In an instant, Totra had five days to plan four freshman English classes and two language arts classes, an impossible task for even the most resourceful of teachers.

Until the transfer notice, Totra had spent a joyful summer organizing her classroom at Vista Colorado Elementary School in Needles. Though now teaching fourth graders, she had taught first graders for most of her 20-year career.

“I love that age group,” she says. “They suit my personality…I’m a nurturer.”

But the superintendent found out that she was qualified to teach freshman English, and they needed to fill the position internally.

“I was not trained for high school,” says Totra, a member of the San Bernardino Teachers Association. “I contacted the union, and there was nothing that I could do about the transfer – so, in all fairness to the students, I decided I would rise to the occasion.”

Totra was already coping with the separation from her husband of 30 years, who had been unemployed since 2008. On the day she heard about the transfer, her second granddaughter had been born to her son, who had been recently diagnosed with cancer. He had surgery in September.

At school, Totra says students could see she was struggling…and they pounced.

“I became the target of teacher bullying,” she says. “I was their entertainment. They called me a b–ch, and yelled the F-word at me all the time. They knew what buttons to push.”

Totra also heard rumors that there were unflattering photos of her on Facebook posted by students.

“By October, I could no longer fight all the battles, she says.”

School Principal Jeffrey Ritchley supported Totra. He took decisive action by transferring some students out of her class and suspending others.

Still, Totra became filled with anxiety, frustration and low self-esteem. It was a slow build up to what some clinicians call “burnout.”

This condition usually occurs when a teacher feels highly stressed, emotionally exhausted, and cynical or uncaring about what happens to students. According to studies, most teachers experience job stress at least two to four times a day, with more than 75 percent of teachers’ health problems attributed to stress.

“Classroom teachers are often ‘on fire’ for the job when they start…and anything on fire can burn out,” says Byron Greenberg, an associate professor and clinical psychologist at Virginia State University, Petersburg.

Michelle Totra and Principal Jeff Ritchley

A colleague of Totra’s realized she needed help and referred her to the Survive and Thrive Mini-Sabbatical Intervention Program sponsored by the California Teachers Association (CTA) and conducted by Greenberg.

The program redirects teachers back to the healthy reasons they had for choosing the profession, says Greenberg.

“It empowers them by demonstrating that their experience is shared by other teachers and it promotes a sense of purpose and value in what they do as professionals,” he says.

The program consists of a five-day sabbatical in a retreat setting where a group of teachers (up to 15) reflect on their lives and careers as well as receive instruction in time management, stress management, nutrition, and relationship-building. After completing the program, there are follow-up sessions with instructors at intervals of three, six and nine months.

“Within the first week, they look at themselves and come to appreciate who they are,” says Donna Jefferson, who recently retired from CTA but is still a trainer with the program. “After the first year, most are back in their classrooms.”

School districts and CTA typically share the $4,000 cost per participant for food, housing and teacher release time. The program is cost-effective for CTA because a dismissal proceeding and discipline grievances leading up to it can cost tens of thousands of dollars per teacher and sometimes in excess of a hundred thousand, says Robin Devitt, a program coordinator and CTA UniServ staff member.

“CTA believes in programs that support members in all areas of the profession, including but not limited to job-related stress,” she says.

While many issues play a role in teacher burnout, common “stressors” include dwindling school resources, low pay, high expectations for test scores, changing assessments of student performance, lack of parental involvement, and pressure from administration for non-teaching tasks such as rubrics, reports, and curriculum assessments.

“There are a myriad of stressors for professional educators,” says Devitt, who has been affiliated with the program for 12 years. “These tasks far outweigh in hours, the average work day for educators.”

Stress can also be imposed by knowledge of lingering state budget cuts and layoffs, according to Jerald L. Newberry, executive director of NEA’s Health Information Network (HIN). (HIN offers methods of coping with stress, burnout and other health issuesKill Stress Before It Kills You is the title of an HIN workshop available to state Associations.)

“Being a teacher in these economic times can just wear you down,” Newberry says.

“In the end, it is a system that blames the teacher for students who fail, placing on the teacher responsibility for the choices that others, such as parents, prior teachers, and students, make,” says Greenberg.

Since completing the retreat last spring along with 10 other teachers, Totra feels rejuvenated, and was recently approved by district officials to return to the high school.

“The best part is, I want to be there too,” she says.

See Also: How Bad Education Policies Demoralize Teachers

Comments

49 Responses to “Surviving Teacher Burnout”
  1. Deborah Harvey says:

    At least this teacher had a supportive administrator. I am facing burnout right now because of personal and professional attacks from a staff member, and my administrator is supporting this! I am on medical leave, in a wheelchair, and this administrator moved me from my usual primary position (my Master’s degree is in early childhood education) to 6th grade for next year,(there are primary openings) and he is insisting I come in and pack up my belongings within the next two weeks! The entire staff is in an uproar over this. This kind of administrative hostility is not that uncommon from what I’ve heard. With all of the stressors that educators face today, this should just not be tolerated.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 85 Thumb down 1

  2. Geoff Kyriacou says:

    Teacher stress is at epidemic levels throughout the world. I am an Asutralian secondary special education teacher in a high school and have come to the conclusion after 25 years teaching that adminstration do not care at all about teachre health and well being. I am embarking on a State wide online survey investigating sources of stess for secondary teachers. This is the basis of my PhD thesis. It is rewarding to note that the Uni of Houston will spend $M1.6 on the issue for middle school teachers in 500 schools in USA.
    it will be interesting to compare our results in the future.
    One thing I am sure of is that teachers are not valued in amny countries and the future for teaching is very bleak. I do not take student teachers anymore as I advise them to seek other employment so as to live a happy and fruitful life. The only reprive is holidays and i work on rental properties as the superannuation is not worth anything.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 52 Thumb down 11

  3. Kristen says:

    Teacher burnout is very common, with everything that is asked of teachers. I hear stories all the time of teachers being forced to teach something they haven’t taught in 20 years, or they could lose their job. One of the highly important aspects is being prepared in your classroom, and having the tools you need to do your job. She can then feel confident that she is teaching the skills students need to learn without having to worry about lesson planning and designing lessons from scratch!

    Kristen Bowers
    http://www.4secondarysolutions.com
    Literature and Writing Guides designed for middle and high school teachers

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 43 Thumb down 0

  4. Julie Rowan says:

    We are very proud of Michelle’s efforts. We are proud to have her as a member of the Needles Teachers Assocition.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 37 Thumb down 8

  5. Jenna says:

    Congratulations Mom! You have worked so hard over the years! I’m very proud of you! I love you!

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 55 Thumb down 4

  6. Bill says:

    I coach and speak to teachers and administrators about the stresses in education yet great stories like this never cease to amaze me.
    One time in my career I was even further along than Michelle – I was teaching a second year college course and my department Chair came along and informed the schedule had changed and that I was teaching a different subject (a technical subject I had never taught) down the hall and the students were waiting. I do not see how this contributes to student quality or teacher quality of life, but it is not an uncommon way of doing things in education systems of all levels.
    Hang in there,
    Bill

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 36 Thumb down 0

  7. Leslie says:

    The fact is, this need not have happened to Michelle. She was a good elementary school teacher. She loved what she was doing. Her superintendent caused the problem right at the beginning. Forcing someone not trained for high school, in a subject she hadn’t taught for over 20 years! And how many days to prepare???? Then the teacher gets blamed for the failure.

    She has overcome, but what she went though is needless and stupid on the school system’s part.

    Over and over again this happens.

    Sad.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 77 Thumb down 0

  8. Liz says:

    teachers should be involved in the decisions that affect them and they should be able to evaluate their administrators. Also, with all the pressure and resposibility that has been put on teachers for student performance, parents need to be held responsible as well.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 58 Thumb down 0

  9. Trudi Gesin says:

    I seldom have “time” to open the email communication from NEA. I am so glad I did. Thank you Michelle Totra for sharing your story, you definitely are a strong person. I have a saying, I couldn’t make this #### up. My story is similar to Michelle. I’ve been teaching 20 years, have loved my students-school-teaching partners, etc. Now due to budget cuts-”the economy”, building and teaching assignments are being juggled-scrambled. On the last week of school our new Principal came into many of our classrooms (while we were teaching) to inform us that we would now be teaching on different teams-grades-subjects. While in my own life, In the last 16 months,I have lost both parents. My grandson was diagnosed as blind and after my daughter received divorce papers she and the baby moved into my home. I’ve been a single parent for 20 years, I was looking forward to focusing on some personal time. Instead, I have a principal that is calling and suggesting that we come in during summer to help him prepare discipline plans, etc. Yes, we feel overwhelmed!! We will get through it, teachers are strong for a reason.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 52 Thumb down 0

  10. Christine Nathan says:

    Reading this article was just what I needed to help me realize I am not alone with my ‘frustration, anxiety, and bitterness’ toward the educational environment as a whole. My administrators chose to attack me and demean me rather than be nurturing, understanding or supportive. I anticipate that I, too, will get an impersonal email message shortly before the coming school year stating that I will be transferred to another school and/or age group with little time to prepare. Its very sad, but not surprising at all, that the same district that would take such ‘destructive’ measures is the same district I spent my entire life in…thus the reason I chose to teach here; to try and change things…

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 38 Thumb down 1

  11. Patrica says:

    It is not surprising that Michelle went through this. Last year was my second bout with burnout. The first was in 2005 when I crashed and burned with massive amounts of inflammation throughout my body. Because I couldn’t get a doctor to validate there was anything wrong with me, I left teaching and had to use my retirement to support me through my self medication to bring about an improvement in my health. I returned to teaching in 2006 part time and seemed to be okay. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching middle school ELD. The school district then was struggling with CA budget cuts and they transferred me to the high school alternative school and against my better judgment I accepted. I was still on probationary contract with this school district and wanted desperately to stay. The first semester was fine, but by the second semester all the problems I had experienced previously began to reappear. Soon my body was filled with pain again, and on top of that a surgery I had the previous summer went bad and I was faced with additional surgeries. I finally decided it was too much and resigned a month before school was out. I burned a bridge there and now that very same school district has a part time ELD position I would love to apply for, but know it would be fruitless. Wish I had known about the burnout program then. I might still be employed. PS I’ve been applying for jobs and of course since I am an older teacher and way over educated, no one can afford me!

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 2

  12. Christine Toleson says:

    I was moved by these stories. As an itinerant school psychologist I serve 22 high schools working with fostered youth. I often hear stories of “burn-out” from my teacher colleagues. I think that more of our PDs should focus on wellness and that teachers should definately have more say in developing the matrix. Our supervisors in psychological services make every effort to place us in positions that best match our skills and interests. My heart goes out to my wonderful teacher colleagues.

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  13. Betsy Roberson says:

    I thought this was a good article, but only useful to those who were elgible for the Survive and Thrive Mini-Sabbatical Intervention Program. It would be helpful if NEA would write another article giving those of us in isolated areas (SE NM) more practical hints for overcoming techer burnout.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 41 Thumb down 0

  14. Leah says:

    I just read the burnout story and I can only imagine what she had to go through. My best friend has gone through similar trials with her teaching jobs, and as of now is not sure whether she has one for next year. The process administrators use to assign and re-assign is very cruel, and their true ignorance of what goes on in daily teaching is unbelievable.
    I have taught less than 10 years, with the last 3 in Special Ed. I LOVE being the teacher, nurturer, advocate of “my kids”, but meetings, and so much paperwork, and the “NO, do it THIS way(s)” of higher ups make me want to give up and move on. I want administrators to spend a month in my classroom, doing what I have to do with grades 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, in 3-4 different subjects, fairly grading each child according to their individual abilities, (and getting the grades in in the nick of time) working with Regular Ed teachers’ schedules and whims (special guest-oops forgot to tell you, or, decided to keep them to watch a movie today-that’s ok, right? or, they’re late because I insisted they do this busy work before they could go to you for the actual work they need to learn)and their unwillingness to share textbooks (she doesn’t need them, they just play all day, right?)and school supplies. Teaching involves so much more than doing the work before you and getting the product out in time. We are entrusted with children’s lives for the better part of their day, every weekday. We are trying so hard to “make a difference” as they say, in a system that does not take individual kids, the actual person, into account. I try to do that every day, even on summer break I’m thinking of what’s best for each individual child I will have in my room next year.
    BurnOUT? Yeah, but I also Burn-IN, seethe with frustration and the stress of trying to do what I know will work, with very little support and funds except what comes from my own family. Administrators, wake up.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 33 Thumb down 4

  15. LOVE T. TEACH says:

    THANK GOD FOR SBTA, CTA, AND NEA. WHAT A SUPPORT SYSTEM. GLAD TO BE MEMBER. THANK YOU FOR MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN THE LIVES OF YOUR MEMBERS.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  16. Jill says:

    Don’t they know you get more with positive safe enviroment than one with fear. If teachers treated the students the way they treat teachers, the teacher would quickly be fired. Why can’t teachers evaluate their administrators?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 28 Thumb down 1

  17. Grace says:

    I am a school social worker and I cover four schools. One year ago we got a new director and at the end of last school year, he asked us to please tell him which of the schools we would like to keep for the upcoming school year. In July, we received an e-mail telling us of our new assignments. He had not honored any of our requests and totally shuffled us around. We spent the first week before school began loading up files and cleaning out our offices and setting up offices in new schools where we did not know the faculty, students or parents. There was no continuity to our work with troubled students and their families. Two principals gave me a hard time because they were angry about not being consulted about the change and they felt the loss of the social workers who had previously been with their school and working with their students’ families since the school was built. No thought was given to the kids with whom we have forged bonds and who come to us daily for support and the parents who have learned to trust us and ask us for help with their needs. Then in December, we received yet another e-mail changing our school assignments again. There was a lot of resentment on the part of the principals. We handled it the best we could. As social workers and teachers, we all are in it for the “human element.” We want that bond and connection with the kids to help them progress and achieve, knowing that their welfare is truly important to us. Administrators need to recognize this, not only for our sanity, but the benefit of the children that we serve and are committed to.
    God bless you, Michelle Totra. I cannot imagine walking into your nightmare.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  18. Debbie says:

    Way to preserver Michelle. Our profession is taking an unfair beating and my only regret is not talking my daughter out of a career in education. She has been teaching for 3 years, graduated with honors, and in the three years completed her masters at the university. Unfortunately she has suffered reduction in force every year. She is taking this too personally and feels if she were good enough each new principal would fight for her. (NONE that I have ever had) She has taught 3rd and 4th grade and her students excel on the CRTs with several scoring 500 in one or both subjects. Something needs to change for fear of our young educators suffering teacher burnout before they begin. Too many great teachers are being blamed because administrators don’t do their job and take the time needed with the struggling teachers. Not enough emphasis on the children of today. How long do we continue to take this abuse?

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  19. Sue says:

    I’ve been teaching 28 years and this was my worst year ever! For the first time I actually counted down the days. :0(

    The students were ages 7-8 and 9 and behaved more like middle school students with too much “knowledge.” They constantly talked about wanting to have sex with each other, their genitals, etc. When I asked the administration for help, I was told to ignore it and keep them out of the office. Even our school counselor was of no help.

    It’s just nice to know I’m not alone.

    I’m dreading next year.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 26 Thumb down 2

  20. SpEdStressed says:

    I can identify with all the other teachers who are feeling burned-out as I too have experienced it in the past and currently. I find it interesting that so many teachers’ burn-out is caused from involuntary change in job or location assignments. It sounds like this should be an issue that our Unions or Associations should be addressing. As Employers, why are districts/administrators allowed to knowingly inflict psychological injury on to employees with absolutely no regard for the damage being done? I have witnessed several administrators do it on purpose to make someone so unhappy they quit or transfer out, and usually this is being done due to personality conflicts. This type of behavior would not be tolerated in other professions, why is this harassment allowed towards teachers?

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  21. Jen says:

    A few years ago I had a nervous breakdown because of a combination of physical challenges and a school that was totally unsupportive. I was involuntarily transferred from a very supportive school to a school with an administrator who micromanaged everything and played favorites. I bolted the school right after the breakdown and never looked back. I find it odd that the District never seemed to notice that the turnover rate at this particular school was between 60%-75% a year. While it’s nice that California has that kind of a support program, the rest of the country doesn’t. I, for one, know that my state will never have anything like this, because it would cost money. What do the rest of us do?

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  22. Disabled&burnedout says:

    I truly understand the burn out phase. I have a disability, and I needed to disclose it a few years ago in order to ask for reasonable accommodations. Since that disclosure (coinsiding with a new principal and several other employment changes) I have been allowed reasonable accommodations that I supply. And, I must follow rules that others do not. In addition I have received many disciplinary emails, notes, and letters of reprimand for the tiniest of actions. And, rules have been made up to substantiate my “misdeeds.” This last year has been the hardest due to more major changes, and I again needed to ask for different accommodations which were flatly refused several times. I was lucky enough to have the support of some ADA lawyers who helped me as best they can, and are willing to file charges, but I just can’t make it through next year, reasonable accommodation or not. My love of being an educator has ALWAYS been the kids. This last year I felt that love waning more and more. Because of that I will spent the last year of my teaching career on disability (using up most of my sick days.) All because of the need for power and weilding it over a person who tried to stand up for her rights, but in the end cannot find the strength to continue the struggle.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  23. Annette says:

    I am starting a one year leave of absence from teaching due to the stresses of my job. My was not a forced transfer, but rather a lack of discipline by the administration in the school. The students took advantage and bullied ALL of the staff ALL YEAR. Several staff were even attacked physically. I don’t think sabbatical programs are as effective as a change in the overall system would be. Hold the students – and the parents – responsible. And make the administrators teach at least one class every few years to remind them what it takes.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 31 Thumb down 1

  24. Moog says:

    great. so she got sent off to a clinic. where’s the burnout prevention strategies? great job, NEA.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 10 Thumb down 9

  25. I have just read these comments and I am so sad to see that I have company. This year I have experienced many of the horrors described by my colleagues. I never knew other teachers and administrators could collude to “shun” a fellow staff member. At first, I could not believe what I thought was happening to me. When I noticed people literally turning their backs on me, looking at me but not acknowledging me and other little things like this, I thought it was a coincidence or I was putting too much emphasis on it. Then, when I started to be harrassed by the administrators and saw my colleagues “conferring” before the harrassment I began to see the pattern of teacher abuse. I had to acknowledge to myself that I had seen this administrator “target” other teachers at other times. I never did anything about it because of course it didn’t involve me. When I began to go “public” about the harrassment I was not deemed credible at first. As time went on and I endured further degradation and needless humiliation, others began to see the same thing I saw. The unhappy result was more “conferences” with administrators to try to “iron things out”. I too dread next year knowing that my professional future is in the hands of petty, vicious, self-serving bureaucrats who only think of children when the parents complain about something. What a troubled world education is at this juncture. My back feels like swiss cheese.

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  26. Sandie says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. This happened to me several times while teaching at the elementary level. Went from teaching fourth grade successfully, to kindergarten (not good), then to second grade. 3 of the 4 years that I taught second were really good, but tough. The 4th year was down-rigt horrible. No support from the principal, which didn’t help. At the end of the year she told me that she was having a difficult time finding a classroom for me because I wasn’t certified bilingual or bilingual for that matter. So she stuck me in kindergarten. I wasn’t too happy with the change, but was going to do it the best that I could. It was aweful. No support, no help, no anything but stress, and illness after illness. Now, I work at the high school level teaching English Language Arts with Migrant students. I have a variety of grade levels in my classes, share a classroom with a co-worker, and not only have to worry about English lessons, but ALL subjects. Without my elementary background, that would have really freaked me out, but I just go with it. Chemistry still confuses me and any of the math courses. We find a way to get the information so they can complete their work with computer based learning products. I love what I’m doing now. Have a lot of support within my department, and my administrator that is in charge of the English Department. I wish I didn’t have to go through the horrible years I went through in elementary, but have found a home in high school. I was definately headed for burn out, and a possible career change to boot. I’m glad I stuck with it!!!

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  27. Ms. Wise says:

    In the past few months I was surplussed, told don’t show up for the surplus meeting because there are not enough jobs at this time, told if you get a surplus job it is take it or resign no matter where they send you, told I could stay at my school but, not sure where, finally allowed to stay in my grade and my own room with the addition of an inclusion cluster. I’m still facing a possible pay cut, having to pay more for insurance, furlough days, less money for supplies, less pension. The list goes on. Do I have cause to worry and be stressed? I am my sole provider. I bought a house last year. I still have a student loan. My car is 10 years old and will need replacing soon. Just when I thought my life was coming together, it is more uncertain than ever. My blood pressure has skyrocketed and I’m on meds for that now. I love teaching but, it just might be killing me. Somethign has to give!

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  28. Mrs. Conigs says:

    I cannot agree more. I was faced with a change in schedule a day before school opened. I was required to teach 4 different subjects, every class over in contractual size, and in total violation of the federal special education laws. With high school Regents exams schedules, it is a shame that students who never passed the state 9th or 10th grade state exams are still placed in 11th grade classes.

    With class sizes of 34 students, 24 of which are special needs, some attending with state mandated tracking devises attached to their ankles, it is a shame that NY State allows such situations.

    Somehow I managed to handle all the preps, all the class size overages, and still completed my second decade of teaching. The problem is that the Principal offered NO help, the grievances were filed with the unions to NO avail, the State of NY did not care that students were NOT receiving their required educational modifications and the staff moral dwindled further with so many teacher layoffs due to budget cuts.

    When students are allowed to violate the school rules and judicial laws and we dismiss their behaviors, we send clear messages that teachers are all alone in this new world of education. It is a shame that teachers are the 1st criticized when some students refuse to make any effort to come to school prepared, take notes, do homework or class work, and disrupt the educational process to the point others students are robbed of their rights to an education.

    We need programs to support teachers, not harass them and fire them for not meeting some lame excuse from the administration. I have seen too many teachers with GREAT potential to succeed, quit or be fired over the most ridiculous situations.

    I am fortunate that even with the cards stacked against me (as some would agree), I had the highest level of passing students in my school and in my district. My end of the year evaluation was distinguished. This was achieved because I have a strong support system in my husband, children and friends, NOT in any way to a supportive working environment.

    Kudos to any school district who will offer their teachers ways to have deliberate intervention to help teachers in these trying times, not scrutinize them and hang them out for the lynch mobs seeking someone to blame for societies lack of control in rearing today’s youth.

    Education begins at home…parents must step up and support the system or consider home schooling your child if they are one of many constant disruptions hindering the youth that want to learn.

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  29. Nora Howley says:

    If you are going to be at the 2011 RA, Kill Stress Before It Kills You workshop referenced in this article will be presented as part of the pre-RA Day of Learning.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  30. Andrew Frishman says:

    Seems to me that teachers are not transplantable widgets. Who knows what sort of domino effects might have occurred as her position was filled, etc. . . Seems like a lot of this could have been avoided by simply hiring directly for the high school english position instead of uprooting her.

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  31. Kim says:

    Burn out? Been there. I had been teaching at-risk toddlers successfully for more than 10 years when a new director came into our school and discovered a teacher-bullying train that had been kept at bay by the excellent director who preceded her. This new director decided instead to hop on board and (I believe) actually came to enjoy the power she wielded over the responsible teachers who, like me, refused to run to her with gossip, complaints about even the smallest conflicts, and even unfounded accusations. I stuck to my guns for years, knowing I was doing an excellent job, and refusing to play the name game. Finally, I could take it no more and left a job I had truly loved, in a renowned school with a deep, meaningful purpose.

    Luckily, I chanced upon a job as an instructional assistant in a great county school, loving my work with preschoolers who are mostly autistic. However, I still fear the potential for burn-out. Since I don’t have my master’s, I am at the mercy of both admin and the teacher I’m assigned with (not to mention the other preschool ed teachers) and have seen what can happen when authority and a cruel disposition meet. I’ve been lucky so far, and hope that fate will continue to send good, supportive teachers my way. Teaching is my calling, and feel like I’m meant to work with young autistic children. If our new principal decides to re-assign me to another class, I fear what will happen to me and my passion. When I ponder the possibility of going back for my master’s degree so I could be a full-fledged special ed teacher (and hopefully have a *little* more control over my staffing assignment), I’m only reminded of the extremely high burn-out rate for special ed teachers–those working with autistic kids around here rarely last for more than 2 or 3 years. Darned if I do, darned if I don’t.

    Sometimes I feel that I’m walking a tightrope, and I don’t even know if there’s a safety net below or not. Well-qualified, committed teachers shouldn’t be put at risk the way we so often are. It serves no one well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  32. Thuy says:

    I am grateful that CTA sponsors the Survive and Thrive Mini-Sabbatical Intervention Program. It is encouraging to know that the teacher association acknowledges teacher burnout as a condition that exists and needs to be addressed for the sake of student learning.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  33. Yes, this is absolutely what I experiened after almost 5 years of teaching in a Milwaukee Public High School- one of the largest. My first 3 l/2 years I was so excited about teaching (a second career for me I was previously a journalist, but i had a passion for literture, writing and young people. In the latter part of my fourth year, things at my school really started going downhill. There was chaos in the hallways. At the start of my fifth year, all of us in my department I think were excited, hoping for positive change, respect and support as teachers. I thought it was coming; a new assistant principal told me she’d support me. She didn’t. She had the nerve to ask me to pass a senior with a 15 percent average, who did not turn in late work the principal required me to take (no matter the large classes) and then he never showed up even when he had a makeup day for the final test! It was mainly this demoralization which finally led me to realize resigning was my best option. I had 40 to 50 students to begin with ( certainly a political move) and I was staying many nights to 11 p.m. and 12 midnight to grade essays. Part of the problem was, that we were called into collaborative meetings,most of which were ridiculous. Why did I pay $40,000 for a second career to be reviewing material I already knew. I could have been working on engaging lesson plans,which i often worked on on weekends. Thank goodness my own children were grown! Then we had a new team come in from Florida to turn our sschool around and they were helping some teachers tutor students for tests! My God this society has to realize that not all students test well, one test cannot say it all, what about a portfolio too? Finally, while at least 85 to 80 percent of my seniors were on task and great students, that small 15 percent could disrupt the entire class- one time I had an IEp student with a woodworking instrument that I discovered he was trying to hide in his coat. I calmly tried to talk with him- it could have taken someone’s eye out. Finally, a secuirty guard showed up, but I called twice for an administrator -none came. It was a worse year than any of us dreamed. We not only now were required to take attendance on the computer, but to actually draw attendance charts for seniors! Was I really teaching? i began to feel like a glorified secretary, I longed to teach so my students would learn marvelous things and take them on field trips. I realized that would not happen at this MpS School. I now am planning to get a masters degree and I’m subbing at private schools, where administrators are available in a heartbeat. Granted there are diffeences becasue parents pay to have their children attend these schools, but isn’t every youth entitled to a great education. And yes, poverty and abuse can hold some back, but then that must be dealt with by counselors. Sooner or later (I had seniors who coudln’t read or write!) a student must take resonsibility for themselves. I have great worries about the 15 percent of students in my classes and others who are being enabled or yes even “entitled” -a word I never dreamt I’d use, in this system. Please, the community must get involved in this school system and parents especially; perhaps they need to be fined if they aren’t coming to conferences or coming in when a teacher calls. A teacher needs the respect and support of administrators and parents. The teacher is the major link to the student- the administrtors need to suppport the teachers, walk the hallways, encourage creative lesson plans, not crazy, useless, busy work. No teacher nor his or her student deserves this demoralization.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  34. Yes, this is absolutely what I experienced after almost 5 years of teaching in a Milwaukee Public High School- one of the largest. My first 3 l/2 years I was so excited about teaching (a second career for me -I was previously a journalist, but I had a passion for literature, writing and young people. In the latter part of my fourth year, things at my school really started going downhill. There was chaos in the hallways. At the start of my fifth year, all of us in my department I think were excited, hoping for positive change, respect and support as teachers. I thought it was coming; a new assistant principal told me she’d support me. She didn’t. She had the nerve to ask me to pass a senior with a 15 percent average, who did not turn in late work the principal required me to take (no matter the large classes of 40 to 50), and then this student never showed up even when he had a makeup day for the final test! It was mainly this demoralization which finally led me to realize resigning was my best option. I had 40 to 50 students to begin with ( certainly a political move) and I was staying many nights until 11 p.m. and 12 midnight to grade essays. Part of the problem was, that we were called into collaborative meetings,most of which were ridiculous. Why did I pay $40,000 for a second career to be reviewing material I already knew?? I could have been working on engaging lesson plans,which I often worked on on weekends. Thank goodness my own children were grown!
    Then we had a new team come in from Florida to turn our sschool around and they were helping some teachers tutor students for tests! My God this society has to realize that not all students test well, one test cannot say it all, what about a portfolio too? Finally, while at least 85 to 80 percent of my seniors were on task and great students, that small 15 percent could disrupt the entire class- one time I had an IEp student with a woodworking instrument that I discovered he was trying to hide in his coat just as class started. I calmly tried to talk with him- it could have taken someone’s eye out. Finally, a security guard showed up, but I called twice for an administrator -none came. More lack of support and demoralization that’s what it amounted to and while this was an IEp student he really needed more of a consequence. He was sent out for a time and then came back and ranted and raved at me becasue he was behind. I helped him the best I could.
    It was a worse year than any of us dreamed. We not only now were required to take attendance on the computer, but to actually draw attendance charts for seniors! Was I really teaching? I began to feel like a glorified secretary, I longed to teach so my students would learn marvelous things and take them on field trips. I realized that would not happen at this MPS School. I now am planning to get a masters degree in English/nonfiction writing, and I’m subbing at private schools, where administrators are available in a heartbeat. Granted there are differences because parents pay to have their children attend these schools, but isn’t every youth entitled to a great education. And yes, poverty and abuse can hold some back, but then that must be dealt with by counselors. Sooner or later (I had seniors who couldnt read or write – I expected a challenge and welcomed the diversity of this school, but this was unbelieveable to me) a student must take resonsibility for themselves. I have great worries about the 15 percent of students in my classes and others who are being enabled or yes even “entitled” -a word I never dreamt I’d use, in this system. Please, the community must get involved in this school system and parents especially; perhaps they need to be fined if they aren’t coming to conferences or coming in when a teacher calls becasue that’s what an adminstrator demands. A teacher needs the respect and support of administrators and parents. The teacher is the major link to the student- the administrtors need to suppport the teachers, walk the hallways, encourage creative lesson plans, not crazy, useless, busy work. No teacher nor his or her student deserves this demoralization.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  35. Pat Henry says:

    I was a community college teacher and went through the same thing for years: lack of support, lack of appreciation and a dictatorial supervisor who played favorites. He was an unmitigated asshole. No one would remove the little shithead. he is lucky that I was able to maintain enough control not to kick his ass!!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  36. Peanuts says:

    In my second year of teaching I took a special ed position working with ODD kids, thinking I wanted to make a difference. Well, I did with two of the boys who cooperated with me. The other two threatened me daily, cussed at me, and one got physical. Day after day of another crying and screaming for four hours at a time and everything else got to me. No support from administrators, who wanted me to shut the door and not know what happened in my classroom. Principal treated me like dirt, but treated my aide like a queen because she said “yes ma’am” to her all the time. Even when my aide made my class hell, the principal loved her because she was submissive. Craziest and most brutal job ever. I had success with half of my emotional disturbed kids, which didn’t go unnoticed by the special ed dept. They told me I was fantastic. But one of my boys ran out of my class a few times. I was punished for it. In the end, I quit due to stress, mainly from the bullyish administrators. Thought my teaching career was over. Got another job at another school, where I am honored by the administrators. They love my work ethic. The kids love me. I am no longer in special ed and will NEVER go back to it. Not because of the kids, but because of the lack of support I experienced. I even found out that they fired the teacher before me because she couldn’t control the ODD boys. Well, they are ODD! With some of them the improvement comes SLOWLY. The principal I had didn’t even know what ODD and ED were, thus she expected me to work miracles with all the kids. Nobody can do that. I praise God now for delivering me from that school. Sometimes you get a principal that makes life hell for you. But God sees and knows all and will set things right. My advice is to stick things out unless you absolutely cannot. Trust God if you are a Christian. He is good, all the time!

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  37. Joy Mann says:

    I just want to say that in my District FUHSD the FEA/CTA Union in their negotiations- which somehow allowed for NO salary increase, even for Cost of Living, and imposing much more responsibility on the employees for health insurance costs : 3,000.00 to 10,000 depending on normal issues for individuals or marrieds with kids and costs if you have any medical needs at all- so in the midst of this, they my FEA offered up our Sabbaticals- for what reason i do not know-saying no one took them- ( ie too many martyr types and competition makes us commit very intensely) and it would cost the FEA members too much if anyone took a sabbatical!
    This fact was pretty much invisible in all we have given up. with absolutely no INPUT from constituency- and I thought the district managed the costs. Anyway I seem to be the only one who confronted and cared! Sharing this led to rejection by my FEA President- saying i was hostile and he would no longer be my REP. – so my concern over all we have given up and confronting him-led to horror and more insecurity for ME- because I have no (support group) being an unusual artist type person, with a big mouth, and NO husband, I believe I have been targeted by even my Union- It is a pity, not sure if it is legal, but I talk with people above and they seem to think it is OK and will not support and meeting i wish to have with him, liason, or counselor I was willing to pay for whatever personal issues he has- I am totally willing to get along and forgive- in spite of my being treated like ” well a bug to be squashed”- and I continue to be positive as that is how I tend to be if I can, and I prefer to say I am sorry – in spite of shared conflict-i do not know who to turn to as I have been rejected, invalidated, and shut down by every part of even my Union- any advice or posting is welcome!
    you can send it to my email”
    joyjilly@hotmail.com
    thanks

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  38. Laura Withheld says:

    I have just decided I need to leave teaching, after 21 years of exemplary service and a true love for my job. The NEW Detroit Public Schools is a stress filled institution. Moral is at an all time low. Michigan adopted teaching standards and the district twisted them in to unrecognizable punitive measured. They have informed administrators to rate no one highly effective and make sure everyone gets low scores. They used these scores to ignore how much time and effort one has put into teaching and lay off hundreds to make room for brand new hires at lower pay. Teachers are not allowed to use sick days and are threatened on a daily basis (not by the students but the administration). I will be leaving the state or teaching all together, throwing in the towel!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  39. Fantastic post and the information share in this blog is really excellent.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  40. A Teacher says:

    I just finished my third year teaching, and I’m worried that I already am experiencing the beginning signs of teacher burnout.

    I am in a state with constantly changing state standards that will supposedly use “magic” to fix the education system–because obviously the previous state standards were designed by people who believed in low quality/low expectation instruction?!? It’s just new, but we are required to re-design everything.

    Additionally, many of my colleagues have told me to care less. I’ve been told to teach to the test, and to just accept that as the nature of the beast in education now. I hate it. I ignore it. I teach everything as meaningful to life, and hold on to the belief that the test scores will naturally come from this. (P.S. It happens to work.)

    However, I am frustrated. I get angry. I’ve gone to bat a few times for students when the school policies were designed to save money rather than help kids. However, I appreciate that the district tries to save money–saving electives for kids that make school such a better environment for kids.

    I’m not burnt out yet… but I doubt I will make it 42 more years in the profession.

    SIDE NOTE: I don’t know if ALL blame of administration is fair. I would not want their job, and they are constantly facing top-down instruction as well. Sometimes moving teachers allows everyone in the district to stay employed, or new regulations require that they put teachers with different degrees or “qualifications” in jobs–even if it is not best for in terms of actual skills and abilities. This can be out of their hands as well.

    I have a friend who is no longer “qualified” according to the state to teach something that she has taught for the past 10 years. She is being moved. Not her fault. No admins fault. It is the politicians’ faults.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  41. Yo de lay hee hoo says:

    Someone adjusting to a situation she didn’t want isn’t a “success” story. It’s a “disaster averted” story. Not the same thing at all.

    I too found out beyond the last minute that I was transferred to a new school with an age range I have no interest in teaching. I too am rising to the occasion and refusing to take out my disappointment on my students and am giving them my very best. But so what? All that proves is that I’m an emotional grownup and don’t punish innocent children for a decision imposed on my by insensitive administrators. That’s nothing to brag about, that’s just common decency.

    But you can bet I am looking around for another career. Administrations don’t give a flying donut about teacher satisfaction and unions don’t help at all. What’s the point of them, then?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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  43. I hardly leave a response, but i did a few searching and wound up here Surviving Teacher Burnout
    | NEA Today. And I actually do have a couple of questions for you
    if you do not mind. Could it be simply me or does it look like some of the remarks
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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  44. dsmiv says:

    In my case it i my principal who has caused my burn out. I am in my second year of teaching, a vocation I have always know I wanted to do. I was trained for Senior Specialist Maths and Science subjects but ended up getting employed as a year 3 teacher in a Primary School. Luckily I loved this, found it rewarding and received positive feedback from every source. So fought tooth and nail to try and win a contract the next year. I was over the moon when they rang just before term started and told me I had a class for the year.

    What I didn’t know was that this year the school would have a new principal. Her agenda is completely statistically based and she instantly took a dislike to my philosophy of ‘put the kids first’ (it’s a very low socio-economic area, in many cases I am the only regular adult male role model they had).

    The first sign something was up occurred when on the day of appointment I discovered she had without warning changed me from year 3 again to a composite 6/7 class. Within a week she had targeted me for attempting to use more engaging strategies for the the students rather than the old chalk, talk and test she was more comfortable with as well as not being prepared for a years plan for these two new year levels. These same strategies had been universally praised by all of my practicum teachers as well as the previous principal and deputy.

    Within weeks she was calling me in for lengthy ‘performance reviews’ during almost all of my non instruction time. Not willing to accept I was ‘a bad teacher,’ I tried to play her game only to find that every week what she requested last week would be mysteriously different to what she had said before. She also refused to give me any written feedback, and on the occasions I knew I had absolutely executed the curriculum well; in the style she requested she would brush it off with a ‘well i didn’t observe you this fortnight,’ type comments. No other teacher has to do anything like this, in fact those she bought with her from her old school receive an insane amount of extra NIT. (0.5)

    It is now the end of term 2. I’ve lost 12 kgs (now 68 kg for a 6’1 male). My health is gone. If I do any fitness I am scolded for wasting time. Unless of course she is scolding me for not running a fitness program… My immune system is below acceptable ranges (was fine previously). I can not sleep due to guilt and anxiety. I feel isolated and ostracised, the staff room is a not a safe place for me. My support structures have all been removed so I’ve had to purchase ICTs myself. No matter how I assess the students it is wrong, even when she is contradicting her previous comments. I feel bullied and harassed but my duty to the kids keeps me coming back day after day. She replaced all my extracurricular activities with pointless ones. (I’m a secondary maths teacher who now has to go to three mathematics PD’s per week all after school of course). Other staff are picking up that i’m person non grata and bringing to ostracise me. I feel like a Pariah, but I still keep giving it my all. I am depressed now though, which is hard for me to admit as I’ve always been a happy positive person full of infectious energy.

    All my outside friends and family have noticed the change in me; I seem depressed, lethargic, no longer interested in things other than school work. My girlfriend and I are on the rocks, not that I can blame her. The small amount of time for her I’m stressed out too the max. I’ve even tried taking in other teachers programs that she has approved with my name on it and have them torn apart. The worst part is its becoming clear to my students how undermined I am. I no longer consider myself an adequate teacher, more a total failure.

    I’m so glad I got my dream job

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